Vox Radio Group lays off veteran news anchor Tom Conklin amidst 'restructuring'
Tom Conklin, 45, a Gamwell Avenue resident, told The Eagle on Monday that he was informed on Nov. 30 that his job was being eliminated.
That turned out to be his last day on the air handling morning news updates for WBEC-FM ("Live 95.9") in Pittsfield as well as WSBS (AM 860) in Great Barrington. He had started with WBEC in 1996 when it was privately owned, as were all other Berkshire radio stations at the time.
In recent years, as Vox gradually cut its news staff from five to two, Conklin had worked with news director Larry Kratka, a 25-year veteran of local radio who started as the morning show host on WBEC-AM. Kratka did not return several calls seeking comment.
According to Peter Barry, vice president and market manager of the Vox Radio Berkshire Group, a half-time news position is being created to assist Kratka, but he declined to identify the person who has been hired or transferred into the job.
Vox owns three signals in Pittsfield, two in Great Barrington and two in North Adams.
"We don't comment on personnel issues," Barry explained in a brief telephone interview, but added that the Vox stations are "doing fine" despite the tough economy that has affected print, radio and TV media nationwide.
In a more detailed emailed statement, Barry wrote: "Like all businesses, we regularly review our operational expenses and look for ways to operate more efficiently. As a result, we have restructured our news department and eliminated one of our full-time news positions. This will be replaced with a part-time shift, that will also be supported by greater utilization of current staff.
"The elimination of the position is no reflection on Tom Conklin, who was an exemplary employee who I am sure will do well in any venture he pursues."
In his statement, Barry declared: "Despite the reduction in the position from full- to part-time, we remain committed to live local programming. At a time when many stations across the country have eliminated their news departments and switched to satellite programming, we continue to employ a staff of eighteen full and part time employees dedicated to live local programming."
Conklin said he had not been offered the part-time post, though he probably would not have considered it.
"I was surprised, I didn't expect it," said Conklin of his termination, which was accompanied by some severance pay. "More or less, it had to do with the economy, the company is downsizing. They needed to drop a salary and mine was it. That was the only reason they gave me."
Conklin, whose wife, Marianne, is a tax accountant in Pittsfield, said he is open to radio work in the region if an opportunity emerges, but he's also considering other fields such as public relations.
"I'm looking at this as an opportunity to better myself," he added. Conklin has three children -- Alison, 23, a Brooklyn, N.Y., resident who is employed in Manhattan; Alex, 22, who lives with his parents; and Zachary, 19, a freshman at Wooster College in Ohio.
Conklin has pursued a small side business as a "voice actor," doing commercial voiceovers, according to his Facebook page.
"I was more upset when this happened," he said. "Now I've had time to come to terms with it."
The radio business is volatile, with high turnover in larger cities. "You expect that in this business, but not here in a smaller city," Conklin said.
Vox Communications, a regional chain, owns all but one Berkshire radio station -- WBRK-AM and FM in Pittsfield, still a Hodgkins family business.
Vox acquired WBEC's AM and FM signals in 2002 for $4.3 million, and added WUPE (FM 95.9) and its AM 1110 sister in Pittsfield from longtime owner Philip A. Weiner in 2003 for $3 million. In 2004, it added North Adams stations WNAW (AM 1230) and the former WMNB-FM as well as WSBS in Great Barrington from the Thurston family for just over $2 million.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.
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