Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #103

Two weeks ago I presented an indictment of the current radio model in general, in which a few companies own and operate a huge number of stations, along with details of a shakeup at Cumulus Media specifically, as the Dickey brothers who founded the company were essentially forced out by a Board of Directors coup.

I did not realize that what I wrote would affect so many readers personally, and I have to say it was humbling. I received a huge number of emails from people who work, or worked in the industry, and according to the responses received, I underestimated the damage done by consolidation and by the Dickeys. Here is a sample, with anything incriminating removed to protect identities:
 
“Stellar article you wrote, precisely nailing how the Dickey Brothers took down the best radio stations on the planet. Thanks for writing what so many of us have felt for way too long. Goodbye Dickeys and Dickey sycophants...don't let the screen door hit ya.”
 
“Bravo! I have been in radio for 48 years and have never, ever read an article so informative to the professional, the lay reader, and the investor. Nor, have I ever read an article about the medium as factual as yours. It's greatly appreciated.”
 
“The Dickey's should be in jail. So should the Mays. (I am a) 40 year vet.”
 
“Your article regarding Cumulus could not be MORE spot on. Back in the 90s, I earned a degree in Television and Radio, and had several courses specifically about Deregulation and Consolidation and how it would impact the industry. Even back in 1992, when deregulation was just around the corner, our professors talked about a world where content was dominated by advertisers and corporations, while they eroded our freedom of speech and journalistic integrity. 
 
“Those dark days forecasted 20 years ago are here. Corporate interests have sucked all of the fun, true talent and creativity out of radio. Advertisers determine what content hits the air, and that touches all air personalities. Talent has been abandoned and those that remain are the people willing to still work for $8 an hour.”
 
“I could not possibly love your story more. After 18 years, I got a snootful of their business model in 2012 in the form of an insulting contract renewal that I was blessed to be able to decline. I have landed in the arms of a competitor, and life could not be better. Many others have not been so lucky. Yours is the best idea — they need to get out of the radio business which still, for all its modern challenges, is an industry that relies on organic, emotional bonds between personalities and audience, a concept that is Kryptonite to them.”
 
Your article was spot on.  Its amazing that companies keep cutting the source of their revenue. Its not rocket science. Thanks again for the brutal honesty in your article.”
 
“I work in the business you're reviewing here, and I can tell you that there's a lot of quiet desperation inside.”
 
“Whenever a conglomerate moves in, we have to find a new station, as we’re always the first to go. So far Cumulus hasn’t made it up this far ... But taking KGO from #1 to #20 in a matter of months is (quite a) feat.”
 
“I'm not sure where you got your info about Cumulus...but you nailed it.”
 
Westwood One was once the company's most profitable division and really humming along. Then Cumulus bought the company. They gutted the business and starved it for resources.  The Dickeys unraveled most of what was built, fired 90% of the staff. What they did was actually worse than you wrote: they created a culture of fear. There is no saving Cumulus.”
 
“I  applaud you for exposing this big flop to the public. I  can tell you some things that happened to me personally while under the  stress of this group. My prayers have been answered. I was so violated and hurt by the powers that be until I still have crying spells and nightmares. You are a VICA for all hurt by the actions of these folk.”
 
Only two emails countered my position, and neither actually refuted what I wrote about Cumulus. One was from a competing company and essentially questioned some of the data I spoke of, specifically the downward trend in listening. Related to that was an email that was directed not to me but my Publisher.   “I am writing to question the level of journalism the Los Angeles Daily News uses regarding its articles. I refer to the 10/6 article entitled “Cumulus Media, a dark cloud on the Radio Industry” by Richard Wagoner. If this was to be an opinion piece, it should have been clearly labeled as such since there was absolutely no factual information or anything close to that in making the wild accusations made by Mr. Wagoner.” This was written by the President of the Southern California Broadcasters Association, Thom Callahan.
 
In the email, Callahan asserts that outside of Cumulus, every major radio group is experiencing strong stock value and bringing solid returns to its investors. He sites NASDAQ but doesn’t give specifics, such as Emmis losing 66% of its value since February, 2014 and iHeartMedia dropping over 50% in the past year (and these are just two examples); the stunning amount of debt being carried by many of these companies and the fact that at least two are teetering on bankruptcy.
 
He also stated in the email that radio listening is at an all-time high. Yet he sites data that refutes the reality. Yes, “reach” is at an all-time high, that is the number of people who do happen to tune in a radio. But Time Spent Listening to radio has been in a gradual decline according to ratings company Nielsen, and other studies from such companies as Edison Research back that up. The longterm trend is clear.
 
“I have to ask the obvious; is Mr. Wagoner a disgruntled former employee from a Radio station? What does he hate so much about Radio and why is he assigned to cover it?” he asks.
 
For the head of the SCBA to not know that my column has been around since 1987 and for him to not know the difference between a reporter and a columnist is at best embarrassing. It is my love of radio (and yours) that keeps this column going, not a hatred of anything but bad programming. And paid hacks for a broadcast organization that, according to at least one former programmer I know, has no reason to still exist.

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