T Dog’s Think Tank: Reeling radio

Last week was one those in the radio industry would love to forget – in fact, radio has been having these types of weeks for quite some time now. Repeating the same mantra heard over and over again the last few decades, Big Media eliminated positions again with Clear Channel and Cumulus leading the way. CC last week eliminated hundreds of jobs – many of them program director positions from its small and medium-sized market stations.

Clear Channel even went as far as eliminating a entire format as an Urban station in Columbia, SC flipped to a simulcast of a News/Talk outlet. Despite the fact that WXBT, aka, “The Beat” (1001.FM) finished 6th in the recent summer book in Columbia and beat arch rival WHXT (103.9 FM), Clear Channel flipped the station to a simulcast of talker WVOC-AM (560) because of more revenue it would generate.

Cumulus made notable layoffs in its just-acquired Citadel stations in Chicago and Los Angeles, including longtime WLS-FM operations director Michael LaCrosse, who was among nine let go from the cluster.

And former WLIT programmer Mark Edwards was also let go from his position at Entercom in Kansas City.

Not even two top-rated hosts were spared as Cox Communications fired two long-time morning personalities (John Lisle and Steve Hahn) from classic rocker KISS-FM (actual call letters) in San Antonio.

The carnage was so bad, Joel Denver of radio trade website All Access kept a running tab of who was let go at Clear Channel.

To replace the fired program and music directors at their stations, Clear Channel is expanding its two-year old “Premium Choice” national programming initiative, which is basically another way to say “automated”. In other words, CC is planning to eliminate more local voices – which listeners railed against for years- in favor of this chicken sh*t operation a bunch of sales executives thought up.

And Clear Channel emphasized its stations would be more localized than ever before. What does that mean, more local commercials? This statement doesn’t mean anything when you’re cutting the live and local talent, which radio needs to reinvest in. Clear Channel feels the investment isn’t worth it, regardless of the bullsh*t they spew out about “localism”.

At a time when the public is protesting Wall Street’s tactics and its greediness, radio’s talent purge couldn’t have come at a worse time. What went on this week has been going on for years – remember when Clear Channel announced they were laying off 1,850 people on the same day of President Obama’s inauguration? (and my rant on Clear Channel that day is just as relevant now.)

And yet, hardly anybody – the FCC, the politicians, President Obama, the corporations themselves, and even some of the listeners – care. After all, the listeners who did care about local radio and music have long ago fled for the exits as many switched to iPods, and satellite and Internet radio to get their music fix – just ask Alternative music fans. After Merlin Media bought both WKQX in Chicago and WRXP in New York City, no other station in their respective markets picked up the format because radio execs feels the young-skewing audience isn’t valuable to advertisers. In other words, radio practically gave up on a viable segment of the next generation of listeners.

Which brings yours truly to the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Jobs was a chief critic of IBM, pointing out they didn’t innovate, and always played it safe. Jobs came through and developed products that changed the world – including the iPod. Music lovers no longer needed to sit through 20 minutes of commercials an hour on terrestrial radio when they can program 1,000 songs into a device they can easily program. When Apple reinvented the home computer with the Macintosh in 1984, IBM, countered with the IBM PCjr – remember that piece of junk? Today, IBM is out of the home computer business, selling their operation to China-based Lenovo.

Radio clearly needs an Steve Jobs-like individual to make radio relevant again, but fat chance – Clear Channel and other Big Media radio execs views them as threats to their business models and their high-paying jobs. Innovation isn’t job #1 at these places – the future innovators of radio are likely stuck cleaning the bathroom or filling the vending machines instead. Inventing the next exciting format at Clear Channel isn’t as important as some middle manager’s need for a Hershey’s bar and a Diet Coke delivered to him at 3:00 p.m. every day.

When Steve Jobs died, his life was celebrated all throughout the world as a creator, innovator, and a competitor. Jobs’ popularity is in vast contrast to any radio executive that I can think of. When Clear Channel Radio CEO John Hogan or a member of the Mays family passes, will their life be celebrated in a public setting? I don’t think so.

What Steve Jobs described about IBM can very easily be applied to the current state of the radio industry. No one talks about IBM anymore. Nobody talks about radio anymore, either.


2 thoughts on “T Dog’s Think Tank: Reeling radio

    • Very thoughtful analysis, as always. I particularly appreciate the point you make about Steve Jobs. Best I can tell from all the coverage, Jobs was relentless about constant improvement of Apple’s prototypes before they went to market. He forced his innovative staff to look at technology through the eyes of the consumer. Seems pretty basic, but sometimes I wonder if the radio industry sits back and actually listens to its broadcasts. Waiting until the PPM numbers arrive shouldn’t be the only way to build a future for radio.

      Think about traditional radio vs. IPods/XM in the context of that great Apple ad campaign – “I’m a Mac; I’m a PC.” I see traditional radio as the polite, interesting old man who lives next door and IPods as the obnoxious trendsetter who never acknowledges anyone else. If only you’d take the time, you’d learn a lot from the old man next door (and chances are, you’d enjoy listening to him). Instead, you obsess over the too-cool-for-school trendsetter by emulating her behavior.

      Clearly my new radio ad campaign needs some work, but I think T Dog has struck gold with the Apple v PC analogy!

    • Thank you for the kind words! It is like the PC vs. Mac ad campaign where you think about it (and I loved those ads!)

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