Radio star Skip Mahaffey's story tells tale of Tampa Bay area media job cuts
The notion seemed perfect for our occasional series on the jobs crisis, Help Wanted, and I was curious what I would find when I spoke with people who had lost jobs in the worst media economy of a generation.
I talked to four people for the stories, and I'm still not sure what will happen to the three other stories. But what stood out immediately, was my time with former country music star radio guy A.L. "Skip" Mahaffey.
Mahaffey, who was fired in April 2009 by Clear Channel Radio, was the biggest star among the folks I spoke with and turned out to be amazingly open about his experience. Back in 2005, Clear Channel flipped the format of an FM station and built its format around his morning show; in 2009, as the show struggled for ratings and focus, the company let him and morning crew go in the same year they laid off more than 2,400 people nationwide.
Over a two-hour interview at his spacious home in Lutz, he detailed the "humbling" experience of being out of work for over a year -- in part, because he didn't want to leave town (a common theme among people I spoke with; trying to stay in media locally often meant having to move).
In a flash, Mahaffey went from a guy who got an autographed guitar from singer Mary Chapin Carpenter for his 40th birthday, to the guy whose emails weren't returned right away, as some former colleagues acted as if his joblessness might rub off on them.
The result was this story which was published in today's newspaper. In it, Mahaffey admits he had it better than a lot of people -- his contract with Clear Channel was paid out at a handsome salary for a year after he was fired. And one thing which made it tough for him to pursue job leads was concern about conflict with that contract.
But he also faced a lot of fear and uncertainty -- even while admitting that getting complacent in his job helped get him fired in the first place.
This week, Mahaffey starts work as the featured half of a morning team in Tulsa, Okla. at the station where he got his second job in radio 25 years ago, KVOO-FM. As excited and hopeful as he is about the work, there's no denying that he is starting over -- with a salary comparable to what he was making back in 2005 before the whole Clear Channel mess started.
Which is also the story of many laid off from local media last year -- a long road back to where they started.