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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 3, 2006

KHON's new owners handed five resignations

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

A string of managers at KHON-TV have resigned in the first week of new ownership at the station, saying they could not support downsizing plans that include firing 35 employees.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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TV station KHON experienced a tumultuous first week under new ownership, as five managers announced their resignation from the station over the past two days.

Production manager and senior director Jay Park, controller Carrie Castle and Internet technology manager Jared Kuroiwa resigned from the station yesterday. The departures come a day after general sales manager Cheryl Oncea and promotions director Linda Brock also turned in their resignations.

All five said in e-mailed messages to colleagues that they could not support the plans of the new owners, which include firing 35 of the station's 111 employees.

California-based Montecito Broadcast Group, formerly known as SJL Acquisition of California, and Blackstone Group of New York purchased the local Fox network affiliate from Emmis Communications Corp.

The departing employees could not be reached for comment.

News anchor Joe Moore, who has criticized the new owners' cost-cutting strategy in public with on-air comments and statements to the media, said department heads resigned rather than take the steps necessary, including layoffs, to meet new budget targets.

Montecito's chief operating officer, Sandra Benton, said the company had set "expense goals or reduction goals" for each department to meet spending targets. "We have budgetary goals and how you get at them is your work with the department heads. That's how we do it," Benton said.

Montecito managers have said that automation could result in cost savings that will allow preservation of key jobs at KHON. However, Moore said he foresees job cuts that go across the board, affecting news, sales and other departments.

"It's clear to almost everyone at the station that our new owners are destroying KHON," Moore said. "Their barbaric downsizing plan will severely cripple our ability to present relevant news and public service programming."

Moore said the "butchering" of the staff means that those left behind will be stretched too thin to maintain the quality Hawai'i viewers expect from the station, and called Montecito's business practices "a sad commentary on the new breed of broadcast companies and why they're in business."

Moore, who met once with Benton, has a much different take on the business than the chief operating officer.

Benton, who said she "had a good conversation" with the news anchor at their meeting, said, "We have a long, long history of running TV stations. I think what we are seeing is the fear of the unknown."

"I have a lot of respect for (Moore) and his history in the market, and how important he is in the market," Benton said. "I just asked for the opportunity to get to know each other before judgments are made."

In her letter of resignation, KHON sales manager Oncea wrote, "I have had to ask myself which is my higher responsibility: to stay and help our team through this transition, or to take action in accordance with my deepest beliefs about what is right and wrong. Ultimately, I realize that it is an impossible situation to be the (general sales manager) and not be able to support the plans of one's owners."

Former KHON general manager Rick Blangiardi resigned shortly after the purchase was announced last month, citing a disagreement with the new ownership's vision and approach. He has assumed the job of senior vice president and general manager of KGMB, another Emmis-owned station that is up for sale.

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.