It’s making lemonade at its finest.
Six months after KY3 and KSPR shocked employees and viewers by laying off dozens of staff members, the ousted professionals are finding their footings in new careers.
A new track
Studio engineer Ricky Smiley decided to use the potentially negative life event to fulfill a longtime goal: to run his own record label. He organized Smiley Records LLC.
Just blocks from the KY3 studio where Smiley worked for 13 years, he spent about $1,500 in personal savings plus his 401(k) to convert his home’s two-car garage into a music studio. He laid hardwood flooring, painted the walls, lowered the ceiling and hid the garage door by building an interior wall.
This is Smiley’s new workplace. There’s an array of sound and video production equipment facing a glass window that looks into the sound booth where singers and rappers can capture their lyrics with a professional-grade microphone.
“I invested everything I had into myself,” he said.
Others have thrown their support behind Smiley, helping with construction, and an unidentified family friend in Branson donated a large amount of equipment. It’s more than the startup needs, but Smiley said it allows him to grow the business.
“It’s a 32-channel board. It’s powerful enough to do full, live bands,” he said, adding he’d like to grow into a separate location one day. “I want to get a building, and I will. It’s just a matter of time.”
Smiley Records has four musicians under contract, including hip-hop artists H.Y.P.E. and Arrah. As a music producer, Smiley said he’s guided rapper Triple Nitti through the creative process, helping them achieve a sound he considers to have a wide commercial appeal. He also handles marketing, video production and album distribution.
“I turned his music from street music to mainstream music and gave him a clean image,” Smiley said of Triple Nitti, noting he steers the artists away from foul language.
He’s also offering his sound booth to individuals who want to record music, voiceovers, commercials and jingles – charging $25 per hour.
The August 2017 cuts, mostly due to automation, followed two other rounds of layoffs numbering about 65 studio workers, photographers and on-air talent over the course of a year.
Former KY3 broadcast engineer Greg Haney also decided not to return to the industry, after what he described as a rough eight years.
“When I was working there, I really did not picture myself leaving anytime soon,” he said. “Once I got out, somebody contacted me through LinkedIn and said they had a position open in Tulsa. And I just thought ‘Man, that really sounds awful,’ – getting back into broadcasting, because of the stress.”
Haney is walking away from his experience in broadcasting and going back to school.
“I’m going to get my commercial pilot’s license,” he said. “I’m taking a big leap from what I had been doing in the engineering department and going after a dream that I’ve always had but just never really had the chance to pursue.”
An aviation program launched in August by Ozarks Technical Community College and Premier Flight LLC makes it possible for Haney to study without leaving the area. With the help of student loans, he begins classes this month and hopes to work with a major airline or a cargo company, such as FedEx or UPS.
Jeff Phillips took on a new career he hopes will protect others from the employment turbulence he experienced.
The day of the layoffs, the former online news producer was exchanging text messages with a news source, Derek Barnes, who holds a leadership role at Heavy Construction Laborers, Local 663. When Phillips found out his role at the studio was cut, he jokingly suggested Barnes hire him as a public relations officer. To his surprise, Barnes took him seriously and immediately set up an interview.
“This job did not exist. It’s not like I was filling a vacancy,” he said. “They had to create this job for me.”
Phillips now oversees media relations and outreach for labor groups throughout large areas of Missouri and into Kansas, from the organization’s Clever office. The move increased Phillips’ annual income by about 25 percent, he said.
Others have posted their new gigs on LinkedIn.
Photojournalist Timothy Leimkuhler was laid off from KY3 in August and hired by KOLR10 in October. Scott Puryear took a role at OnMedia in TV and digital advertising sales, after working at KY3 as a digital marketing specialist for about a year. Account Executive Keenan Vogt moved to KTTS/KSGF radio stations.
Former KSPR news anchor Jerry Jacob dedicated his free time after the layoff to serving his dying father.
“I returned to my hometown in August to take care of my dad who was in home hospice,” he said of his father, Tony Jacob who lived in St. Genevieve. “He passed away at home December 29th.”
Although Smiley has a positive attitude about his future, memories of the layoff roller coaster are still fresh in his mind.
“The saddest thing is to be with a company that’s great and then you get a new owner and you get cut,” he said of the moves by Atlanta-based Gray Television, which bought the station in 2016 and laid him off. He was rehired later that year, but talk of more layoffs continued to plague the workplace.
“You’ve built years and years of a career, but it’s still a business that can cut you,” he said. “That’s the hardest thing.”
When Gray offered employees the opportunity to volunteer for severance, ahead of the August layoffs, Smiley accepted. After all, he had the record label concept brewing on the side for years, and this way, he was able to leave on his own terms.
He decided: “I’m going to try to walk away and do something with the goal that I’ve started.”
Another chapter of the Mother Road’s allure rolls out.
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