Cutting The Layoff Line

Downsizing doesn't affect black-owned media companies...yet

Conventional wisdom holds that good things come in small packages. Perhaps that’s the best aphorism to explain why many black-owned broadcasting companies have avoided the mass layoffs and hiring freezes that have plagued other media companies over the past year.

Executives at many black-owned media companies say that their small staffs have insulated them from making the kinds of job cuts that have occurred at similar companies nationwide.

Despite plummeting advertising sales and fears about the overall economy, broadcasters typically only need enough staffers to keep them on the air, says Michael V. Roberts, chairman and CEO of Roberts Broadcasting Cos. (No. 83 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $35 million in sales).

St. Louis-based Roberts Broadcasting Cos. employs 37 people at 12 television stations. The staff consists mainly of technicians and programming personnel who air the Home Shopping Network.

The company’s chief executive says even with revenues dropping, his stations still need to keep all of their workers. “The whole industry’s gotten its butt kicked,” Roberts says. “But you still have to have the basic, fundamental staff.”

But even black-owned broadcasting companies with larger staffs have avoided mass layoffs. Radio One Inc. (No. 17 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list) hasn’t laid off any of the 1,400 employees that work at its 65 radio stations. Instead, the company has focused on more “selective hiring” practices, says Steven Golsch, the company’s director of human resources. “We limit hiring so that we don’t have to lay off. If a position becomes vacant, we say, ‘Hey, do we really need to replace this person?’” Golsch said.

Radio One, based in Lanham, Maryland, reported broadcast revenues of $177.2 million in 2000, which is an increase over their 1999 revenues of $93.3 million.

Radio One’s increased revenues are not necessarily a measure of increased advertising sales, but rather an indication of its recent procurement of additional stations.

Since the third quarter of 2000, many media companies have worried about overall declines in advertising spending. Tumbling stock prices and wary consumers meant steep cost-cutting measures at many companies. A drop in ad revenues usually leads to deep staff cuts.

Company wide, CNN plans to eliminate as many as 600 staffers by year’s end. ABC News cut 125 jobs last June.

The Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, along with dozens of television stations nationwide, expects to trim about 10% of its staff since merging with newspaper giant Times Mirror in 2000.

But not all black broadcasters have avoided giving employees the ax. Bethesda, Maryland-based New Urban Entertainment Television (NUE-TV) reportedly cut 15 news employees and 20 programming employees earlier this year. The company’s CEO, Robert Townsend, did not return calls seeking comment.

New York-based Granite Broadcasting Corp. (No. 19 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $171 million in sales) hasn’t laid off any of its 900 workers this year. But Granite, which owns nine affiliate networks, among them an NBC, an ABC, a Warner Brothers Network, and a CBS station, has made staff cuts gradually over the past

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