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Published: Wednesday, 11/21/2012

Clear Channel, WSPD general manager resigns

Andy Stuart quits a week after host Wilson was let go

BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Andy Stuart is the latest Clear Channel employee to either announce a resignation or be forced out over the past year. Andy Stuart is the latest Clear Channel employee to either announce a resignation or be forced out over the past year.
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Just one week after the departure of controversial WSPD-AM 1370 talk-radio host Brian Wilson, the station’s general manager said on Tuesday that he, too, would be leaving.

Andy Stuart, who has been with Clear Channel Communications Inc. in Toledo for years, declined to discuss in detail his departure from the company.

“I can confirm that I resigned from Clear Channel today,” Mr. Stuart said on Tuesday night.

Clear Channel, the largest radio-station operator in the country, operates several stations in the Toledo market, including WSPD-AM and WVKS-FM 92.5.

Mr. Stuart said he would not leave the company immediately. He referred all questions to his spokesman, Richard Marks, in McLean, Va.

“I can confirm that Andy is leaving Clear Channel,” Mr. Marks said. “He will be the president and CEO of a new technology company that should be up and running by the end of 2013.”

Mr. Marks identified himself as a director of the new company but would not reveal its name or location. He said the company would be dealing in proprietary technology and therefore he could not share any specifics.

“We are very fortunate to secure the services of Andy Stuart as president, and we are excited to have him come on board,” Mr. Marks said.

The Clear Channel Web site lists Mr. Stuart as general manager for six Toledo-area radio stations. His own personal LinkedIn Web site lists him as the vice president and regional market manager of Clear Channel Radio in northern Ohio. The site says his responsibilities include supervision of 30 Clear Channel radio stations and their associated digital assets in Defiance, Napoleon, Toledo, Findlay, Ashland, Mansfield, Akron, Canton, and Youngstown.

Mr. Stuart is the latest Clear Channel employee to either announce a resignation or be forced out over the past year. The company is partially owned by Bain Capital, which is the company founded and previously run by former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Mr. Stuart’s influence reached beyond the airwaves that include WSPD and 92.5 — two stations known over the past decade for a variety of “shock jocks.” Among civic groups, he has been a member of the Toledo Opera Board of Directors.

Andy Stuart, right, and Tom Schlachter carry boxes of petitions into Government Center in 2009 as part of an effort to recall then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. Andy Stuart, right, and Tom Schlachter carry boxes of petitions into Government Center in 2009 as part of an effort to recall then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.
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In 2009, Mr. Stuart inserted himself into the controversial effort to recall then-Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.

Mr. Finkbeiner at the time criticized the group as consisting mostly of out-of-town businessmen with an agenda. They included Mr. Stuart, under whose leadership WSPD repeatedly beat the drum for the recall drive in its programs in hopes of attracting conservative listeners.

Lucas County Republican Party Chairman Jon Stainbrook at the time blasted the station.

“WSPD led this botched attempt to bolster their poor ratings and dwindling listenership,” Mr. Stainbrook said in July, 2009. “The [board of elections] should have tossed out the recall petitions before one dime of taxpayer money was spent. They wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars processing signatures and holding their dog-and-pony-show protest hearings.”

Mr. Finkbeiner for many years complained about WPSD’s slant on the news under Mr. Stuart’s control.

“Having grown up in Toledo along with many other men and women when I was younger WSPD was a station that you would listen to, not only Monday through Friday to gain balanced and objective news,” he said on Tuesday. “It was such an honorable presentation of what was going on in our community. ... Then along came the era of shock jocks and those who thought it was very popular to bad-mouth, not only a political leader as myself, but the community in general ... ”

Mr. Finkbeiner said it was an era of “besmirching, running down, and many times criticizing the value system of Toledo” and said Mr. Stuart had a “lack of character.”

Jerry Anderson, a news anchor at WTOL-TV, Channel 11, and a former radio personality for WSPD, said Mr. Stuart was great to work for and a supportive manager.

“I was hired by Andy to do morning show back in the ’90s,” Mr. Anderson said. “I would work for Andy there tomorrow.”

He acknowledged that the station’s attitude had changed over the past 20 years.

“In more recent years, I found it a little harder to listen to because they sounded angry all the time,” Mr. Anderson said.

Wendy Goldberg, Clear Channel’s spokesman, did not respond to an email and a call placed to her office Tuesday night. Calls to WSPD on Tuesday were not answered.

The timing of Mr. Wilson’s exit and the resignation of Mr. Stuart is precarious, said Tom Taylor, who publishes the Tom Taylor Now newsletter, which tracks developments in radio broadcasting.

Change could be on the horizon for Toledo’s Clear Channel stations, but the timing of both departures isn’t necessarily ominous, Mr. Taylor said.

“Looking at 2013 budgets, [Mr. Wilson] was probably a salary that popped up. The folks at corporate look at numbers,” said Mr. Taylor, who is based in Trenton, N.J. “In the case of Andy Stuart, my uninformed speculation would be that Andy has something else planned out. I would expect and I would be surprised if they didn’t replace him.”

The circumstances surrounding Mr. Wilson’s departure are unclear; he has not spoken to The Blade since leaving the station.

San Antonio-based Clear Channel has been tightening its operations and has been quietly laying off and firing people or eliminating programming since the close of 2011.

On-air talent and behind-the-scenes employees have been shown the door or programming has been eliminated in markets that include Los Angeles; Boston; Tampa; San Diego; Oklahoma City; Nashville; Madison, Wis.; Springfield, Mo.; and, most recently, Toledo.

The company has a vested interest in cutting personnel or operational budgets because it was loaded with more than $16 billion in debt when it was purchased by Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners in 2008. The private-equity firms purchased Clear Channel for $26.7 billion.

Since that time, thousands of radio employees from coast to coast have lost their jobs. Clear Channel also is consolidating programming — traffic reporting is one example — and moving its operations into regional clusters that share personnel.

Mike Creel, who lost his job at WNRQ-FM in Nashville this year, previously said layoffs began the same day that a new general manager arrived at the station.

“It was his first day in the building — the first day in the building, the manager was letting people go,” Mr. Creel said.

Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.

Contact Kris Turner at: kturner@theblade.com, or 419-724-6103.



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