Tampa Bay's Gabe Hobbs may be highest ranking executive laid off in Clear Channel's 'Inauguration Day Massacre'
He discovered Fox News Channel star Glenn Beck when Beck was spinning Top 40 cuts in New Haven, Conn. He created sports talk powerhouse WDAE-AM (The Sports Animal), building it into one of the top-rated stations of its kind nationwide. And he developed WFLZ-FM’s classic “Power Pig” format that shot the station to prominence in the early '90s.
But when the company cut 1,850 positions Tuesday –- at nearly 9 percent, it’s a massive job reduction some in the industry are calling the Inauguration Day Massacre -- even Hobbs found he wasn’t exempt.
Still, he remained loyal to the company he has defended for years, despite criticisms that the layoffs seemed timed to ensure the news would be drowned out by coverage of the historic, massively watched presidential inauguration.
“You pour 25 years of your life into something and it’s like a marriage; you can’t just say ‘I hate you,’” said Hobbs, 52, who began working at a corporate ancestor of Clear Channel in 1984, Republic, coming to Tampa in 1988. “I made it all these years in business without getting fired, and now it’s happened.”
Officials at Clear Channel declined to comment on the firings or name who lost jobs, giving journalists an internal memo sent by CEO Mark Mays to employees. “We are facing an unprecedented time of distress in the general economy,” Mays’ letter said, noting that “a significant portion” of the eliminated positions came from their sales departments.
Industry Web sites such as RadioandRecords.com collected unofficial lists of those affected, a roster that included Joey “Joey B.” Bellardita, executive producer of Todd “MJ” Schnitt’s morning show on WFLZ-FM.
“It’s just business, not a personal thing,” said Bellardita, 42, a 20-year veteran who hopes to land another job in Tampa area radio and shrugged off criticisms about the timing of the layoffs. “When is a good day for somebody to lose their job? Is there ever a good day for that?”
Hobbs had a towering list of duties at Clear Channel: senior vice president of programming for news, talk and sports; operations manager for WFLA-AM, WDAE-AM and WHNZ-AM; and caretaker of the company’s relationships with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Rays and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Possibly the highest ranking executive affected by the layoffs, Hobbs recalled flying to Connecticut to speak with an angry disc jockey years ago who refused to sign a new contract unless he was allowed to do talk radio.
He decided to give this brash guy named Glenn Beck a shot, bringing him to WFLA-AM in 1999 and airing his show across a broad platform of Clear Channel stations after the 9/11 attacks, igniting his career.
Hobbs also hired local legend Jack Harris to work mornings at WFLA-AM, helping develop the top-rated AM Tampa Bay show. And the brainstorming session that led WFLZ-FM to be christened “The Power Pig” in 1989 was held in his Riverview living room, sparking ratings success that permanently undercut dominant station WRBQ-FM (Q 105).
“These guys would have made it without me,” Hobbs said of his many hires over the years. “I just tried to coach them and let them know what works.”
Named news/talk radio executive of the year in 2008 by Radio and Records -- the third time he had won the honor -- now Hobbs hopes to land another job in the city he has called home for so many years.
“I don’t blame the company for anything,” he said. “I might quibble with who they let go . . . but it’s a tough economy. Tough decisions have to get made.”