A journalism student recently interviewed Sheldon MacLeod about the future of talk radio. The local radio veteran was full of optimism about what the future held for his eponymous show on News 95.7.
On Nov. 27, a week before the piece ran, MacLeod lost his job.
The Rogers-owned radio station laid off seven of his co-workers as well, blaming the cuts on the advertising slump generated by COVID-19 and the industry’s seismic shift to digital broadcasting.
Host of his own afternoon show since filling in for two weeks for a vacationing Rick Howe in 2014, MacLeod had reason to believe he was safe.
The show’s regular interviews with newsmakers and media insiders (including many Halifax Magazine contributors) drew loyal audiences. Managers were talking about their commitment and his six-year-old program was attracting a new demographic: people newly working from home due to the pandemic.
But the news didn’t blindside him, either.
“Nothing about radio surprises me. The decisions are made somewhere else, by other people,” says MacLeod, who got inspired to enroll in a private broadcasting school while working in a delivery truck and listening to Peter Gzowski on CBC. “They pay for the licenses and equipment. It’s their right to do as they wish.”
Many potential advertisers have shifted their marketing budgets to Google, Facebook, and Amazon. “Clearly, that’s not specific to my employer,” he adds.
MacLeod’s not sure what’s next. He’s been laid off before—from his first job as an announcer at a station in Saskatchewan and from a news reading gig at New Glasgow’s CKEC when the 1991 recession hit.
He’s been approached about doing a podcast but is unconvinced.
“People say it’s simple, look at Joe Rogan“—the American comedian and UCF commentator turned wildly popular podcaster—”but that’s something he’s been building his entire career,” says MacLeod. “An audience has found him, but so have advertisers. I don’t think there’s anything quite like that in our region. What I’ve learned about the podcast world is that most are doing it because they have a passion for it and not necessarily to pay the bills.”
For now, MacLeod isn’t worried about the bills. His kids are grown, his wife is a real-estate agent, and he was under contract with Rogers.
“I’m sitting home now waiting for a hardwood floors delivery,” he says. “There’s no urgency outside of the fact that for the last 25 years I’ve gotten up every morning and looked for stories to tell. I’m just kind of taking it day by day. It’s been a hell of a year. I’m fortunate enough to have that opportunity.”