Fairfax Media has reacted angrily to the emaciation of its real estate advertising streams, and possibly breached its own editorial policies, by dumping Melbourne real estate doyen Tim Fletcher from its 3AW line-up in apparent retribution for inking an commercial deal with a rival publication.

The veteran broadcaster, who has appeared on the real estate segment on the station’s afternoon show for 15 years, was phoned last night by 3AW program director Clark Forbes, who relayed the bad news. Forbes told Fletcher his services “were no longer required” because the station wanted to “mix up” its on-air offering.

But Fletcher told Crikey this morning that in a private meeting three weeks ago, Fairfax Community Network chief Colin Moss threatened Fletchers CEO Bradley Brown with his removal from the slot if his firm continued to court an advertising deal with The Weekly Review, a new competitor helmed by former Age property editor Antony Catalano.

“I couldn’t believe it. Colin Moss told Bradley that if we went across…3AW would be terminated. I went berserk, and more senior Fairfax management backtracked fairly quickly saying commercial decisions would never impact on the network’s editorial. It is a high rating, popular segment and each week I receive dozens of calls off the air.”

“Colin’s threat was real and completely on the record”, he added.

Fletchers signed with Catalano soon after the meeting.

Crikey understands that after the exchange, Fairfax CEO Brian McCarthy personally contacted Brown to repair the damage, with 3AW management later confirming that Fletcher could continue to appear on the station every second week.

“I was assured the two issues were unrelated,” Fletcher said. But less than three weeks later, he was gone for good.

“I’d done it for 15 years in an honorary capacity. I can only conclude that this was a direct result of Fletchers moving across to the rival publication.”

Fletchers was left with little choice to sign with Catalano’s Weekly Review, after all of Melbourne’s major agents signaled their intention to jump ship. Despite the deal, the firm will continue to spend north of $2 million each year with Fairfax, buying ads in other real estate glossies and on domain.com.au.

Tim Fletcher started out on 3AW alongside his former wife Margaret Peacock 15-years ago. He then moved to Ernie Sigley’s show and when Sigley finished up in 2008 he continued on after new host Denis Walter took the reigns. The segment was one of the station’s most popular, with tens of thousands of Melburnians tuning in to get Fletcher’s advice.

The dumping chafes with internal Fairfax policies that uphold a strict distinction between the editorial and commercial arms of the business, with company websites trumpeting that the organisation “…has a strong stand on keeping the divide between editorial and commercial operations.”

The media giant has allowed prominent News Limited journalists Andrew Bolt and Jon Anderson to present segments on 3AW, and Neil Mitchell continues in his top-rating Mornings program, despite contributing a regular column to the Herald Sun.

But Fairfax is in damage control over next week’s launch of The Weekly Review, with Age CEO Don Churchill sending letters last week to leading Melbourne agents in a fishing expedition to gauge their commercial intentions, as revealed by Crikey.

3AW program director Clark Forbes refused to talk to Crikey this morning, issuing a “no comment”.

Colin Moss also refused to comment, saying only “I don’t respond to Crikey“, before hanging up.

Last week, investment adviser Stuart Wemyss took over Fletcher’s on-air spot, but there was no mention of the looming axing from host Denis Walter.