Clear Channel Denver's Kris Olinger on layoffs, news-outsourcing plan

Categories: Media

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The radio news in Fort Smith, Arkansas will originate from Denver.

In a small item about this week's layoffs at Clear Channel Denver, the Denver Post's Joanne Ostrow mentioned that KOA/850 AM "will now provide news for four other markets: Colorado Springs/Pueblo, Ft. Collins, Minneapolis and Ft. Smith, Arkansas." But part of that sentence is a little misleading. According to Kris Olinger, head of AM programming for Clear Channel Denver, KOA's actually been providing news coverage to Minneapolis outlets "for probably about a year." And the station's experience with handling this task for such a farflung outlet convinces her that branching out to additional markets will be doable despite the departure this week of six news-department contributors.

These half-dozen pros are better known for their past or present affiliations with other outlets than for their work at KOA. Steve Alexander, a longtime Clear Channel voice, has actually been in Chicago for several months, delivering news reports on WGN. Beverly Weaver served as a news anchor for Channel 2. Carol McKinley has done plenty of work for Fox News over the past decade. Helen Gray is a veteran of Colorado Public Radio. Jim Hooley is a Channel 7 correspondent. And Sadie Hughes' background includes a producer gig at Channel 4. But none of them had a regular presence on the station. "They were all part-timers who did very sporadic shifts for us," Olinger says. "Primarily, they would fill in when someone was on vacation." In order to make up for their absence, she goes on, "we'll just have to schedule things a little bit differently, and use some of the part-timers we still have on staff more often."

Regarding the layoffs in general, Olinger expresses relief that she didn't have to bid farewell to any of her fulltime air personalities -- and she's confident that the trims are at an end, at least for now. John Hogan, Clear Channel Radio's president and CEO, "had a webinar for all the Clear Channel stations around the country, and he said, 'This is the end of restructuring,'" Olinger reports. "That's not to say there won't be changes made down the road based on performance or what have you, but we're all very pleased the restructuring is over. I really feel for all the people who aren't with us anymore. But at least we can move forward."

As for the outsourcing of news, Olinger says that "KOA will be what we call a news hub" -- one of several in the Clear Channel system. (Others include Los Angeles, Houston and Phoenix.) "Basically, the way it's going to work is that we'll have an offering similar to what a network would have, and stations in those markets get to pick what they want. Some may not want anything, some will want news only in the afternoons -- but we will produce those newscasts and feed those to the stations."

How will people in Denver know what listeners in either Fort Smith or Fort Collins (where KCOL news director and voice of the CSU Rams Rich Bircumshaw passed away last night) most want to hear? "Most of those places have one or two newspeople on staff, so they feed us material and let us know what they think are the important stories," Olinger says. "We have access to their AP wires, too, so we can look things up ourselves -- but they give us a lot of direction and guidance on what they think are the stories we really need to be on top of."

As staffs at medium- and small-market stations continue to shrink, KOA may well end up doing newscasts for more areas -- but without adding personnel unless or until its fiscal situation improves. Call it the new math.

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