Published on Thursday, 29 March 2012 10:29
Michael Damsky has been relieved of his position as President/General Manager/Market Manger of WLS-AM and WLS-FM. He had been working for the two stations since 2008.
It was Michael Damsky himself that broke the sad news via his Twitter account, writing this morning
: "I'm out as Market Manager for WLS AM and FM. Had an incredible run and a thrilling four years."
The move does not come as a shock and has been widely speculated for months. Not because of any poor performance by Damsky, though. The opposite is true. It has to do with the new station owner, Cumulus Media, cutting a great many salaries to save money, despite performance records or potential profits to be made by keeping the people being cut.
Since Cumulus Media officially took ownership of WLS-AM/FM
last September, a great many people have been cut from the two stations. Those cuts have been from the executive side, dumping WLS-FM Operations Manager Michael La Crosse and Local Sales Manager Bill Cavanaugh, to top radio producers such as Jock "Jocko" Hedblade, many people from the sales department, all the way down to firing Cassandra Wilson, the longtime receptionist/mailroom coordinator. Today, Cumulus Media removed the biggest employee from the stations and the one primarily responsible for both of the stations' recent successes after years of failures.
Michael Damsky joined WLS-AM/FM as General Sales Manager in July 2008, turning around years of low revenues. In January 2010, then owner Citadel Broadcasting promoted Damsky to President & General Manager of their Chicago cluster of two stations. Just as he had done with the sales revenues previously, Damsky was able to turn around the fortunes of the on-air product on the two radio stations. Damsky hired Drew Hayes to program WLS-AM and worked closely with La Crosse and the True Oldies Channel's Scott Shannon on the WLS-FM programming. Major programming changes were made, correcting some of the mistakes of the previous management teams' and bringing listeners back. Damsky became a favorite of Citadel Broadcasting Chairman/CEO Farid Suleman, as the Chicago cluster went from a mediocre pair of stations for the company, to one of its top performers nationwide, making millions in revenue and high profits. While other markets for Citadel were hurting, Suleman could always count on Damsky to exceed expectations here in Chicago. Suleman was rumored to even be considering expanding the Chicago cluster with another FM station before the Cumulus takeover began in late 2010.
The past successes did not mean the same to Cumulus Media after they took ownership, who look at their books differently. In the black & white numbers game of Cumulus, the removal of Damsky's salary meant more than his abilities to exceed expectations for the company. Also not taken into consideration as the fact that he remained a "company man," despite, like most within the former Citadel-owned stations, he did not appear to be thrilled with the change in ownership. Damsky even attempted to put a positive spin on the apparent slight to living legend DJ Dick Biondi, after Cumulus Senior Vice President of Programming Jan Jeffries decided to move the beloved Chicago personality
to overnight hours, away from when most of his fans could listen. Michael Damsky did so because that is what a station leader and a "company man" is supposed to do, not necessarily because he agreed with the decision to have that move done to Biondi.
WLS-AM's ratings and revenues have declined some since Cumulus took over ownership last fall. Much of that has more to do with declining ratings and revenues of all political talk formatted stations nationwide than anything done differently and/or wrong by WLS-AM or Cumulus Media. In the meantime, WLS-FM has gone in the opposite direction, skyrocketing to the top of the ratings and seeing increased revenues.
This is not the first time Michael Damsky has found himself out of a job due to cutbacks and despite performing above and beyond what was expected of him. In February 2008, CBS Radio Chicago released Damsky from his role as Vice President/General Manger of WXRT-FM as part of a wave of salary cuts the company was doing at that time. Those cuts from that time period also cost the jobs of many veteran radio talents, including top-rated ones, as way to lower their salary commitments in the short term, ignoring what could potentially be long-tern issues for the company.
Until his forced exit in 2008, Michael Damsky had been with WXRT-FM and CBS Radio Chicago since 1984 (long before it was even called CBS Radio Chicago). He started out as an Account Executive with WXRT-FM, worked his way up to General Sales Manager, and eventually to General Manager. Along the way, he also was very instrumental in getting WSCR-AM off the ground in the early 1990s. To this day, he still remains very close with many of the WXRT/WSCR employees, both past & present, as the atmosphere at the stations under him was more like a "family" than a typical work environment.
Prior to joining WXRT, Damsky spent four years as an Account Executive with Chicago's WFYR-FM and worked with a music distributor for a while before that.
Damsky has Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Elmhurst College.
Cumulus Media has not yet officially commented on the dismissal of Damsky or named a successor for his position.
UPDATE: According to insiders at Cumulus Media, a new General Manager for WLS-AM/FM is expected to be named tomorrow.