Last update: Dec. 27 at 2am, adding a comment from Marier at the bottom.
“My show on CHOM was terminated last night.”
That was the extent of the comment from Pete Marier Friday morning, on Facebook, to the fact that he’s leaving CHOM.
Rumours about Marier’s impending departure have been flying about for a few weeks, but things came to a head this week when Marier was given an ultimatum, a source close to Marier said. (Marier himself isn’t talking – his only communication with me directly was to confirm the news of his departure.)
According to the source, who asked not to be named for fear of pissing off Bad Pete, Marier was told Thursday after his show to sign a contract that would have decreased his salary by more than half, otherwise he would be terminated as of Friday. Marier refused, which led to a heated verbal confrontation in Astral Media vice-president Martin Spalding’s office on Friday morning. Marier was thrown out of Astral’s Fort St. offices, and called the police to press for charges of (very minor) assault against Spalding, according to the source, who was in the office at the time.
Spalding wouldn’t get into what happened in his office, saying he didn’t want to air dirty laundry, but he did say that emotions got the better of both of them. Spalding confirmed that Astral exercised an out clause when Marier made it clear he would not accept a new contract with a reduced salary, and his last day was set at March 8, 2012. Spalding said the new salary figure, which he wouldn’t specify but said was nowhere near a 50% pay cut, was “very competitive” for an afternoon host in this market, and that even if it’s less than what he would make in mornings, it’s higher than what he made the last time he was doing the afternoon drive show.
Spalding said Marier was given five chances to accept the offer and stay at CHOM. He maintained that Marier was to be one of the three “pillars” with Terry DiMonte and Tootall, and that they wanted him to stay. “He was in our long-term plans,” Spalding said.
“He left us no choice,” he explained. With DiMonte set to return Jan. 9, management wanted to get its schedule finalized by then. Spalding said he and Brand Director André Lallier didn’t want to go through a big launch Jan. 9 and have to make a big change two months later when Marier left.
Spalding said the decision was made Thursday night, after one final offer, to make Friday Marier’s last day. That still gave Marier the chance to say goodbye to listeners, which he seemed to accept on Thursday. But on Friday morning, Marier changed his mind and said he wouldn’t go on air.
Marier remains on CHOM’s payroll, as per the terms of his contract, until March.
“It saddens me because I think he’s a great guy,” Spalding said. Despite their falling out, Spalding had nothing but praise for Marier’s talent and said it was unfortunate that he wouldn’t accept Astral’s offer.
The timing is probably the worst part about this. Marier’s last contract wasn’t set to expire until next September, but with DiMonte’s return so close in the new year, the decision had to be made now.
On Friday, as they have done in the past with acrimonious departures, CHOM scrubbed Marier’s name and photo from its website. The 3-7pm timeslot on the schedule now just reads “The Drive”
Listeners fight back
Marier’s Facebook wall was flooded with comments from angry listeners, one of whom has started a Facebook group to demand CHOM rescind its decision, but its chances to success are just about zero now that the decision has been made. After initially allowing non-profane comments to stay, the people managing CHOM’s Facebook page deleted all comments about Marier. That didn’t stop them, of course, and they kept posting, adding more anger and some sarcasm to their voices.
It used to be that broadcasters, newspapers and other media could control their means of communication, and simply make people or issues disappear. But with social media like Facebook, their power is limited. They could shut down the page completely to comment, but that would throw away the baby with the bathwater.
Unfortunately for Marier, this kind of thing blows over. People aren’t calling in to CBC anymore to complain about Nancy Wood, or calling in to Q92 to complain about the axing of Tasso and Suzanne. CHOM can only hope that the protest about Marier dies down enough by Jan. 9 that it doesn’t harm their promotional plans.
Pillar of CHOM
Marier, 52, has been at CHOM since 1989 (except for a stint in Winnipeg from 2002 to 2005), mainly hosting morning and afternoon programs. He stepped back into mornings with Ted Bird and Chantal Desjardins, then went back to the afternoon drive when CHOM rejigged its schedule to prepare for the return of Terry DiMonte.
