Pictured: former V103 on-air personality Chris Michaels [left] and former WGCI on-air personality DJ MoonDawg [right]

Sometimes layoffs happen in person. The suits show up to the office and gather everyone in a central place to make the often unexpected, but rumored announcement. Other times, layoffs occur through vague emails, the kind that let you go easily — but without much rhyme or reason. Last week, for iHeartMedia on-air personalities Chris Michaels and DJ MoonDawg, the bad news came in the early-morning hours, right after they’d finished their nighttime shifts on V103 and WGCI, respectively.

“I was snoring. I was asleep,” Michaels said. His phone started ringing around 9:47 a.m. on Jan. 14. The first call came from iHeartMedia region president Matt Scarano, he said.

“Of course, I never receive phone calls from him,” Michaels says. “Slept through that.”

Michaels remembers the next phone call coming from James Howard, senior vice president of programming for the Chicago region. Howard and Scarano left voicemails asking Michaels to call them back, he said. 

Then Derrick Brown started calling, he said. He’s the vice president for urban programming for iHeart’s Chicago region. At V103, iHeart’s urban adult contemporary station in Chicago, Michaels hosted an R&B slow jam session, “The Quiet Storm,” from 7 p.m. to midnight every Sunday through Thursday. 

Once Michaels woke up, and responded to his missed calls, he learned his fate — one that he’d been mentally prepared for since he cleaned out his locker about seven or so months ago.

“‘Thank you for your service of 20 years, but due to technology and new infrastructure, you are hereby terminated,’” Michaels recalls “the suits” saying. “Just that easy.”

Unbeknownst to him at the time, iHeartMedia — the largest radio company in the U.S. — was handing down a massive round of layoffs at stations across the country. According to Rolling Stone Magazine, iHeartMedia employees started to worry about their jobs early morning on Jan. 14 when the company sent an email about a “new organizational structure.” Though official numbers haven’t yet been released, it’s suspected that at least 850 iHeartMedia employees lost their jobs.

At publishing time, iHeartMedia hadn’t responded to The Triibe’s request for comment.

As Michaels received the news about his layoff, MoonDawg was just waking up to a couple of voicemails from his bosses as well.

“When I returned the call, essentially, I was told very directly that there were structural changes made and that my services were no longer needed. I think that was what he said,” MoonDawg recalls.

MoonDawg, born Michael Muniz, hosted WGCI’s hip-hop evening show from 7 p.m. to midnight. He took over that spot back in 2014, around the time Michaels left his late-night “Whispers in the Dark” show on WGCI to host “The Quiet Storm” on V103. In October, MoonDawg celebrated 10 years at WGCI, where he spent four years working part-time and the last six years working full-time.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been laid off from any job. Most people in radio always get let go and move around,” Moondawg said. “It’s kind of natural, or normal, to an extent in radio from what I’ve seen in my time in the biz. I think you just gotta invest, while you’re doing radio, in other things to keep you going so that when your time is called, you have something to fall back on.”


Something’s happening in local radio, though, it’s unclear exactly what that something is right now.

The iHeartMedia layoffs followed another significant blow to Chicago radio back in November 2019 when Soul 106.3 cut “The Morning Mixtape,” the AM rush-hour show led by legendary local on-air personality Mike Love. On Jan. 6, comedian Rickey Smiley’s urban AC show, “The Rickey Smiley Morning Show,” made its Chicago debut on Soul 106. 3 after switching from the Crawford Broadcasting sister station, Power 92.  

That puts Smiley’s Atlanta-based, nationally syndicated show in competition with another long-time comedic heavy hitter, Steve Harvey. His nationally syndicated urban AC show, “The Steve Harvey Morning Show” has been in rotation on iHeartMedia’s V103 since 2009, when it replaced “The Tom Joyner Morning Show.” 

