Owner axes two prominent on-air personalities at WNTR, WXNT

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Cumulus Media officially took over programming on Friday of three local Entercom Communications radio stations—WZPL-FM 99.5, WNTR-FM 107.9 and WXNT-AM 1430—but big changes already had been made earlier in the week.

kent sterlingKent Sterling

Two high-profile, on-air personalities were let go on Tuesday, among a dozen total employees who were laid off: WXNT sports talk show host Kent Sterling and WNTR afternoon disc jockey Kari Johll.

“I was called on Tuesday and they said we’re making a change,” Sterling told IBJ. “There were 12 of us that were let go."

Known on the air as “KJ,” Johll was on Entercom’s local top 40 station WZPL for more than 17 years before her four-year run as afternoon host on adult contemporary station WNTR. IBJ was unable to get in touch with Johll, but her departure was confirmed by industry sources and she no longer appears on WNTR's website.

Atlanta-based Cumulus announced last month it was acquiring the three stations as part of a bigger shake-up. It has agreed to trade WNSH-FM in New York and two stations in Springfield, Massachusetts, to Pennsylvania-based Entercom in exchange for the three Entercom stations in Indianapolis. The swap deal is expected to close in the second quarter of this year, but Cumulus began programming the stations on Friday under local marketing agreements.

Sterling said he was fired by Entercom.

“That’s a cleaner way to do it and pretty standard,” said Sterling, who has been in radio in this market for 25 years and formerly worked for Emmis Communications Corp.

Sterling, who has hosted an afternoon sports-talk show on WXNT for nearly five years, added that despite the unusual process, the terminations were handled in an orderly and professional manner.

“There are no hard feelings. I understand the situation. That’s radio,” Sterling said.

Sterling hopes to stay in this market. “I don’t think I’m going to be short on opportunities,” he said.

Indiana Radio Watch reported that Entercom social media coordinator Chelsie Nickell also was let go. Nickell joined Entercom's Indianapolis promotions team two years ago and earned promotions to promotions assistant, administrative assistant, and finally social media coordinator.

A source close to the situation told IBJ that cuts were made in a number of departments and in areas where there was overlap between the local Entercom and Cumulus operations. The source added that Entercom’s Indianapolis market manager, Ben Hoffman, is being moved to an Entercom station in Minneapolis where he will be director of sales.

Officials for Cumulus and Entercom did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails from IBJ on Friday morning seeking comment.

There’s been a lot of speculation that Cumulus could change formats of some of the Indianapolis Entercom stations that have overlapping audiences with its local stations.

In Indianapolis, Cumulus already owns classic rock station WJJK-FM 104.5 and country station WFMS-FM 95.5, which are consistent top five stations in this market. Both have been No. 1 in recent months. Cumulus also owns WYRG-FM 93.9, a top 40 station.

The Entercom acquisitions further cement Cumulus’ dominant position in the Indianapolis market. So far, Cumulus officials haven’t detailed their ultimate plans for the Entercom stations, beyond keeping their formats at least for the short term.

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