Virgin Radio 95.9 fires Freeway Frank, Natasha Gargiulo, brings in Cousin Vinny and Shannon King

Updated with announcement of new hosts.

“Freeway” Frank Depalo and Natasha Gargiulo in 2011.

Until Wednesday, these were the two big faces of Montreal’s Virgin Radio station. On Thursday the station was pretending they never existed. Standard operating procedure in the industry, unfortunately.

“Freeway Frank” Depalo and Natasha Gargiulo, who have been together on the morning show since shortly after The Beat launched in 2011, disappeared from the station’s website, Mike Cohen noticed yesterday. They confirmed the news in a video posted on Thursday.

Thursday morning, in their place on air were Lee Haberkorn and Kelly Alexander, hosting the nameless “Virgin Radio Mornings” with no mention of the previous hosts, talking about various lifestyle topics like nothing changed.

Cousin Vinny and Shannon King in their new publicity photo.

On Monday morning, Virgin announced its new lineup, finally confirming the rumour that it had hired Cousin Vinny Barrucco back from The Beat. He’s being paired with Shannon King, who comes from Kiss radio in Sudbury.

Barrucco left The Beat six months ago and promised recently he would soon announce where he’s going. So apparently his non-compete clause is six months.

Bell Media did not respond to my request for comment about the firing, and made no mention of Freeway and Natasha in its announcement of its new lineup. None of the remaining Virgin personalities have commented publicly on social media about their departed colleagues, likely because they were told to by management, which makes them seem heartless to some listeners.

Also in the new Virgin lineup:

  • Lee Haberkorn, who was the third person on the morning team, gets promoted to afternoon drive host, where he’ll do a shift from 3-8pm.
  • Charli Paige gets the entire daytime to herself, going from 10am to 3pm weekdays. This puts an end to the experiment where a syndicated Ryan Seacrest show aired during the weekday. It started in 2012 after Virgin filled the hole that Barrucco left by hiring Andrea Collins.
  • Adam Greenberg, who was hosting afternoons, switches with Haberkorn and becomes the third guy on the morning team as content producer for the show and its social media.

Going with a three-show lineup between 5:30am and 8pm, each one about five hours long, shows Bell Media will still be stretching the shifts of its announcers — The Beat has four shifts in that time and starts its evening show at 7pm.

The new lineup announcement doesn’t mention Kelly Alexander, who has been with the station since 2007 and seems to have been passed over for a promotion to a more prominent (and stable) job once again. She’s currently hosting weekends.

Virgin also recently parted ways with program director Mark Bergman, who surprisingly resurfaced at The Beat. He has been replaced by Blair Bartrem.

Virgin Radio’s loyal audience, like any other, isn’t pleased with two personalities they have spent a decade getting to know suddenly disappearing without a word. A video posted to Facebook teasing the new show generated more than 200 comments, mostly negative. A video announcing the new hosts generated 180 comments in three hours, and 89 “angry” reaction emotes.

Firing on-air talent is never easy, but perhaps it’s time for radio stations in particular to re-examine how they go about it. You never want to put someone you’ve just fired in front of a live microphone, but in the age of social media, they kind of have one anyways. A little heart can go a long way. And the fact that Virgin has had this in the works for six months just makes it worse.

Listeners will be wondering why this change was made. The most logical answer is ratings. Virgin slipped behind CHOM and even CBC Radio One in the last ratings book, and the morning show, though not always the highest rated, tends still to be the anchor of the schedule. With the trend against The Beat continuing its slide, a change had to be made. At first, when The Beat climbed above Virgin in the overall ratings, Virgin could content itself to owning the 25-54 demographic, but even that slipped away as the two continued to diverge.

I’m not sure how much this will change things. The music tends to come first, especially when daytime announcers are limited to breaks of only a few seconds between songs. But we’ll see.

UPDATE: I wrote about the change for the Montreal Gazette. Bell Media isn’t making anyone at the station available for an interview.

62 thoughts on “Virgin Radio 95.9 fires Freeway Frank, Natasha Gargiulo, brings in Cousin Vinny and Shannon King

  1. mediaman15

    So this confirms what I’ve been hearing on the street, so to speak, as well.

    But Vinny in the AM and some new hotshot in the afternoon drive, I doubt will make much difference ratings wise, since both these stations, except for the morning shows, the announcers talk for a few seconds between tracks.

    The Beat has such better variety and have shown better promotions in general. 95.9 could use a serious rebranding.!

