Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Smith, McEnroe out at WTIC in new year

Two top radio talk-show hosts in Connecticut lost their on-air jobs this week when 50,000-watt Hartford radio station WTIC-AM eliminated their positions as part of a year-end cutback that will signficantly alter weekday programming in the new year.

Diane Smith, the TV news veteran who co-hosted the morning program, and afternoon-drive host Colin McEnroe were released this week, according to Smith and McEnroe (on his blog).
Smith’s last show is Wednesday morning on WTIC. She said the underlying causes of the cutback were the economy and state of the media.

"The local managers at WTIC made it clear to me that it was not their decision," Smith said, "that it was from corporate. ... We really had a great relationship."

WTIC officials were unavailable to comment on the cuts, other than to issue a statement spinning the moves as a way to expand Jim Vicevich’s late-morning program "Sound Off Connecticut" and adding an afternoon-drive news block anchored by Aaron Kupec and Bill Pearce, starting Monday.

"Politics and the economy are dominating the headlines like never before," wrote Steve Salhany, operations manager of CBS Radio Hartford. "and our listeners ... need a resource to help answer their questions, a place to voice their opinion and discuss the latest news with other Hartford area residents. WTIC’s new lineup is in response to these important issues."

The release pointed out that WTIC is still the only Hartford radio station with a news department staffed 24 hours a day, two full-time meteorologists and a traffic plane providing coverage.

"We believe increasing our live news coverage and providing listeners with more ways to interact with the station is the right direction for WTIC to be moving as we all look for ways to better adapt to the changing business environment," Salhany said.

Smith said she knew the change was coming for several weeks but wanted to finish out the year to participate in the station’s holiday charity fund-raiser held at Salvation Army stores.

In a letter to friends, Smith said it is a "difficult time in the broadcasting business and in our nation’s economy and I understand difficult financial decisions are being made by owners of radio stations throughout the country."

Station owner CBS announced in July it is selling 50 broadcast properties, and cuts in expenses generally make stations more attractive to buyers. Smith said she was aware that station revenues have been down for a while and there already have been other cutbacks at WTIC, including the show hosted by Hartford Courant writer Stan Simpson.

Smith said her contract and that of McEnroe (also a Hartford Courant columnist) were up in the next month. Dunaway will continue to host the morning show, which will end an hour earlier each day.

Smith, who lives in Norwalk and West Hartford and also hosts a quarterly TV show called "Positively Connecticut" on CPTV, announced an expansion of that idea this week, with a new "Connecticut on the Road" weekly series premiering in the spring on public TV. She was disappointed but not bitter about her exit from radio.

"I have worked with wonderfully talented people at WTIC, who are devoted to providing ... the most interesting and compelling talk radio in the state. I have learned from each one of them... Most of all I have enjoyed working with Ray Dunaway, who has made me laugh and made me think every single day for nine years."

The Dunaway-Smith show covered a myriad of local, state and national topics each morning, with interviews, discussion and some opinion interspersed with the station’s news, traffic, sports and ads.

In an era of syndicated political opinion shows and local news cuts, typified by Clear Channel’s WELI in Hamden, WTIC was seen as a beacon of local information and talk during morning and afternoon drive.

Conservative local talker Vicevich hosts from 10 a.m. to noon but now his show will begin at 9 a.m. The midday slot is occupied by syndicated behemoth Rush Limbaugh.

McEnroe only hinted at the news in his show on Tuesday, having told management he would silent about the changes until 6:01 p.m. Tuesday. He promised a "special show" on Wednesday.

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