Uncertainty at WPRO

On the Air
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  December 7, 2011

Could Rhode Island's talk radio firmament be poised for a shakeup?

The Phoenix has learned that contracts for two of WPRO's most prominent personalities, John DePetro and Dan Yorke, will expire in the coming months. And with new ownership in place, it is not entirely clear that the jocks will remain at the station.

An air of uncertainty has hung over WPRO since last winter, when news broke that Atlanta-based Cumulus Media was moving to buy Citadel Broadcasting, the station's Las Vegas-based parent company.

Cumulus closed the $2.3 billion deal in September, becoming the second-largest radio conglomerate in the country behind Clear Channel. And speculation has mounted, since then, that the company would drop local talent in favor of cheaper, syndicated programming a la Rush Limbaugh.

Station sources have played down the talk. WPRO is profitable, they say. And Rhode Island's intense parochialism demands local talk in a way that other markets do not. Cumulus, they add, has not given the locals any indication that syndication is in the cards.

But even if syndication seems unlikely, the company is clearly intent on cutting costs in the wake of the Citadel acquisition. In a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Cumulus said it planned to identify $51.9 million in savings.

Much of that cost-cutting program, which Cumulus hopes to wrap up by March, has focused on the consolidation of back-office operations. But the company has reached into studios and newsrooms as well.

Last month, Cumulus laid off seven people at WPRO and the other Rhode Island stations it acquired from Citadel. Among the casualties: Lite-Rock 105 jockey Art Spencer, a deep-voiced fixture in the market, Tony Cornetta, who produced Yorke's show and served as a fill-in host, and on-line reporter Bob Plain, who was a relatively new addition to the company.

The layoffs spelled the end of an ambitious effort to develop a web site pulling together content from all of the Citadel-turned-Cumulus stations, which also include 92 Pro FM, Hot 106, and AM 790 Talk and Business.

The cuts, if painful for the people directly affected, were not as deep as some feared. But with the DePetro and Yorke contracts expiring, there is still a touch of nervousness at the Salty Brine Broadcasting Center, the East Providence home of Cumulus's Rhode Island stations.

A Cumulus spokesman did not respond to inquiries on the jocks and the broader direction of the station. DePetro did not return a call. Yorke confirmed that he is "in negotiations" with Cumulus but declined to say anything further.

It is entirely possible that Cumulus is planning to keep local programming in place, but at reduced cost. That would, presumably, mean pay cuts for the two jocks. The question is: what kind of cuts will they accept? And could they go somewhere else if the offers aren't generous enough?

Moving within the market could be difficult. WPRO's chief competitor, Clear Channel's WHJJ, has just one local host in Helen Glover, relying heavily on syndicated talkers — Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, among them.

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Related: Chafee’s talk radio ban, WPRO swaps two big personalities, A media market splintered, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Las Vegas, Radio, Talk Radio,  More more >
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