First 4BC in Brisbane, and now Magic 1278 in Melbourne have been cleaned out as the Macquarie-Fairfax radio merger leads to sweeping job losses in the commercial radio industry. All but one presenter at Magic 1278 in Melbourne lost their jobs this week, leaving staff wondering where the station would find content going forward. Meanwhile, the journalists’ union, fresh from campaigns on press freedom and Fairfax regional newspaper cuts, is accused of being missing in action.

The mood at Magic 1278, which shares offices with the talkback station 3AW, was sombre yesterday. “Everyone is really sad,” a source told Crikey, after decades of on-air experience was shown the door.

Breakfast presenter Kevin John, weekday and evening hosts Peter O’Callaghan, Peter Van, Ric Ditchburn and music programmer Darelle Kearins were told on Monday that their jobs no longer existed, in a move that left them unable to farewell their listeners. Due to the commercial radio survey break, none of the presenters were on their normal shifts, and one insider conjectured that management was hoping to avoid the outpouring of memories and farewells that occurred as Sydney’s 2UE newsroom closed down last week as part of the same merger. 4BC’s hosts and 2UE’s afternoons host and radio veteran Angela Catterns, who was also axed, were also told after their last show that they wouldn’t be returning, with no explanation given to listeners.

One staffer said that with the Magic presenters made redundant at the later stages of their careers, the outlook for them is grim. “They won’t find other jobs.”

John’s co-breakfast presenter, Jane Holmes, the only host to keep her job, has stayed with Fairfax due to her dual on-air role on higher-rating 3AW. Magic is yet to announce what her ongoing role with the station will be. The station’s Facebook page has been overrun with comments asking for an explanation and threatening to switch off after the sackings were announced.

In a statement, Chief Operating Officer Adam Lang said the station “remains strongly committed to Melbourne and our audience”. “During the survey break period we will, as usual, have fill-in presenters who will this week feature Melbourne entertainment icon Mike Brady. Our new on-air line-up will be announced shortly and we do not anticipate any further changes.

“While any redundancies are regrettable, we are determined to build a stronger national radio network with our music stations and the leading News, Talk and Sport stations in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.”

The cuts at Magic 1278 are only the latest to sweep the stations owned by the new merged entity. Top-rating stations 3AW in Melbourne and 2GB in Sydney appear to have been spared any cuts, but other stations in the group haven’t been so lucky. At 2UE, the newsroom was shut down last week as news bulletins will now be shared with 2GB. That resulted in 20 job losses.

Another round of cuts occurred at Brisbane’s 4BC, which lost 18 staffers, including some of its most high-profile talent. Station management at 4BC was also turfed out — general manager Anthony Frangi and content director Steve Kyte have both been made redundant. Also in Brisbane, Magic 882 in Brisbane has lost its Evenings presenter, Fairfax confirmed in a statement to Radio Today.

Some of the affected staff are angry with the journalists’ union the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance, which hasn’t run any campaign on the redundancies. The MEAA is highly vocal on cuts to newspapers and the ABC and has been making inroads into online outlets in recent years, including running a campaign on behalf of journalists at AFL Media. But on the commercial radio redundancies, it has been noticeably silent. One MEAA member at Fairfax radio said the lack of action was galling: “I’m pretty offended by it — I pay my fees each week”. Industry website Radio Today yesterday ran an open letter by the news director at Geelong’s Bay FM (owned by Macquarie), Rob McLennan, on his reasons for resigning his membership:

“I have argued with the MEAA for years about this issue and while they have sent the occasional rep to speak to me about my grievances, no action has ever been taken … It seems to me, and to many other commercial radio journalists, that the MEAA is interested only in members who are employed by newspapers or the ABC. In all of my years as a member I don’t believe I have once seen commercial radio mentioned in any of your publications or bulletins … Despite paying more than $10,000 in dues over that time; the union has never done a single thing on my behalf. Nothing. You have sat idly by while newsrooms have closed, journalists have been sacked and pay and conditions were whittled away.”

It follows similar criticisms by former ABC journalist Lyndal Curtis, who wrote on The Drum last Friday that the MEAA has never bothered with commercial radio journalists as the sector is sparsely unionised.

Asked to comment on the criticisms, MEAA head Paul Murphy told Crikey that the union was helping MEAA members affected by the merger with legal and industrial support, “as we have done and will continue to do for MEAA members in the commercial radio sector”.

“As MEAA said last week, the commercial radio sector is under-unionised. This has been the case for many years. That is the reason MEAA has not carried out big industrial campaigns in the sector — we have not historically had sufficiently large and active membership for a campaign to be successful. The reason campaigns succeed in any workplace, including in the rest of Fairfax Media, is because there is a very high density of people who are union members,” Murphy said. “We continue to urge MEAA members affected by the merger to get in touch with MEAA if they have concerns about their job.”

Apart from on-air talent, it’s worth nothing that many who work in the commercial radio sector tend to be young, casual employees on shift work.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey