Today FM hosts abruptly taken off air and told ‘play music’ in radio shock

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Today FM co-host Tova O'Brien
Today FM co-host Tova O'Brien . . . the station had "not been given a chance". Image: RNZ News/Mediaworks

RNZ News

The Mediaworks’ radio station Today FM abandoned scheduling today when presenters broke from programming to question the future of their employer.

Broadcasters told their audience they were going off air and had been instructed to play music.

Today FM hosts Duncan Garner and Tova O’Brien told listeners before 9am the station and staff were being cut.

“We’ve been told to play music.”

“This is it, folks.”

While still on-air, O’Brien said the station had not been given a chance.

Staff had been told they had the support of the chief executive, the board, the executive “and they have f…..d us”, she said.

Garner responded: “This is betrayal.”

Crying staff
“He said other staff had joined the two radio hosts in the studio and several of them were crying.

“Radio is one of those projects, where you have to settle in, and slowly but surely get your numbers, get your ratings, get your revenue,” Garner said.

He said the company was “bleeding cash”.

A short time later the station began playing music.

Show producer Tom Day tweeted that the Mediaworks board had made a proposal to shut down Today FM.

“They have given us only until the end of this afternoon to make submissions. I have no words.”

‘Gutting’ to be axed
Day told RNZ it was gutting to have their station axed by Mediaworks.

He confirmed the Mediaworks board had proposed to close down the Today FM Brand in a meeting this morning.

He wished they had been given more time to build their brand after being on the air for just over a year.

He said staff had attended a meeting with Palmer and HR staff this morning and it seemed clear the station would be shut down.

“It’s pretty much a done deal.”

Staff had been told there was a five-year plan for the station but instead it looked like it would close after just one year.

“We feel pretty gutted and let down,” he said.

‘Serious uncertainty’
A story on Today FM’s website says it is facing “serious uncertainty”.

It also references the appearance just before 9am of its key broadcasters Garner and O’Brien who went on air and used a swear word banned in most circumstances by the Broadcasting Standards Authority to describe their current situation.

In the on-air segment O’Brien said that following the resignation of Mediaworks head of news Dallas Gurney, soon after the sudden departure of chief executive Cam Wallace, the team had not been able to get the same level of assurance from the board or acting chief executive Wendy Palmer about the future of the radio station.

“We’ve got to hold out hope here, but we’re scared,” she said.

Duncan Garner asks the chief censor why he banned the manisfesto.
Today FM Co-host Duncan Garner . . . “This is betrayal.” Image: RNZ/Screenshot/AM

Tim Murphy, the co-editor of Newsroom, wrote that today’s development was shocking and gutting for many journalists and the industry.

Station-wide meeting
A station-wide meeting had been called with Palmer, the story said.

In a statement, Palmer said: “This morning at the MediaWorks board’s request, we have taken Today FM off air while we consult with the team about the future of the station.

“This is a difficult time for the team and our priority is supporting them as we work through this process.”

She said more information would be released at a later date.

Today FM was set up a year ago to replace Magic Talk, which had struggled to make inroads in the ratings.

MediaWorks also operates the Edge, the Breeze, Mai FM and the Rock among other stations.

Media commentator blames poor ratings
RNZ Mediawatch commentator Colin Peacock told Midday Report the company had spent a reported $6 million to $9 million to set up Today FM in a bid to compete with talkback radio market leader NewstalkZB.

The station needed to build its own news operation because Newshub and the TV channels had been sold to Discovery in 2021.

“The ratings didn’t work out bluntly over the past year,” he said.

The departures of Wallace and Gurney within the last month meant the biggest supporters of the station had left and current management was determined to cut costs.

He said “there was a lot to sort out” because the company would want to use the frequency and there would probably need to be payouts to any staff made redundant.

“They’ve really burned bridges with their staff so there will be fallout from this that will be financial as well.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ. 

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