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Fired Proud FM hosts weigh in as they pursue a wrongful dismissal suit

More than 1,700 join Facebook page in protest of radio station firings

Mark Wigmore, Deb Pearce, Shaun Proulx and Patrick Marano say they were abruptly fired from their on-air jobs at Proud FM after they requested a group meeting with station management. Credit: Scott Dagostino photo

“I understand the general public’s whiplash feeling,” says Shaun Proulx of being abruptly fired — along with fellow hosts Deb Pearce, Mark Wigmore and Patrick Marano — from Proud FM on May 5. Proulx says he doesn’t know why they were fired, but that the pink slips were issued after the group asked for a meeting with station management.

Despite rumours, Wigmore says the meeting wasn’t about money.

“We weren’t stupid enough to think we could go in as a group and scream ‘Unionize’ or ask for raises,” he says.

With the three-year-old station struggling to become profitable, Marano says everyone was “toeing the company line.” But, Pearce says, “Certain things kept creeping up and we wanted more clarity.”

Proulx points to April 12, the day the station became Glee FM. In a marketing tie-in with Global TV, Proud FM devoted its entire programming schedule and website content that day to the show.

“The station loves to use the word ‘transparency,’ but this deal wasn’t very transparent,” says Proulx. “Hosts were being asked to do some advertorial stuff that we’d never been asked to do before,” including using talk time to plug products. “I have a bit of an issue with just being handed something and told to shut up and read it. I have a lot of credibility behind my name. So does Deb, so does Mark, and so does Patrick. Proud FM hired us for our brands, brands that we built.”

Wigmore says each host was getting contradictory answers from Proud FM operations manager Bruce Campbell, so the foursome decided a group meeting would clear everything up. But after three requests, Pearce says, they were fired via email.

“It all happened over a grand total of 48 hours,” says Wigmore.

Campbell says there were “significant differences between management and the affected individuals as to how the business and administration of the station — both on-air and commercially — should be conducted.”

This, says Pearce, is not the case.

“They’ll never know what we wanted to meet about because no one ever took the time, respectfully, to meet with us,” she says.

Respect, Pearce continues, is at the heart of this story. She says she felt betrayed when station management ignored a two-week deadline to endorse her nomination for honoured dyke at this year’s Pride festival.

The station, “that in theory said, ‘I support you,’ now would not endorse it or do anything publicly,” she says.

Campbell pointed out that such firings are commonplace in radio.

“There are stations that have changed entire formats, the entire staff, in one day,” he says. But, after a heavy sigh, he concedes that this is actually the third multiple firing in the station’s history, following dismissals in 2007 that included popular hosts Maggie Cassella, Lisa Marshall and Richard Ryder.

“What’s the choice here?” Campbell says. “Let this thing continue to deteriorate completely or move forward? As difficult as it is, Proud FM will continue to move forward and hopefully be better. The people who remain here today are just as talented as the people who just left.”

Proulx says this treatment of his fellow host shows the station owners’ lack of respect for the community as a whole.

“You don’t come to Church and Wellesley and tell Deb Pearce that there could be a ‘problem’ with the station supporting her as honoured dyke,” he says, his voice louder. “You don’t fuck around with a hard-won, 20-year brand like this…. You get the benefit of all she is and all she has become every time she turns that damn microphone on. How dare you call yourself a gay station and treat your gay talent like that?”

When Cassella was fired in 2007, Pearce told Xtra that such firings were common in radio, with Proulx describing it as “a cutthroat business.” The station is not getting a similar pass now because, Cassella’s then-producer Wigmore says, “Proud FM was just finding its feet…. I think the station now is in a much different place.”

“Proud FM became Proud FM,” says Pearce, “because of the investment that we had daily, every time we turned on that microphone.”

As they continue a wrongful dismissal suit against the station (with management declining to respond for this story), Proulx notes that all four have already moved on to new gigs; more than 1,700 people have signed on to a Facebook protest page.

“The listeners,” says Marano, “have given Proud FM what the station never gave us: three strikes.”