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WCCO Radio asks big names to take a pay cut

If top talent takes a one-year, 10 percent cut, jobs can be saved, management promises.
By David Brauer

The Good Neighbor is asking its highest-priced talent to take a 10 percent pay cut for the good of team.

WCCO-AM afternoon host Don Shelby confirms he was asked two weeks ago to accept a voluntary cut that would limit layoffs heading into a dreary 2009.

“I was given the option that I could take — or refuse to forgo — 10 percent of my salary for a year so the station could minimize the impact on staff and minimize potential layoffs. I agreed to it immediately.”

Outgoing CBS Radio Minneapolis market manager Mary Niemeyer says the offer was also presented to other top WCCO talent, but did not specify who or how many people had been asked or accepted. I assume we’re in the Dave Lee, Mike Lynch, Dark Star echelon, but have not had a chance to contact each.

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However, Niemeyer — who will become a sales vice-president Dec. 1 when longtime local radio exec Mick Anselmo takes over — praised those involved for their willingness to “minimize some of the shortfalls in the economy. It’s grateful to know work with a dedicated staff who not only have a passion for what they do, but have the desire for long-time careers with WCCO Radio.”

Niemeyer wouldn’t say much beyond the statement, but it’s probably wise to have the tough news delivered before the new sheriff arrives. It will be interesting to see if Anselmo feels an extra obligation to keep current talent in place in return for doing the Robin Hood thing.

Every time ‘CCO gets a new boss, people expect a massive overhaul in pursuit of younger listeners. Anselmo kept his options fully open in a recent interview with Mpls.St.Paul’s Brian Lambert, but despite 830’s untrendy older-skewing audience and slipping ratings, the station remains a relative cash cow with a huge signal.

While WCCO’s staggering 22-minute-per-hour commercial load can make for tough listening, no station’s talent is more closely tied to endorsements, an especially symbiotic relationship with advertisers. (Shelby, a WCCO-TV anchor, is exempt from pitching; his “night job” also makes it easier to take a radio cut.)

I asked Shelby if he was worried his sacrifice would go to owner CBS Broadcasting’s bottom line, rather than saving local jobs.

“No. I took it on good faith and on their word,” he replies. “The family nature of that station was to bring costs down to keep as many people as possible. Honestly, until this moment, I had not thought that 10 percent of my salary would be going someplace else. I am absolutely confident it will be kept inside the building, kept in the family.”

Niemeyer wouldn’t talk about staffing projections — Shelby underlined the word “minimize” when it came to job cuts — and didn’t want to detail revenue projections, either.

Shelby says based on industry sources he keeps up with, most of the nation’s radio stations are being asked to keep budgets flat from 2008 to 2009, and prepare for 15 percent cut “depending on how bad things get.”

Update: The New York Times reports Wednesday that CBS Radio’s revenue dropped 12 percent in the third quarter. Overall, industry revenues were down 10 percent in October 2008 from a year earlier.