“I’m so sorry.” “We’ll miss you.” “This sucks.” “WTF?”
Those were the most common comments by fans on Facebook this week after Heather Backman, co-host of the morning show on CHOM 97.7, announced that she had been laid off from the station after five years.
Her former co-host Terry DiMonte announced the news on air Tuesday, saying Backman’s layoff was “a decision that was not mine to make.”
Also gone is Paul Beauregard, a fixture of CHOM in the 1980s and 1990s who was brought back to the station in 2013 to work fill-in shifts.
Owner Bell Media cited budget cuts for the layoffs, the total number of which it did not specify.
“I can confirm that we are reducing several positions at CHOM,” Matthew Garrow, director of News, Local Stations, Sports, Discovery Networks & Community Investment for Bell Media, wrote in an emailed statement. “These changes are the result of the challenges Bell Media and other Canadian media companies are facing due to increasing international competition, the evolution of broadcast technologies, and advertising and regulatory pressure.”
The same statement was offered to other journalists across the country asking about cuts in their markets. Bell Media isn’t saying how many jobs are being eliminated, so news is filtering out slowly as people post about them on social media and websites are quietly scrubbed of any reference to departed employees.
Other Bell Media radio and TV personalities around the country have also been let go in the past week, including Ingrid Schumacher, a 40-year veteran of CHUM-FM in Toronto, TSN Radio Vancouver announcers Peter Schaad and Scott Rintoul, and CTV Vancouver journalists Coleen Christie and Kent Molgat, according to reports.
Financial data for CHOM alone is not public, but according to data published by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Bell
Media’s 105 licensed radio stations in 54 markets nationwide made $72.9 million in profit before interest and taxes in the year that ended Aug. 31, 2015, from $306 million in total revenue. The Montreal English/ethnic commercial FM radio market, where two of five stations (CHOM and Virgin Radio 96) are owned by Bell Media, had $12.8 million in pre-tax profit and a 35-per-cent profit margin in that same year. Revenue has been flat the past five years.
Bell Media made $187 million in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization in the third quarter of 2016, slightly more than the same period the previous year. Parent company BCE Inc. made $2.2 billion in the third quarter alone, though more than 90 per cent of that is from its telecommunications operations. BCE reports its fourth-quarter earnings on Thursday.
CHOM’s ratings took a tumble in the last report released in December, with a 10.2 per cent market share among anglophones, down from a high of 15 per cent in 2013.
Backman, who was told of the decision on Monday, took the high road, thanking her former bosses and colleagues.
“I would like to express my outmost gratitude for the enormous amount of love and support that has come my way,” she wrote in her Facebook post. “The radio business is an uncertain one and layoffs can occur at any time. It has truly been an honour to wake up with you every morning for the past five years.
“I’m confident that I’ll be back on the airwaves somewhere soon! I will surely miss you all every day.”
By noon Wednesday, the Facebook post had more than 500 comments from supportive fans.
DiMonte said Backman was “very close to us all” in a sombre message at the beginning of Tuesday’s show. Just two weeks earlier, the two had celebrated five years together on air. Days later, they celebrated DiMonte’s birthday.
“It was a tough day around here yesterday for a lot of us,” DiMonte said. “But our job now is to put one foot in front of the other and get on with it. And we wish Heather all the best.”
DiMonte described the cut as the co-host job being eliminated, meaning he will be expected to continue hosting alone, perhaps with some help from producer Esteban Vargas. But without Backman to banter with (and laugh at his jokes), DiMonte sounded like he was talking into a void on Tuesday’s show. Montreal’s other (higher-rated) music stations still have on-air couples hosting their morning shows — Freeway and Natasha on Virgin and Vinny and Nikki on The Beat 92.5.
Pierre Houde, a regular contributor to CHOM’s morning show and RDS’s Canadiens play-by-play announcer, paid tribute to Backman on Tuesday’s show.
“Radio is something that we do professionally, but binds are created, and friendships are developed,” he said. “We understand that this business has to go through ups and downs, and people go, people come … but at the same time she’s going to be missed.”
Beauregard declined to comment on the news of his layoff.