Today FM: Rachel Smalley brands Australian owners 'hitmen' over talkback station closure

Former Today FM presenter Rachel Smalley has branded the Australian owners who abruptly shut the station down this week "hitmen".

In a column published on Friday in the National Business Review (NBR), Smalley lashed out at Australian private equity firm Quandrant Private Equity, which owns close to 40 percent of MediaWorks.

The former early morning First Light host said the "sharp-shooting Australians" took an "aggressive approach" and played an integral part in Today FM's demise.

"Earlier this month, Quadrant's hitmen walked through the front door of MediaWorks with a shiny-suited swagger that suggested they were here for a short time, not a long time," Smalley wrote.

"They took the same approach to Today FM. The men looked at the numbers and left with a directive to shut down the station - and to do so as soon as possible.

"Today FM ended with a fierce and confronting brutality that only Private Equity can wield."

After a tumultuous day that included hosts swearing on air and making emotional statements on social media, Today FM's demise was officially announced on Thursday evening.

"At the request of the MediaWorks Board we have undertaken a review of the entire business to identify further areas of potential cost saving and to reshape the business for the market conditions," MediaWorks interim CEO Wendy Palmer said in a statement.

"This has led the Board to take the difficult decision to take Today FM off air and to explore options for a digital content offering."

Smalley also revealed a company-wide email was sent out just after 9am on Thursday and criticised the "lack of process".

Listeners were let in on the station's ending on Thursday morning as host Tova O'Brien said the staff were losing their jobs as the station was being axed.

At around 9.30am, the MediaWorks station reverted to playing music rather than its usual talk show format with host Duncan Garner in that slot.

Shortly before it did, O'Brien brought several colleagues from the newsroom into the studio with Garner.

"I don't know how much longer we're going to be on air," O'Brien said.

"It sounds like it's over. So we haven't been given a chance. We've been on air for just a year.

"We were told that we had the support of everyone from the chief executive through to the board, through to the executive and they have f**ked us and we're all gonna lose our jobs and the station is coming off air and as of today."

"This is betrayal," Garner said.

Shortly after, news of a proposal to close down the station was announced and staff were given just a few hours to make submissions on that proposal.

In the NBR column, Smalley also revealed more about the top level resignations which impacted the station.

She said Dallas Gurney's decision to quit his role of director of talk happened on the same day former MediaWorks CEO Cam Wallace resigned, but the decision wasn't made public until two weeks later on March 20. Wallace resigned on February 27.

"Gurney's relationship with the Australians was strained, at best, and with Wallace gone, the station was suddenly rudderless and operating without a champion. The two men who had promised everything had suddenly both resigned," she wrote.

Smalley also hit out at the strategy behind Today FM, saying a lack of investment in an app would also prove fatal to the station's drive for listeners.

"If you don't have an app, you can't use 'push notifications' to drive people to your content. It put Today FM on a hiding to nothing against the behemoths of New Zealand radio; NewstalkZB and Radio New Zealand," she wrote.

Shortly after 5pm on Thursday, an announcement was played on Today FM declaring: "This station is no longer Today FM... in April, a new station will be launching on this frequency."