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Radio pioneer Gabe Hobbs is let go at Clear Channel

After 25 years with Clear Channel Radio, Gabe Hobbs' status as an industry pioneer was solid.

He discovered Fox News Channel star Glenn Beck when he was spinning top 40 cuts in New Haven, Conn. He created sports talk powerhouse WDAE-AM and developed WFLZ-FM's classic "Power Pig" format, which 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 reduction some 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 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 — Republic — in 1984, coming to Tampa in 1988.

Officials at Clear Channel Radio declined to comment on the firings or name those who lost jobs, giving journalists an internal memo sent by chief executive Mark Mays to employees.

Industry Web sites such as collected unofficial lists of those affected, including Joey "Joey B." Bellardita, executive producer of Todd "MJ" Schnitt's morning show on WFLZ-FM. Bellardita is a 20-year veteran who shrugged off criticisms about the layoffs' timing. "When is a good day for somebody to lose their job?" said Bellardita, 42.

Hobbs had a towering list of duties at Clear Channel: senior vice president of programming for news, talk and sports nationwide; operations manager for WFLA-AM, WDAE-AM and WHNZ-AM; and caretaker of the company's relationships with area sports franchises.

Possibly the highest ranking executive affected by the layoffs, Hobbs recalled hiring 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 a ratings success that permanently undercut dominant station WRBQ-FM (Q105).

Now Hobbs hopes to land another job in the city he's 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."

Radio pioneer Gabe Hobbs is let go at Clear Channel 01/20/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 1:00pm]
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