  2. Marc

    Methinks they’re prepping a branding and format change. Can’t have two carbon-copy stations any longer. CJFM has been bleedling listeners for a long time now.

  3. Dana

    i agree with Mike Cohen. If Breakfast Television & Global were smart they’d scoop these two up and get them on their shows as co hosts.
    I have listened to Virgin with my coffee for many years. Hosts never last more than a few years it seems.

    1. Vanessa. Olivares

      I agree !!! Listening to Freeway Frank and Natasha was my morning routine for years. I woke this morning to hear 2 new voices and it wasnt the same. While I am giving Vinny and Shannon a chance, I feel its time for a switch or forget local radio all together.

  4. Joanne

    Totally disappointed. Fed up with Virgin & bell media. Deff not listening to virgin that’s for sure. They always do this to all the great radio broadcasters. They have no shame To fire people that do well. I can understand when people are just not good at their job but when you have people that are amazing at their jobs totally not acceptable.

    1. Anonymous

      100% with you. Hopefully the bigwigs and suits recruit these two to BT or Global like others have suggested. They are just too good to not scoop up , as it were.

      1. Samuel Santos

        Maybe Freeway Frank and Natasha should try going out of the market. They can go to Victoria and try out for CHTT 103.1. It will drop the Kiss FM format become either Country 103.1 or Jack 103.1. They can be the morning show for that station. Country 101.1 Smiths Falls Ottawa fired one of the Boomer’s co-host. Frank and / or Natasha can join Boomer in the morning on Country 101.1. It’s actually in Ottawa not SF.

        1. Onetimecomment

          No, we need Freeway and Natasha to stay here in Montreal. We NEED them, I need them. They we’re truly the best. They always put me in a good mood in the morning.

  5. Anonymous

    The radio industry has never been nor will it ever be a stable working environment. Bell Media treats their employees like their numbers. If Virgin Radio thought their morning show ratings were bad before, take a look at them now. Freeway & Natasha will rise together once again soon enough…..whether it’s on another station or on a podcast.

  6. Brett

    It appears they are now airing promos for a new morning show telling people to listen in on Monday. I suspect it’s Vinny going back to Virgin.

  7. Anonymous

    Who cares , 92.5 fm station did that yrs ago , ppl disappear or get shuffled. It’s all good Natasha was annoying any way . Everything always happened to her “ story wise “… was getting too predictable

  8. Dilbert

    Nobody ever looks good in these deals. Bell (and all other media companies) treat their listeners like idiots (no, there was nobody here by that name ever!), the jocks face sudden terminations, and the new people have to overcome a pile of bad feelings.

  9. Mario D

    And then that cousin Vinny guy will get fired also at some point because they hired this new guy that actually comes from the other guys and the wheel keeps on turning in a tiny tiny market. 2 radio stations playing the same music , hiring the same hosts, fighting for ratings, winning one month, loosing the next month.

    After a while, serving the same recipe becomes boring and has a je-ne-sais-quoi of déjà vu.

    The only things that should keep us interested in those moves are the need to keep Bell from destroying the market more than it already did and of course the faith of those who have been let go as if they were mere numbers….

  10. Peter & Catherine

    I think I am the only one not surprised by this.

    It is sad when anyone loses their job. But in this day and age their near decade-long run is quite impressive. Let’s celebrate that and forget the negativity.

    Gone are the days for all of us to be lifers in any company regardless of the industry. Conventional broadcast media is very much in flux just like automotive.

    The tar & feathering online witch hunt happening on social media attempting to take down Vanessa Grimaldi & Cousin Vinnie is shameful. It’s not their fault. Nobody stabbed anyone in the back.

    Vanessa deserves her chance. I think Natasha was a part time weather girl when she got her big break. Cousin Vinnie is an indisputable shining radio star in our city.

    There is a fine line between social justice and online bullying. I hope any platform hosting these attacks on Vanessa remove them at once.

    Hopefully these two land on their feet with little interruption. Onward and upwards. Wish everyone well.

  11. Anonymous

    I will miss hearing your voices in the morning ? you guys were funny and made my mornings bright. I hope they realize they made a big mistake ! I wish you guys the very best and hope to hear you guys back on the radio ????

