December 16, 2018

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Morning radio hosts well-paid for their patter

Fired DJ Wheeler's $335K not out of normal, experts say

Eyebrows may have raised when a recent lawsuit showed Winnipeg radio morning-show host Dave Wheeler was earning $335,000 per year, plus bonuses, before he was fired from 92.1 CITI-FM — but industry experts say it's the cost of doing business.

Wheeler is suing Rogers Media for $1.4 million for wrongful dismissal, saying his firing in July — after likening transgender people to actors pretending to be "different things" — violated his employment contract.

(pullQuoteFull)However, it was the annual salary exposed in Wheeler's five-year contract that had tongues wagging: $335,000 per year base salary until Sept. 14, 2022, a one-time signing bonus of $100,000, and two possible $10,000 bonuses per year if his ratings numbers showed he was the No. 1 disc jockey for adult audiences 25 to 54 among all stations in Winnipeg.

Industry experts say radio stations have to pay top dollar for top talent for their morning shows, or they could see their ratings plummet.

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Eyebrows may have raised when a recent lawsuit showed Winnipeg radio morning-show host Dave Wheeler was earning $335,000 per year, plus bonuses, before he was fired from 92.1 CITI-FM — but industry experts say it's the cost of doing business.

Wheeler is suing Rogers Media for $1.4 million for wrongful dismissal, saying his firing in July — after likening transgender people to actors pretending to be "different things" — violated his employment contract.

"Each share point is worth a million dollars. You lose one and you have lost a million dollars. You lose two and you lose $2 million" - media veteran Matt Cundill, on the listeners, and lucrative advertising, popular hosts can attract

However, it was the annual salary exposed in Wheeler's five-year contract that had tongues wagging: $335,000 per year base salary until Sept. 14, 2022, a one-time signing bonus of $100,000, and two possible $10,000 bonuses per year if his ratings numbers showed he was the No. 1 disc jockey for adult audiences 25 to 54 among all stations in Winnipeg.

Industry experts say radio stations have to pay top dollar for top talent for their morning shows, or they could see their ratings plummet.

"Each share point is worth a million dollars," said Matt Cundill, owner of the SoundOff Media Company, which helps radio stations with voiceovers and radio programming strategies.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES  About 60 protested outside the CITI FM studio April 12, 2016 afternoon in the Osborne Village calling for the host Dave Wheeler's termination in response to the racist and sexist videos posted. Wheeler was suspended by the station later that day.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES About 60 protested outside the CITI FM studio April 12, 2016 afternoon in the Osborne Village calling for the host Dave Wheeler's termination in response to the racist and sexist videos posted. Wheeler was suspended by the station later that day.

"You lose one and you have lost a million dollars. You lose two and you lose $2 million. If you are a consistent performer, and in the top three, you will be commanding a lot more money. And, if you get up and leave, all of your money leaves with them. That's why the Green Bay Packers pay what they do for Aaron Rodgers. (Rodgers recently signed a four-year extension with the NFL team worth a guaranteed US$100 million.)

"You decide: do you want to pay for it or deal with the headache after?"

Cundill said Monday he has been in negotiations with radio stations and has told them: "Are you going to quibble with $10,000, $20,000 or $50,000, just over $1 million? Sign and then hold them accountable."

He said Wheeler's salary was more than just a few hours in the morning on a local radio station: he also did podcasts and his show was repackaged into a two-hour version broadcast in the evening on several Rogers radio stations across the country.

Cundill said other high-profile, and likely highly paid disc jockeys in the Winnipeg market, are Ace Burpee (103.1 Virgin Radio), Hal Anderson (680 CJOB), and Brody Jackson (QX104).

Howard Kroeger is president and chief executive officer of Kroeger Media, an international consultancy firm for radio programming and licensing, but a few years ago, he was the creator of the BOB FM and HANK FM formats.

Kroeger said he doesn't believe Wheeler's salary and bonus are much out of line with what other high-profile DJs in the city are earning.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>In 2016, Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie is asking to speak to the station manager at 92.1 CITI FM to protest comments by then-host Dave Wheeler.</p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

In 2016, Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie is asking to speak to the station manager at 92.1 CITI FM to protest comments by then-host Dave Wheeler.

"The packages, they can get pretty good," he said. "I know that money was big, even back in Brother Jake's (Edwards) day, and that was awhile ago. And the money can go up, especially if they are lured away to another radio station."

(Wheeler left Power 97 in 2012.)

Kroeger said private radio stations are willing to pay more for a great morning DJ, because that is when the highest number of listeners tune in.

"The morning shows have become a very important piece of the puzzle for radio stations. A lot of stations allocate resources to the big guns in the morning shows," he said. "I think his (Wheeler's) contract was fine."

As for how much was lost by Rogers and CITI, both in ratings and advertising revenue, when Wheeler was escorted out the door, has yet to be measured.

"People won't know the impact of Dave Wheeler's departure for about a year," Kroeger said.

"Ask me again on May 31," he said, referring to the date when spring ratings are announced.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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