While coronavirus cases continue to spike in California and around the country, economic casualties continue to mount, including at a small radio station in Grass Valley. Ownership and management informed News Director Geoff Flynn Tuesday that he was being dismissed. Other personnel and programming changes would also be made, Flynn was told.
Flynn had been at the radio station for seven-and-a-half years, with more than two of those coming as News Director. He was elevated to that position when long-time anchor Rita Stevens retired in November of 2017.
“It was totally Covid-related”, said station majority owner Scott Robertson. “It was just the way the cards fell.”
Flynn was stunned. “I knew changes were coming”, he said, “but I didn't think it would be me. Not at this point. I was fully aware, though, that KNCO's business model was not economically sustainable, especially after the pandemic hit. Scott [Robertson] kept telling me sales were terrible, so I knew something had to happen.”
Later in the day, during the 1pm hour, it was announced on the air that the station would no longer carry the Rush Limbaugh program after airing it for over 30 years. On the air during the 9am hour Wednesday, which would normally feature Limbaugh, Program Director Tom Fitzsimmons said that the decision to end that program was not political, and was made in order to condense local programming to mornings only in order to save money. Limbaugh announced in February that he has been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.
There will be local programming in that 9am to noon time slot, with syndicated shows the rest of the day. Reporter and afternoon news anchor Chris Gilbert shifts to mornings with Fitzsimmons from 6 to 9am, although Gilbert reportedly didn't know that at the time of Flynn's dismissal.
When pressed by Flynn for further explanation on how the 'cards fell', Fitzsimmons did not mention Flynn's News Director salary, but said the choice to move Gilbert to mornings was because he's had experience running a one-person news department. Part-time reporter and evening anchor Paul Haas is also expected to remain in that capacity. Senior Account Executive Joe Hevia was also let go later that day, and account executive Jon Katis was dismissed on Friday.
“I was blindsided by this”, Flynn said. I was told a month earlier that no major changes would come to the news department. Management has said over and over again that local news is the reason people listen. Slashing the news department doesn't make a lot of sense. And dropping Rush? Yes, he's a controversial and polarizing figure, but an awful lot of listeners are upset. They want sales revenue to return, but to what? Not because of me, you understand, but this is the beginning of the end for KNCO.”
“I feel stupid”, Flynn continued. “I told myself this time would be different. I have never left a job in this business voluntarily. Maybe it's because I don't have much of a personal life, but I put my heart and soul into this station. I worked for this company before, and the same thing happened. I'm grateful for the seven-plus years, and worked with a lot of great people. I just kept telling myself that I wasn't going to let it end like this.”
Note: Yes, this is how I deal. I write a story about my own firing. I actually wrote most of this Tuesday morning when I got home. I don't live in Nevada County, but I enjoyed working there. It's a great community. My thanks to the people I covered, from elected officials, to school principals and superintendents, city and county officials, non-profit agency executive directors, local philanthropists, and especially loyal listeners and co-workers. When you get let go like this, you don't get a chance to say goodbye. I'll miss you all.
Photo: KNCO Penny Pitch, June 2017