Entertainment News

Longtime Radio Host, Local Sports Show Cut in iHeart Media Restructuring

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Longtime Youngstown radio host Fred “Fast Freddie” Woak has been let go from his position as afternoon host of WNCD 93.3-FM (“The Wolf”), the result of a nationwide downsizing of staff by iHeart Media, owner of the station.

In a Friday Facebook post, Woak — who has worked for the station since 1988 — wrote, “due to recent restructuring, I am sad to say that I will no longer be rocking the airwaves in Youngstown. It was an awesome ride but everything must come to an end… As radio heads in a new direction, I am not sure what the future holds.…I will still be out doing gigs around town so I will still see you at places like Tangier and The Ice House.”

On Jan. 14, iHeart Media announced a restructuring that would increase its use of technology and artificial intelligence, and would result in job cuts in all of its markets.

With more than 850 stations, iHeart Media is the nation’s largest radio chain. It owns six stations in the Youngstown market, all housed in its Boardman location: Mix 99.9-FM, The Bull 106.1, 95.9 Kiss-FM, WKBN Newsradio 570-AM, WNCD, and SportsAnimal WNIO 1390-AM.

Also among the local casualties in the restructuring is Ron Potesta, who hosted a local sports show weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. on WNIO. With his departure, WNIO no longer broadcasts a sports show that specifically covers the Mahoning Valley.

More than 200 employees were let go this week companywide, as the chain continues to reshape itself to stay viable in the struggling radio industry. More layoffs are expected, according to published reports.

iHeart’s embrace of technology and artificial intelligence follows a 2017 ruling by the Federal Communications Commission that eliminated “the main studio rule.” No longer does a radio station have to operate a studio or employ on-air staff near the city where its signal is licensed.

In an internal memo announcing the restructuring, as reported by radioinsight.com, CEO Bob Pittman and COO Rich Bressler wrote that employees would be cut as the company more fully utilizes its investments in technology in order to modernize the company.

The news release in part:

“As it enters the new decade, iHeartMedia today announced a new organizational structure for its Markets Group as it modernizes the company to take advantage of the significant investments it has made in technology and artificial intelligence (AI) and its unique scale and leadership position in the audio marketplace.  The new structure will enable the company to maximize the performance of each of its markets – and the company overall — with its unique scale and multiple platforms; leadership in audio; and its expertise in consumers, monetization and data, and enhance iHeartMedia’s position as the number one audio company in America, continue its successful transformation as a technology- and data-powered 21st century media company, and accelerate the development of new platforms and services.

“The company has made significant technology investments to change everything from how it sells advertising to how it utilizes data and builds new businesses like its digital platform, podcast platform and robust data platform – all of which have given it an undisputed leadership position in the audio world.”

Pictured at top: Fred “Fast Freddie” Woak.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.