Updated with announcement of new hosts.
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.
We’ve shared so much together.
It’s been a historic run. No words.
Except for these .Thank U / Merci MTL for your continued decade long of ?? & support. we miss u @freewayfrank & @natasha_gargiulo always have each other’s back See u soon #FREEWAYANDNATASHA @virginradiomontreal pic.twitter.com/O6bGCwzGbi
— Natasha Gargiulo (@NatashaGargiulo) August 8, 2019
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.
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.