Cumulus GM fired despite overseeing top-rated local radio stations

Despite overseeing two of the top-rated radio stations in the city, Tom Stemlar is out as Cumulus Media’s Indianapolis market manager.

Stemlar lost his job Aug. 27 and was replaced by former iHeartMedia Cincinnati Region President Chuck Fredrick. Sources said Fredrick took his new position almost immediately after Stemlar was fired.

Cumulus operates three stations in Indianapolis: WJJK-FM 104.5 (classic rock format), WFMS-FM 95.5 (country) and WYRG-FM 93.9 (top 40 hits).

“When I departed Cumulus Indianapolis on Aug 27th, it had the No. 1 and No. 2 rated stations in Indianapolis, was a powerhouse on the Indy Media landscape, was stocked with talent both on and off-air, and was positioned and poised for even further growth,” Stemlar told IBJ via email. “Those were some of the objectives we had when I started at Cumulus three years ago, and I’m very proud of what we accomplished and where Cumulus Indianapolis stands today.”

Local radio advertisers told IBJ they were surprised by Stemlar’s departure.

In July, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research, WJJK-FM 104.5 was tops among all listeners in the market with a 7.9 share—which means nearly 8 percent of people listening to radio locally are tuned into that station.

WFMS was ranked No. 2 among all listeners in July with a 7.7 share, ahead of WFBQ 94.7 FM (Q-95), iHeart’s classic rock station, which was No. 3 in July with a 6.9 share, according to Nielsen.

WJJK and WFMS also did well in key demographics that attract advertisers.

Under Stemlar’s leadership, WFMS earlier this spring reached the top spot among listeners in this market for the first time since November 2013.

WYRG-FM 93.9 hasn’t done as well. Despite changing its format from old school hip-hop to top 40, the station has failed to gain much traction with local listeners. WYRG was ranked No. 19 among all radio listeners in July with a 1.5 share, according to Nielsen. One media buyer told IBJ “that station is very difficult to sell ads on right now.”

Stemlar told IBJ he was at a loss to explain his firing. Cumulus officials declined to comment on the firing.

Sources in the local industry said lagging advertising sales likely contributed to Stemlar’s firing. June and July were brutal months for ad sales for the vast majority of stations in the Indianapolis market, they said.

According to Miller Kaplan, a research service that most stations subscribe to, year-over-year radio advertising in the market was down 15 percent in June and 23 percent in July. One radio source told IBJ that June and July made up the worst two-month period this market has seen in several years.

Before joining Cumulus in October 2015, Stemlar had a long history in television, previously working for New York-based Bonten Media Group and the TV division of Emmis Communications Corp.

Fredrick previously rose through the sales ranks at Citicasters and Jacor Cincinnati before their absorption into Clear Channel/iHeartMedia. He rose to market president in 2007, a position he retained until his departure in May 2017.

Dave Milner, Cumulus’ executive vice president of operations at Cumulus, said in a written statement: “Chuck is the ultimate player’s coach, and Cumulus is thrilled to bring his passion and experience for building brands, successful sales organizations and strong marketing results for clients to the company.”

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