  12. Alain

    Two of the most likable morning personalities in Montreal by far in recent years. Nobody commenting on circumstances knows the full story. Perhaps salaries were no longer justified? Natasha always seemed to be jetting off , or promoting something. Who knows? Either way – these two lovelies deserve the best life has to offer. I cannot imagine any English radio station in Montreal has tons of viewers.

  13. Anonymous

    Never listened to their morning show. But, I do feel sorry for them. Were the hell does one go in this market to look for another job. When so much is owned by the same station group that just let you go.

    If it’s not owned by Bell Media, It’s owned by Cogeco Media. The next possibility is SRC / CBC. Not much of a chance getting in there. All the remaining options are bread crumbs. Not a healthy media market in this town.

  14. Francine Flynn

    Wow woke up this morning with new voices on my
    Station!! Taken aback checked on google where my two
    Favourite morning people went!!
    Guys I wish you both luck!! Please let us know where
    you land so I can tune in!!
    Miss you guys already.


  15. Anonymous

    Virgin Radio you made the biggest mistake ever to fire Frank and Natasha. They are the heart of Montreal. I heard the new show this morning and it’s horrible. No chemistry. I won’t be listening to this station any longer. I hope you we’re at least smart enough to keep Lee.Horrible decision. If Vinny left his spot at The Beat then let him find another job at another radio station not to replace your #1 morning hosts.
    You lost a loyal listener for the past 15+ years.

  16. Marie Galeno

    WHAT WHAT!!! I don’t believe it. You made Virgin Radio what it is in the morning. My morning is ruined. Good luck and be back fast. Marie

  17. Anonymous

    WHAT..WHAT..WHAT!?!?!? The dynamic duo will not be hosting the morning show anymore! You will be missed. You made my mornings easier for the trek to work with your funny stories ….VERY dissapointed @virgin radio mtl. Will be tuning in to another radio station!!!

  18. Brett

    I am happy that Vinny is back. Been following him since his days at CKRK K103.7FM during rush hour. When he went to The Beat I followed. Now that he’s back on Virgin I’m back to Virgin Radio

  19. Lauri

    How disappointing and lack of respect for the listeners, as well as Freeway Frank and Natasha. I loved their show!! Noticed right away this morning something was off.. Wasn’t feeling the new vibe.

  20. Terry Torres

    That’s sucks I was wondering why on my way to work I didn’t hear Natasha and Frank . I was shocked to hear the bad news. I love you guys and pls. Give us the update on your new future show.

  21. Peter Mitas

    If you want me to keep listening to Virgin Radio stop the killing the songs by speeding them up during the afternoon drive.

  22. Maria Sakhrani

    I haven’t really listened much to Virgin in years and I expected someone was going to get canned as the ratings came in. But I know what it’s like to be fired without warning and being shell shocked as to what to do next. The problem for them is, where can they go? The English radio station market is tiny unless 94.7 Hits is willing to change things up and take them in, weak signal and all. That or as it was suggested, Global or CITY.

  23. mediaman15

    I’m still trying to fathom why they didn’t rebrand at the same time…this would have been the perfect time…or will there be some change in music formatting, maybe some new weekend features.
    Outside of that, this was a change for the sake of change. Is there a way to get away from the Virgin name or it’s a long term contract, can one station in the network of cities rebrand ?

    1. Dilbert

      Bell has essentially doubled down on the Virgin brand, and they are stuck with it at a local and national level. It’s one of those “same all over” problems that big companies have. They want everything the same because it’s easier to manage with fewer people, you only need one or two people nationally adding new music instead of a music director full time for each station, and things like that. Bell tries to make profit by finding ways to create redundancies and eliminating duplicate staff.

      The problem? Montreal isn’t Toronto, and isn’t Vancouver, and musical tastes aren’t all the same. The Beat appears to be better tuned to what Montrealers want to hear, and how they want to hear it.

      1. Fagstein Post author

        The problem? Montreal isn’t Toronto, and isn’t Vancouver, and musical tastes aren’t all the same

        Not just that, but Montreal has different regulatory requirements when it comes to music. So its playlist needs to be adjusted accordingly.

  24. Max

    What a stupid move by Bell media and Virgin. Freeway and Natascha and Lee were fantastic in the morning. Switching to satellite radio. Totally disappointed!

  25. Lee Albert

    Vinny will never be able to come close to Frank as a morning person. Virgin is missing the mark in trying to increase their ratings. You don’t eliminate the best thing you have to build on.

