Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rough Going at Metro/Shadow Traffic These Days

I was sent an email today of details that don't bode well for the folks at Metro/Shadow traffic, Westwood One. Folks like Sam Clover, Pat Winters, John Brown, Tom Collins and Mike Lankford who report your traffic on KYW newsradio are among those affected. Other traffic announcers you may recognize from Metro/Shadow are folks like Paul Perello, Wendy McClure, Bill Zimpfer, John Butterworth, Randy Chepigan, Bryan Ramona and Cindy Graham to name a few on stations such as WMGK, WPST, WRTI, WOGL, WPHT, WXTU, WHYY, south Jersey's WSJO and even Sirius/XM Traffic.
Metro/Shadow producers and announcers voted in June 2008 to be represented by AFTRA (the American Federation of Television and Radio Announcers) because of "an increase in deteriorating working conditions that included a lack of training, a lack of sufficient staff to provide the top-notch product expected by their affiliates, a lack of merit increases, a lack of working equipment and a lack of overall good management" to name a few.
Since late summer 2008, AFTRA and Metro employees have been negotiating for a contract with top-level management but were only able to reach a tentative agreement on a few issues. The biggest issues remain unresolved, according to AFTRA, such as the lack of an agreement to minimum pay rates for staff, the lack of an agreement to layoff/severence protection (which is in place in other Metro/Shadow centers across the country), the lack of an agreement to put in writing that adequate training for new technology will be implemented OR the implementation of training for the introduction of new markets.
Metro/Shadow Philadelphia not only covers traffic for the Philadelphia market but also the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pittsburgh and Mercer county markets. I'm told there is little to any resources, however, in the gathering process for these other markets. The first question one might ask would be "how do you cover traffic for a city 65 to 300 miles away without resources such as a driver or scanners for that area"? A very good question and one of many concerns at Metro/Shadow.
According to AFTRA, from 2003-2007 Westwood One/Metro Networks saw its stock fall from a high in the $30s to around $1.50 per share by the end of 2007. In January 2008, magazine executive Tom Beusse was hired to address the problems in the company and make improvements in both profit and quality of the product. Buesse hired a consulting firm Spring of 2008 to conduct a review of the company's efficiency and by September of '08, Buesse determined layoffs were in order. Three hundred producers/announcers across the country were let go (15% of the Metro/Shadow payroll) and a month later, that $1.50 per share dropped to just 18 cents per share. The Beusse regime lasted a mere nine months and, according to AFTRA, his severence package included the following:
*$1.9 million in cash over a two year period
*18 months of health insurance coverage
*Stock options for 333,333 shares of Company stock
*A $300,000 cash bonus

The Philadelphia center lost 30% of its staff; thirteen announcers/producers including long-time traffic innovator Rod Carson. However, at the same time were given more business by adding the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh markets. The Harrisburg market comes on-board in the next few months, according to AFTRA with shore traffic that Metro/Shadow is known for just about eight weeks away. "More work, less people, little to no resources" is the word I'm told.
The next question is, "at what point does the product suffer if it hasn't already? A road in Pittsburgh could literally collapse any weeknight or weekend and it wouldn't be out of the question that it would never make it into the information broadcast on XM/Sirus or the internet. Management hasn't put any resources in place to actually gather the information properly", I'm told. The Pittsburgh market is staffed locally during the weekday business hours, according to AFTRA.
With the exception of a few long-termers most of the staff make $10-$15 an hour, according to AFTRA, including the only two African-American producers who are the two lowest paid employees and have been on-staff a number of years.
AFTRA recently presented their issues to about fifty AFL-CIO union members last week and report their delegates were "outraged" that Westwood One would pay someone $1.9 million to lay-off 300 employees AND give a $300,000 severence bonus when the stock price dropped 88% during his tenure. Additionally, AFTRA's Metro/Shadow representation is "sick and tired of CEO's around the country, including Westwood One, getting huge bonuses while working people get nothing".
Negotiations continue at Metro. However, as of the March 20th negotiations management continues to refuse to agree to a contract with set minimums, a severence package and even withdrew a previously agreed-upon 1.5% wage proposal and replaced it with "no proposal on wages at this time". This is considered in poor taste in the union negotiating process and certainly not well-received by AFTRA.
Metro's next negotiating session is scheduled for April 16th.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cherie Bank Steps Down

You may have heard the news yesterday that NBC 10's Cherie Bank has made the decision to step down from her post as the station's health/medical reporter for "HealthWatch" at the young age of 58.
Cherie has been fighting myopic degeneration the past 17 months or so and had to make the difficult admission that she can no longer do her job. She was last on-air in October 2007.
Bank created a name for herself at Channel 10 as an anchor and reporter, way before her medical reporting beat. She fell in line with the long line of female anchors at Channel 10 who came and went. Doreen Gentzler, Stephanie Stahl, Deborah Knapp, Kasey Kaufman and Jane Robelot. It was in 1983, however, that she built a niche for herself with "HealthWatch".
Bank joined Channel 10, a CBS affiliate--in 1979 from St. Louis where she co-anchored the evening news. Once here, Bank co-anchored "10 Around Town" with colleague Steve Levy. The show was a lifestyles/entertainment type show that earned a #1 spot in the ratings and something of a rarity these days, "LOCAL PROGRAMMING". She was an active participant of the now-defunct "NBC 10 Fit Fest" held each year at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, a symposium of health-related information booths sponsored by the station. She earned numerous Emmy awards for her medical reporting and even appeared on NBC's "Today" and "The Montel Williams Show". TV follower/columnist Laura Nachman wrote in December 2002 that Bank was favored 44% as the area's favorite medical reporter over WPVI's Anita Brikman or Dr. Dorian Schneider.
Bank continues to live in the burbs with her daughter, Emily.

Friday, March 13, 2009

So Long to Don Polec

What a shock. Michael Klein from "The Insider" reports today that Don Polec will be going buh-bye from Channel 6. After being actively employed by "Action News" since 1982, Polec's contract was not renewed. What a shame. His reports at the end of most newscasts were a fun, unique way to end the show. He'll definitely be missed.