Chuck Fredrick and Bo Matthews, the top two executives at WLW-AM, WEBN-FM and three other stations, were laid off Tuesday by iHeartMedia.
Fredrick had been the station group president and Cincinnati market manager for 10 years, and WLW-AM/WEBN-FM general manager for many years before that. For most of his tenure, the 50,000-watt WLW-AM had been "The Big One," as it calls itself, dominating local radio ratings. But not recently.
Last July, in the middle of the Cincinnati Reds season, Cumulus' WGRR-FM knocked the Reds flagship station out of first place. WGRR-FM has won all but one ratings period since September.
In February, WGRR-FM also won morning drive – prime-time for radio listening and revenues – and pushed WLW-AM's Mike McConnell to second. McConnell, who had replaced long-time morning ratings king Jim Scott two years ago, dropped to third in March behind WKRQ-FM's Jeff & Jenn show and WGRR-FM's Chris O'Brien and Janine Coyle husband-wife team.
Matthews was senior vice president for programming, plus program director for long-time rock station WEBN-FM (102.7) and Top 40 WKFS-FM (KISS 107). He was transferred here in 2014 after 11 years programming the company's Cleveland rock stations.
WEBN-FM, which was tied for fifth in September, fell to No. 11 in January, No. 13 in February and No. 10 in March. The KiddChris morning show dropped to No. 15 in January, and rebounded to No. 11 in March.
KISS107, which was No. 6 in August, sank to No. 12 in January, moved up to No. 9 in February, and down to No. 11 in March.
"I am very surprised by all of it," Matthews told me. "I will miss the fine folks I had the privilege of working with… I really have grown to love Cincinnati. I really hope to stay here."
Fredrick could not be reached for comment. A call to his office at the Kenwood headquarters Tuesday was routed to the voice mail of Alethea Marshall, community engagement director.
iHeartMedia also operates conservative talk WKRC-AM (550), ESPN sports talk WCKY-AM (1530), Fox Sports WSAI-AM (1360) and The Project (FM 100.7 and FM 106.3).
Fredrick weathered several controversies over the years. In 2007, WLW-AM infuriated local Hispanic leaders by erecting 82 billboards with the photo of a man in a sombrero with a mustache, Mexican flag and a burro with the slogan, "The Big Juan."
Alfonso Cornejo, president of the Hispanic Chamber Cincinnati USA, called it a "hateful campaign" and demanded a written apology. A week later, the billboards were taken down.
"The Big Juan” billboards were the second part of a 2007 spring outdoor campaign. A few weeks earlier, WLW-AM put up billboards with a Mexican flag and a Spanish phrase that translated to “Radio For Great Americans.” Cornejo later said the first one was "very offensive," and said he probably "should have reacted sooner."
The All Access radio news website said at least 10 iHeartMedia employees were let go this week at stations in Detroit; New Orleans; Tampa; Grand Rapids; Biloxi, Miss.; Mobile, Ala; and Florence, S.C..