At the time, Spalding agreed with myself and many others that Marier’s voice was probably more suited to afternoons than mornings. (Even though CHOM’s ratings actually went up with Marier in the morning show chair.) There was no indication at the time that Marier’s future at the station was in doubt. In fact, Spalding referred to Marier as one of the “pillars of CHOM” – a description he maintained even when discussing Marier’s departure.
Not DiMonte’s fault
There’s been speculation that Marier’s departure is related to DiMonte’s return. It’s true that the timing of that is why this decision came now, and that DiMonte’s return is why Marier moved back to afternoons (and hence was offered less pay), but neither of these things are DiMonte’s fault.
Still, many comments online are extremely negative toward DiMonte, suggesting his return is why Marier is leaving, in part because CHOM spent big bucks for DiMonte and has little left for the rest of its staff.
That’s just not true, DiMonte says.
“The notion that I had anything to do with it is complete nonsense,” DiMonte wrote to me on Saturday. “I was REALLY disappointed that he left. I’ve known Pete for years and we always got along great. He’s a great broadcaster, a Montreal favorite and part of the fabric at CHOM… and I thought with me, him and TooTall it was going to be a helluva lineup. I’m really sorry he left.”
DiMonte also denied that Astral is breaking the bank to bring him home (he denied similar rumours about the kind of money he was supposed to be making in Calgary). He said he’s getting a pay cut, not a pay increase, to come back home. “The notion that there’s nothing left for others is internet claptrap. It’s just not so.”
Spalding similarly flatly denies that other announcers are being offered less because DiMonte got more.
Though DiMonte is getting a say in his morning cohosts (no decision has been announced yet), he said he had no part in Marier’s contract negotiations and was only told about everything after the fact.
“It’s not going to be as much fun without Pete, but I’m not sure what I can do about that.”
Team Pete or Team Astral?
I don’t have access to the dollar figures involved here, so I can’t say whether CHOM’s move was justified or whether the contract was fair. A 20-plus-year veteran is obviously going to attract a lot more sympathy than a faceless corporation, but that doesn’t mean the latter has to cave to the former.
That said, if Marier’s only demand was that he get paid the same salary, it’s hard to be too outraged by it. If Marier was a “pillar” of CHOM, he should have been treated as one. Unless his salary as a morning DJ was unreasonably through the roof, would it have hurt the bottom line so terribly for it to remain at that level?
As with any negotiation, the two sides choose what they can live with. Marier believes his talent (or his dignity) is worth more than Astral offered, and if he’s right he won’t be unemployed for long. (He’s still doing freelance voice work, including a lot of radio commercials – many that are still airing on the station he left.) Astral believes it’s more profitable to let Marier go than to keep paying him a morning-show salary. If it’s right, the company will either save money by not having Marier on payroll, it will do better on ratings and revenue with the money it would have spent on him, or both.
No matter how this ended, or which side is right, it really sucks for something like this to happen two days before Christmas.
Lineup decisions coming soon
No decision has been made about the rest of the CHOM lineup, including who will replace Marier on the drive show. Spalding said Rob Kemp and Chantal Desjardins, who will get the bump from the morning show unless they become DiMonte’s sidekicks, are still part of their plans, and roles for them are being finalized. He said an announcement should be expected within the next two weeks. In any case, it’ll come before Jan. 9.
UPDATE (Dec. 26): From Marier, on Facebook:
Dear Friends, Thanks for the tremendous support and well wishes. Both are greatly appreciated. In spite of recent events (on which I cannot comment right now), my family and I had a great Christmas! I hope you all did too. Merci encore!
“Happy to sit down”?
UPDATE (Jan. 6): A Gazette story from Bill Brownstein on Terry DiMonte coming back to CHOM includes a sidebar that mentions Marier. It includes quotes suggesting reconcilation is possible:
Spalding: “If Pete called me today and if we could come to terms, we’d make it work. We would have him right back in drive. The last thing I ever wanted was to lose him. He’s an incredible talent.”
Marier: “If Astral Media is willing to negotiate a contract with me, I’d be more than happy to sit down with Martin Spalding and try to work it out.”
