A longtime behind-the-scenes player in Lawrence radio is being forced into retirement.
Bob Newton, station manager/operations manager for radio stations KLWN and KLZR in Lawrence, will be out of a full-time radio job come Dec. 31. He's the victim of budget cuts at the Lawrence affiliate of Zimmer Radio Group in Cape Girardeau, Mo. He has been offered a place at the station in a reduced role, either as a consultant or a part-time engineer.
The move is the latest in a series of changes at the stations since Zimmer acquired them in 1998.
KLZR-105.9, the FM station known as the Lazer, last year changed from alternative rock to a Top 40 format. KLWN-1320, the AM station, dropped music and cut back local news in favor of a sports-talk format headed by ESPN.
Now Zimmer is cutting the job held by Newton since 1974.
"They don't have anyone in a position comparable to mine in any of their other markets," Newton said. "They're not unhappy with me. They just can't afford me."
Newton will be missed, but fiscal realities led Zimmer officials to reshuffle job responsibilities in Lawrence, said Hank Booth, the station's former owner and current general manager.
Just as the sale to Zimmer shocked Lawrence residents, the switch to Top 40 prompted protest petitions, and the transfer to sports talk still draws a smattering of angry phone calls, Booth knows the loss of Newton will take some getting used to.
But even so, Booth said, listenership is up and last year's increase in ad sales was faster than at all but three of Zimmer's 31 stations. The Lazer's listeners used to be 70 percent men aged 18-34; today 60 percent are female, ranging in age from 12 to 49.
"The only way I can say it is there's going to be change in the business world today," Booth said. "It's going to come in every facet of the business world. You can either be a part of it and roll with it or you can be rolled over by it. And I'm not the kind of person to have things roll over me."
Newton said he would continue his freelance job as producer/engineer for the Jayhawk Radio Network, which produces broadcasts of Kansas University football and basketball games. He proudly wears a ring commemorating KU's 1998 Big 12 championship.
Newton's first job at the station came in 1968, as a part-time announcer and disc jockey. Since 1974, he's been responsible for programming, news, engineering and assorted business matters.
In between, he has served as president of the Kansas Association of Broadcasters and chairman of the Douglas County Emergency Planning and Preparedness Board. He also handled the stations' severe weather coverage and occasionally filled in as a talk show host.
Newton, 52, plans to stay in the Lawrence area, no matter where his career path leads next.
"I'll be exploring," he said.