Hey, kids: Radio Disney turning off stations

Radio Disney

Radio Disney

Walt Disney Co. is selling all but one of its 24 Radio Disney stations nationwide, including WRDZ AM 1300 here.

The move, effective September 26, will end Radio Disney’s 18-year run as a local radio operator and shift all of its programming and resources to digital platforms. It’s expected to mean the loss of nearly 200 jobs, mainly in advertising sales and operations.

The remaining station will be Los Angeles flagship KDIS, which will be used to originate Radio Disney's national network programming.

“Radio Disney will increase its investment in both digital distribution platforms and music-centric programming to optimize the network for long-term growth and to better reflect the habits of its listeners, a national audience of kids and families,” the company said in a statement.

Radio Disney took over the former Spanish-language WTAQ in west suburban LaGrange under a local marketing agreement in 1998 and later acquired the station outright. In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, WRDZ did not register among the top 60 radio stations in the Chicago area among all listeners age 6 and older.

In his authoritative newsletter Thursday, Tom Taylor called the move “just the next step in a long-planned retreat from terrestrial radio,” noting that 82 percent of tweens and moms who listen to Radio Disney do so on devices other than AM or FM receivers (with 37 percent on SiriusXM, 35 percent on Internet radio, and 31 percent on smartphones and tablets).

No word yet on buyers for the stations, but Taylor added: “Disney’s even selling the Radio Disney affiliate in Orlando, the home of its multi-billion-dollar operation at Disney World.”

Jon Lafayette, Chicago-based business editor of Broadcasting and Cable magazine, first broke the story Wednesday.

Here (via The Wrap) is the memo from Radio Disney general manager Phil Guerini:

Dear Colleagues,

Across all forms of media, digital technology continues to dramatically change consumer habits – from the iPad, mobile devices and the push of connected devices into the home – and these changes compel us to evaluate and evolve our businesses. Today, we're announcing meaningful changes to our Radio Disney business.

Radio Disney will be increasing investment in both digital distribution platforms and music-centric programming. These decisions will optimize Radio Disney for long-term growth and better reflect the habits of the consumers we serve — a national audience of kids and families. We are partnering with the most popular digital radio services including our distribution partner of over 12 years, SiriusXM, and the newly forged agreements with ShowMobile, Slacker and Harman's Aha Radio. We also have our fast growing Radio Disney App for iPhone, iPad and Android, our WATCH Disney Channel partnership and our Top 30 syndication partnership that's building across the U.S. We will also be exploring new digital extensions of Radio Disney's programming, including the Radio Disney Music Awards and Radio Disney's Next Big Thing (N.B.T.).

As part of this investment shift, at the end of September, we will be selling 23 of our 24 local radio stations, retaining KDIS-AM Los Angeles to originate Radio Disney's national network programming. The operations of the Los Angeles station will be picked up by the national team.

These changes will result in the elimination of some positions, adjustments to other roles and the addition of some new positions. Today and tomorrow, we will be talking individually to those directly affected. Please know that we approached this decision with care and rigor and will provide transition support to those who will be departing the organization.

I have always been impressed with the dedication and camaraderie of the people at the Radio Disney network and local stations. Thanks to that teamwork, Radio Disney leads the radio industry in delivering age-appropriate music and entertainment for kids and families. As we wish our colleagues all the best, we remain committed to continuing the momentum.