“The Morning Hustle,” a new urban pop culture show aimed at the Millennial and Gen Z demographic, took over Smiley’s previous weekday morning post at Power 92, which makes them a competitor for WGCI’s morning drive hosted by local personalities Leon Rogers, Kendra G and Kyle Monday from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays. 

“The Rickey Smiley Morning Show” and “The Morning Hustle” are both run under iconic Black radio host Tom Joyner’s Reach Media. Joyner retired in December after 25 years of “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” his syndicated morning radio show.

“There’s no way Rickey Smiley should be leading a Chicago radio station when there’s Steve Harvey over here doing the same thing,” Michaels said. “That why I thought it was a huge disappointment to take Mike [Love] off.”

Michaels once had his eyes set on moving up from evenings to an afternoon or morning show in Chicago. After growing up watching his father Richard Pegue in the radio industry, Michaels snagged his first radio job 20 years ago. He started on-call at WGCI before taking a part-time position, which later led to overnights.

“That lasted a short period of time. First Lady left and then he [Elroy Smith] moved me to ‘Whispers in the Dark,’” Michaels says. “About a year or so later came the intro.”

The intro he’s referring to is P. Coakley’s “Whispers in the Dark,” the seminal track that opened Michaels’ sultry R&B show. Michaels asked Coakley to record the intro for the show, and it instantly became a Black Chicago staple — with many of us flocking to Napster or Limewire to download the track for our personal mix CDs and digital playlists back then.

“That run with ‘Whispers in the Dark’ was, I think, 15 years,” Michaels says. “So I’m the longest person to have hosted that show.”

In December 2019, Michaels’ “The Quiet Storm” on V103 show ranked no. 1 in Chicago urban radio weekday evening shows, according to Chicago media blogger Robert Feder. Back in spring 2014, Michaels V103 spot ranked number one, followed by WGCI’s MoonDawg at no. 2. 

“Based on the numbers, I consistently ranked number one while at V103, while at ‘GCI,” Michaels says. “But even being in that number one position, it means nothing in terms of your value to the company. That’s not what will save you.”

According to Michaels, the next level for evening on-air personalities is to move up to the local midday, afternoon or morning drive shows. But he didn’t see that happening anytime soon, considering Steve Harvey’s tenure on V103 and a national trend toward syndicated radio. 

“No chance of Steve Harvey going anywhere. And Joe Soto making the move to mornings? Chris Michaels to afternoons? No chance of that,” Michaels said. 

With syndication radio’s growth in markets of all sizes, Michaels fears that more and more local on-air personalities will lose their jobs over time.

“As long as Steve Harvey is there, they’re gonna overvalue what he brings to radio,” Michaels says. “It’s unfortunate. It puts a lot of people out of work, but he wasn’t the first to do it. Tom Joyner was the first to do it in urban radio, but it seems like the local positioning is undervalued and at this point, I would say very soon, it’ll just be completely obsolete.”

As for now, both MoonDawg and Michaels are working on other projects. MoonDawg is thinking about getting back into the mixtape game. In the past, he’s hosted mixtapes by budding Chicago artists on the hip-hop, drill and bop scenes. His catalog includes Twista’s The Calm Before the Storm mixtape in 2009, Chief Keef’s Back from the Dead in 2012 and We Invented the Bop in 2014. There’s also his YouTube podcast, The Mind of MoonDawg,” where he discusses culture, politics, music and more. 

“Something that’s not discussed today for media professionals is ownership of your own media. You have these wonderful ideas. You create these great content pieces only to give it away,” MoonDawg says. “I’ve managed to build a lot of skillsets and now I’m free to explore those things and utilize those in a much more deeper way while building up my own ownership of media.”

Michaels also says it’s not the end of the road for him either. On Friday, Jan. 24, he’s hosting a party at Cajun Boil & Bar in Orland Park to celebrate his 20 years in radio.

“What’s coming next is in God’s hands. I have some leads. I’ve even had some offers at this point,” Michaels says. “I’m not finished. I got too much that I set out to do in this business.”