“You only have one chance to make a first impression.”
It’s a cliché, but I thought it was funny when I heard it come out of the mouth of Martin Spalding, the vice-president at Astral Media who is in charge of its three English-language stations in Montreal: CHOM, Virgin Radio (CJFM) and CJAD. The fact that we were talking to each other was kind of proving that assertion wrong. Or at least it was strong evidence against it.
Eleven days earlier, I called Spalding at his office to talk to him about the return of Terry DiMonte to CHOM, a move he arranged. But our conversation was brief.
“I know who you are,” he said after I introduced myself. Just as I was starting to feel relieved that I wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of convincing him to speak to some guy on the Internet as if he was a journalist, Spalding put the brakes on the interview. “I’m not in the mood to have this conversation,” he said.
I asked why. “Let’s just say you should be careful what you post on Twitter,” he said, without elaborating. He followed that with “this conversation is over.”
There was a slight hesitation in his voice, as if even he couldn’t believe he was saying this.
I didn’t know how to react. I don’t expect that everyone I contact will be interested in talking to me – mostly because I’m not a traditional journalist and my audience is not that of a metro newspaper or a supper-hour TV newscast. But I’d never had someone answer me like this before. This conversation sounded like it would be in the script from a bad movie.
What got me most is that I had no idea what set him off. Other than quoting some press releases with his name in them, I’d never talked about him on my blog. I’d never mentioned his name on Twitter. I didn’t even know what he looked like.
And I’ve posted thousands of things on Twitter. Plenty of stuff has been negative about CHOM and other Astral stations. I couldn’t really narrow it down.
The call was just before the end of business on June 23. My post about DiMonte – with the bit about Spalding at the end – was published the next day.
An email from Spalding was dated 9:05am the next Monday. He said he realizes he may have been a little “curt” in our phone conversation, and offered to take me out to lunch to explain. We scheduled a meeting for the following Monday at noon – July 4.
After seeing Spalding’s office – a corner office with wood panelling – and meeting Virgin Radio Brand Director Mark Bergman, we went to a Chinese place nearby and discussed our respective pasts a bit. Everything was cordial.
It was actually quite a while into our conversation at the lunch table until Spalding set the record straight about that minute-long conversation.
He said he had taken exception to something I tweeted the day before, suggesting that CHOM’s promotions department was lacking because its website had no mention of DiMonte a day after a press release announcing he was coming back to the station.
Spalding explained that it wasn’t because they’d simply forgotten about this or were lazy about it. Because DiMonte was still contracted to Q107 in Calgary, Spalding said that CHOM couldn’t use his image or promote him. Even issuing the press release was “playing with fire,” he said.
Spalding took my ill-informed tweet as an attack on the employees who work for him, and for me to then call and ask for comment after bashing his radio station didn’t exactly put him in the mood to cooperate.
By Monday morning, he had read my post on DiMonte, and his mood changed. He apologized for the curt tone on the phone, and went out of his way to compliment me on posts I had written, including the DiMonte one and an earlier one on Cogeco’s CRTC application for all-traffic radio stations, which he considered much more solid journalism than some of the shoot-from-the-hip tweets that are based on incomplete information.
It’s amazing how a simple conversation can change your perspective.
I, in turn, asked Spalding to apologize on my behalf to CHOM’s promotions department, an apology I repeat here. I jumped to an incorrect assumption (not the first time I’ve done so with CHOM-related news), and I should have checked. Just because it’s on Twitter doesn’t mean it’s exempt from basic journalistic rigour. I’ll try to do better in the future.
So we’re good now. Spalding gave me his card (asking me to call him before I tweet next time), paid for my lunch (the next one will be on me – I want to try to have at least some journalistic ethics here) and gave me two hours of his time – even pushing back a conference call so he could give me a few extra minutes.
The image of the super-professional businessman that DiMonte had painted for me during our conversation turned out to be a lot more accurate than I had thought after that brief phone conversation.
So, now on to the good stuff. I had a good bank of questions related to recent events at his radio stations, so I posed as many as I could fit in before I started to feel really guilty about taking him away from his real job.