The First Radio Firing & Unemployment Benefits

June 17, 2019

One of my radio friends contacted me yesterday. She had just been fired and needed advice as to what she should do next. Those of us who are seasoned vets know that being fired is just a regular part of the business. As one of my favorite PDs in Iowa told me, “You ain’t no real broadcaster until you’ve been fired at least 3 times!” My friend is new to this business, however. She’s only been in radio for a few years. This is her first termination. Naturally, she’s panicked, emotional, and wondering what she did wrong.

Because this is radio, the station is contesting her eligibility for unemployment benefits. This also comes with the territory. Out of all the times I was fired in radio (there were several), I can only think of two times when management didn’t attempt to deny my claim. In one case, the station had been sold and the entire airstaff was let go. There were zero grounds for contention there, especially since the owner apparently failed to pay state unemployment taxes on my behalf. I learned about this when I went to apply for benefits. That was a fun day. In the other case, management didn’t bother to contest because the program director who had fired me was himself terminated for cause shortly thereafter. Trying to explain that to the Division of Labor might have become a bit messy.

In every other instance, the station attempted to deny my benefits. Some would stretch the truth while others would outright lie in order to stop me from collecting what was rightfully mine. My favorite was a Florida entity which claimed “theft of station equipment” as grounds for my dismissal. The item in question was a frequency spectrum analyzer which the chief engineer had reported missing. It was later returned, but damaged. I had no use for this piece of equipment. However, our weekend jock who just happened to be operating a pirate FM station in his spare time found it a very useful tool in the calibration of his illicit transmitter. It was my word against theirs. My benefits were denied.

Why do radio station owners/managers routinely contest legitimate unemployment benefit claims by their former employees? The first reason is money. In most states, the employer’s unemployment insurance premium is determined in part by their claims history. The more claims, the more they pay. So there is an incentive to contest all claims against the station, valid or otherwise. The other reason is ego. The radio industry is full of egomaniacs. Some of them eventually end up in the GM chair. If the disgruntled former employee has an axe to grind, it becomes a grudge match. Management/ownership knows the unemployment benefit process better than the average jock who has just been terminated. Within the state system, there are a limited number of appeals available for denial of benefits. Once the appeals process is exhausted, the ex-employee has 2 options: drop their claim or hire an attorney and pursue civil litigation against the company. How many unemployed radio folks have the resources to do this? Very few. Management/ownership knows this, so they use the process to their advantage.

Back to my newly-fired friend: I told her to hang in there. “It’s not you, it’s the business.” She’s quite talented as well as extremely good at asserting and promoting herself. Despite the extremely tight job market for air talent today, I don’t think she’ll have any problem finding another job. Consider it a blessing to be out of a bad situation. I’ve always said “Why would you want to work for someone who doesn’t want you working for them?” She’ll be fine. If you’re reading this and happen to be in the same situation, things will work out for you also. Again, “It’s not you. It’s the business.”