After just four months on the air Proud FM is facing frustrated fans over the sudden disappearance of popular host Maggie Cassella from the airwaves mid-August. The move has left many listeners dismayed, including some of its most ardent supporters.
Brian Hurley is the founder of a Facebook group encouraging listeners to show their support for the fledgling station with the hopes of getting the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to allow Proud FM to increase its signal strength earlier than the usual six month post-launch review. Now he’s also the founder of the Facebook group “Reinstate Maggie Cassella at Proud FM.”
“When Proud went to air and Maggie was the host on the 3pm to 7pm time slot I could not believe it,” says Hurley. “I listened to her every night on my way home from work.”
Hurley says that on Aug 20 he first heard ads announcing Shaun Proulx, formerly the evening host and an Xtra columnist, was the new host for the 3pm to 7pm slot.
“When I arrived home I immediately went onto the Proud FM website and, to my horror, any and all information regarding Maggie Cassella was gone,” says Hurley.
Hurley, who says he corresponded with Cassella since meeting her at a fundraiser in 2006 and became a casual friend, emailed her right away to find out what happened. “She told me that she walked into the station to go to work and they promptly told her to turn around and go home. No reason why.”
Cassella didn’t respond to Xtra’s requests for an interview before press time.
Proud FM’s program manager Rob Basile calls Cassella’s dismissal a “programming decision.”
“This is a change in what we do in the afternoon drive,” says Basile. “We’re just taking a different direction with the drive home show. Shaun Proulx adds a different element, a different perspective. He embraces where we want to take the show.
“It’s a formatting and a programming decision and Shaun was delivering something between 7 to 10pm that was very popular.”
Basile dismissed rumours that it was the result of a power struggle at the station or because Cassella had been too politically outspoken on air.
“The reason she is not here is not because she is too politically charged,” says Basile. “I have nothing but the utmost genuine respect for Maggie Cassella. She is an intelligent upstanding woman and a very fair woman. In the programming meetings we have had with Maggie I would always say, ‘Don’t hold back, do what do you.’ That is the message I gave her.”
Concerned listeners who have contacted Evanov Radio, the company that owns 50 percent of the station, were told that the company wasn’t involved in the decision to replace Cassella.
“Please note that any decisions or issues affecting programming and on-air staffing at Proud FM are at the total discretion of its general manager Mr George Marchi who is a director and represents the 50 percent shareholdings of Vis Media Corp and Natpao Holdings Inc,” wrote Evanov’s Christine Scaramuzzo in response to a listener’s complaint. “As the other 50 percent shareholder, Evanov Radio, which operates Z103 and The Jewel 88.5, has no control over these decisions at Proud FM at this time.”
Marchi did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Prior to Cassella’s dismissal the biggest complaint about Proud FM was poor reception. Depending where you are in Toronto you may or may not be able to hear the station; many local listeners are forced to rely on the internet broadcast.