The president of several Portland radio stations is no longer working for the company, the latest of several high-profile changes and firings at the stations over the last few months.

The  “departure” of Bob Adams as president and general manager of the Portland Radio Group was prompted by the stations’ need for a “more defined growth pattern,” according to a memo sent to employees by Saga Communications, the group’s Michigan-based parent company. The memo called Adams “a fine, dedicated, career long broadcaster who all of us like and respect.” He had worked for the company for more than five years.

Adams could not be reached Tuesday, and the company would not provide more details about the reason for his departure.

In recent months, Portland Radio Group stations have made news for highly-visible firings that upset some listeners. Randi Kirshbaum, an on-air host for WCLZ and WPOR who had been on Portland radio 38 years, was laid off May 18 after she refused to return to work at the company’s South Portland studios because of health concerns related to COVID-19 and a serious lung disease that runs in her family. Kirshbaum, who was also program manager for WCLZ and Coast 93.1, has hired a lawyer, who plans to file a discrimination complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission and a possible lawsuit.

Ken Altshuler Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Ken Altshuler, who was the liberal-leaning co-host of WGAN’s weekday morning news and talk show, was fired March 27 after some 18 years. The move upset listeners because it left the show with only one host, conservative Matt Gagnon, and only one viewpoint. Some listeners were also upset that the show stopped taking callers, which had been one of its staples for years. WGAN weekend talk show host John McDonald, a well-known Maine humorist and storyteller, was fired in April after 25 years at the station. McDonald had recently taken time away from the studio partly because of concerns over COVID-19.

Altshuler said at the time he was told his firing was part of financial restructuring at the station, while McDonald said he was given no reason.

Adams, at the time, had not returned several calls and emails asking for more details about the firings of Altshuler and McDonald. When Kirshbaum was laid off, questions about that decision were handled at the corporate level, by Chris Forgy, senior vice president of operations for Saga in Michigan. Forgy said Saga had the authority to lay off Kirshbaum based on the terms of an agreement – signed by Kirshbaum and sent to the Press Herald – allowing Kirshbaum to work from her Scarborough home temporarily beginning in early April. It was to be re-evalutated every two weeks. Kirshbaum was asked to come back to the studios on the same date other employees were reporting back, Forgy had said.

John McDonald Photo courtesy of Islandport Press

The Saga memo sent to Portland Radio Group staff Monday was from Forgy and Ed Christian, president and chief executive officer of Saga Communications. The memo, obtained by the Press Herald, is dated Monday and announced Adams’ “departure” effective Monday “with regret.” The only reason given was the need for a “more defined growth pattern” and that “a change was necessary.” No other details were provided. It also said Adams’ replacement would be announced in the next few days, and thanked Adams for his “service and commitment” to Saga.

Forgy on Tuesday replied to an email asking for more details of Adams’ departure and the reasons for other recent changes at the group’s stations by saying that Saga never discusses “personal matters” about employees when they leave the company. On the changes at WGAN, Forgy wrote that the company would likely not have anything additional to say about them.

“It is a heritage brand in Portland and we decided to take it slightly more news focused versus talk focused,” Forgy wrote.

Randi Kirshbaum Photo courtesy of Randi Kirshbaum

Several of the changes at Portland Radio Group have occurred since the COVID-19 pandemic began shuttering businesses in mid to late March, and affecting all businesses that make money from advertising, including radio. Radio stations around the country have reported layoffs, furloughs and financial losses, including two of the largest station chains, iHeartMedia and Entercom. Entercom in April announced it would temporarily cut employee salaries by 10 percent to 20 percent for those making more than $50,000, while iHeartMedia announced an undisclosed number of furloughs for employees.

Saga, which owns or operates 79 FM and 34 AM stations in 27 markets, released a statement in May saying its net income increased 22.6 percent in the first quarter of this year, which ended March 31. But the quarter ended just two weeks or so after businesses began closing.

After being laid off, Kirshbaum posted a message on Facebook asking her supporters – who were angered by the move – not to boycott or protest the stations. In her post, she called the Portland Radio Group’s management and staff “wonderful people” who “had nothing to do with my termination.” On Tuesday, Kirshbaum referred questions about Portland Radio Group and Adams’ departure to her lawyer, David Webbert.

Webbert called Adams’ departure an  “abrupt termination, without cause” and part of a pattern of age discrimination by the company. He said Saga has been using “excuses” to push out older, veteran employees like Kirshbaum, 66; Altshuler, 67; and McDonald, 75, without cause. He said Adams, who has worked in radio for 27 years, may fit the pattern. Webbert said he plans to cite age discrimination when he files a complaint on Kirshbaum’s behalf with the Maine Human Rights Commission.

Altshuler said Tuesday he agreed with Kirsbaum’s description of the local staff and management at Portland Radio Group. He said when Adams fired him in March, he told Altshuler his show was “great” and that he had done nothing wrong. Altshuler said he did not, however, fully believe that his firing was done to save money, as Adams told him. Altshuler works full time as a lawyer and would have stayed on the show for reduced pay, he said.

“I think they had just lost tolerance for the non-conservative voice on the show and wanted to be more like Fox News,” Altshuler said of Saga.

Several longtime WGAN listeners were angered by the changes to station’s morning show when Altshuler left, including the fact that callers were no longer allowed to chat and give their opinions live on the air. Without the voices of callers or of a liberal co-host, the show slanted very sharply to the right, politically, said Bill Linnell of Portland, who has been listening to the show for nearly 30 years.

“The people don’t have a voice on that show anymore,” said Linnell. He was also upset by McDonald’s firing, because he liked hearing McDonald’s “Maine conservative” viewpoints.

No contact information could be found for Adams on Tuesday, though messages were left for him on his Portland Radio Group email address. Before coming to Saga in 2014, Adams had been general manager at a radio station in Gilford, New Hampshire, from 1993 to 2000, and vice president and general manager for Cumulus and Citadel stations in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area from 2000 to 2014, according to his LinkedIn profile.

The Portland Radio Group includes country stations The Outlaw and WPOR, oldies stations Rewind 100.9 and Pure Oldies 105.5, easy listening station The Bay, adult alternative station WCLZ, adult pop station Coast 93.1 and news station WGAN.

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