  26. clabby

    I am really happy about the change! I think Vinny and Shannon will bring a great change to this station. I didn’t listen before because of Frank and Natasha but now I will….Thanks

  27. Anonymous

    I was very disappointed, stopped listening to virgin radio. Natasha and Frank my heart goes out to you , you were a ray of sunshine in the morning .

  28. Anonymous

    Good move. Natasha Gargiulo was so stale and not entertaining at all. Very high on herself and felt she was above all. I stopped listening when she stepped in. Frank seemed like he was always sucking up to her I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. It became about them two and not the radio. Too dramatic for me . Glad Virgin finally did something about it . Looking forward to listening again!

    1. Timmy

      Freeway suck up to Natasha? What show were you listening to? He called her out daily. Never heard a more authentic radio host. There are tons of phonies in the media biz. He is definitely not one of them.

      1. Dana

        He was always a gentleman full of authentic adoration for his co-host even once Natasha began to lose her way with all her promotional extras on the side.

  29. PMM

    Doubtful anybody in any position of authority(or with a moral compass) at Bell or Virgin gives a damn about feedback from any disgruntled Montreal “listener” attacking Vanessa , Vinny or Shannon online.
    I stopped tuning in when Natasha began promoting luxury cars and many other products online. I would not be surprised if her greed was partly behind the decision. Bell loses ad revenue due to low ratings yet she makes money on the side because of her job at Bell?
    I wish them both well. Maybe I will tune in again, maybe I wont. There are many choices for all of us.- move on people.

  30. Anonymous

    Wow virgin radio is so stupid. These two were amazing. Literally made my morning because they were so funny. I listened to the new ones (Shannon and Vinny) they are completely awful, changed the channel right away. Not listening to virgin anymore.

  31. Pina

    It seems to be how the industry works. A few years ago, Aaron Rand and Sarah Bartok were let go in a similar way. Nothing new!

  32. mediaman15

    Steve, a few people are referring to a Vanessa Grimaldi, wasn’t she of the bachelor Fame. Did I miss something, was she involved in some staffing somewhere between the two stations?

    Why it seems she’s getting roasted on social media?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      a few people are referring to a Vanessa Grimaldi

      There was a rumour spread on a Facebook page that Grimaldi was going to be Vinny’s co-host on the new show. That ended up not being the case.

  33. Anonymous

    Isn’t it ironic and sad that the same organization that looks for a loyal audience to keep the ratings up, lets go of such a great powerhouse, a mistake and my family will not remain loyal we will be listening to a French station from now on….hope Freeway Frank and Natasha will get their own show!!!!

  34. Anonymous

    It was a pleasure waking up in the morning and listening to Freeway & Natasha, from now on bye to Virgin Radio, I’ll move to The Beat & CHOM for some time before picking one of the two.

  35. Onetimecomment

    The ratings slip because they play the same 12 songs on rerun for 4 months. Whereas the Beat plays different songs, throwbacks etc
    Freeway Frank and Natasha saved my life, driving to school in traffic for more than an hour every day. They were so funny, their jokes actually made me laugh out loud alone in my car.
    I’m so upset that they got rid of them. No matter where they go – and I hope they stick together- I will follow them. Goodbye Virgin.

  36. Sal

    I am very disappointed not listening to frank and Natasha in the morning! They were the only reason why I would listen to that station they would always put a smile to my face and even my kids loved them! It’s a real shame to not have them on the station I think the station will only go down hill without them because I was a big listener and I’m never tuning to that station anymore and I know many more that feel the same way! I had tears in my eyes when I heard the bad news I couldn’t believe it ! I’m so upset and disgusted by the owner of the station not only having them fired but the way it was all done! I hope that station goes down!!! They will realize what they had when it’s to late !!!! ??

  37. Virginia

    That sucks! The fact that the station didn’t say anything and just replaced you guys like nothing happened is so rude! I don’t understand their decision, I’ve loved listening to you two for years, hope everything is going to be well! And Virgin Montreal has lost me for the morning show! ??

  38. Dwayne C.

    What a terrible decision. Just got back from a month long holiday to find out my favourite morning show has been cancelled.

  39. Anonymous

    OMG, c’est pour ca que je n’aime plus Virgin Radio, parce que SANS Freway and Natacha ce n’est plus LA MÊME CHOSE. Dans le travail des nouveaux modérateurs il n’y a pas de continuité dans tout ce qui disent.

  40. Pingback: Fall radio ratings: Could The Beat surpass CJAD? | Fagstein

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