Please explain to me the difference between the U.S.S.R.’s politburo summoning its union republic leaders to the Kremlin in Moscow for procedural dictates and Clear Channel summoning its 250 general managers to Dallas tomorrow and Wednesday for the same.
Hear me out. The likenesses are worthy of note. The Soviet Union was a federation made up of Soviet Socialist Republics. The earliest Republics were established after the 1917 October Revolution by Vladimir Lenin and the first Congress of Soviets. Between 1922 and 1940, the number of Republics increased to sixteen, created from territories acquired, or reacquired by the Soviet Union. Others were created by re-designating existing Republics into several parts. It’s akin to moving your city of license around while the F.C.C. Chairman is wearing the blindfold you provided.
Following the last major territorial annexations of the Baltic states, eastern Poland, Bessarabia, and other territories during World War II, it became the model for Communist states, like Clear Channel did for radio deregulation. The Soviet Union and the U.S. became the two world superpowers dominating world military operations, foreign affairs, economic policy, and scientific advancements until the former’s collapse in the mid to late eighties.
Clear Channel, a U.S. media conglomerate, was founded in 1972 by Lowry Mays and Red McCombs. By 1995, Clear Channel owned 43 U.S. radio stations and 16 television stations. In 1996, following the signing of the Telecommunications Act, Clear Channel acquired over 70 other media companies, as well as picking and choosing a number of stand-alone properties. It also bought billboard/outdoor companies, a national concert promotion company, SFX and the Cleveland-based Belkin Productions.
Even after selling its concert division and 161 radio stations, Clear Channel remains a dominant media influence with billboard/outdoor advertising in twenty-five countries, and is still largest owner of AM, FM, and shortwave radio stations . It also controls twelve channels on XM Satellite Radio and has financial interest in radio stations in Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, and Norway. Those Mexican Clear Channel licenses? You may want to click here to get the real story on those. Clear Channel sold its TV properties in 2008. The publicly-traded Clear Channel was privatized on July 24, 2008 when bought out by two Boston-based private equity firms, BainCapital and Thomas H. Lee.
Look it up. For years I’ve been calling the fallout of radio deregulation privatized socialism.
For what it’s worth, Vladimir Lenin banned rival political parties, while Clear Channel banned several songs written by John Lennon.
We’re now less than 24 hours from learning of the new world order BainCapital and Thomas H. Lee structured for the newly privatized Clear Channel.
In business, as in world affairs, what’s obvious usually turns out to be true.
Bain-Lee’s desperately trying to cover its Clear Channel assets with both hands.
Like the politburo, there is no agenda at Bain-Capital’s new world order Clear Channel. General Managers will be handed their budgets and marching orders. It’s their version of Democratic Centralism.
In another cost-cutting measure, the GMs will be limited to one overnight stay. I couldn’t verify the rumor that the one complementary meal the managers will be treated to will be a bowl of borscht soup with a side of unbuttered rye bread.
Rumors emanating from the dime-droppers and snitches at the Clear Channel San Antonio headquarters persist that the futures of air talent and account executives have been predetermined and it will be up to the general managers to carry out terminations swiftly and completely upon their return.
It’ll be easy to spot the Clear Channel GMs at DFW. Look for anyone resembling a beaten pound dog.
I’m inclined to accept that the majority of rumors – the 15 nationally-programmed formats; further staff reductions, and a discernible increase in voice tracking and syndicated personalities – are true.
It’s also likely that all but the top ten markets one programmer will be accountable to facilitate corporate commands for each multi-station market operation.
Since going private under Bain-Lee, Clear Channel budgets are now defined as “sucking the marrow out of the bone and macerating the remains.”
Why would Clear Channel need local announcers when it has a stable of nationally syndicated talk show wackjobs; pretty boy hit radio announcers, and album rock shock jocks? Serving the city of license? Why? Come on, get serious!
Don’t confuse them with the fact that by not having a farm team to develop talent for the future will be their demise when some of their national hosts inevitably fall from grace.
Make sense, doesn’t it? Purge talent and creativity and replace with top-down decrees.
They also refuse to acknowledge that several non-Clear Channel stations are probing the present and future value of long-in-the-tooth hate-monger acts like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and pop psych from Dr. Laura. They aren’t drawing younger demos and Limbaugh’s contract is proving to be unprofitable for several non-Clear Channel stations carrying the show.
The Clear Channel politburo never learns from their mistakes. They don’t have to. Their subordinates do and that’s tough.
What Clear Channel has never been able to discern is that it’s in the entertainment business. Here’s the straightforward definition: You put on a show, promise people something transcendent, and make money doing it. If you’re a movie, a sporting event or a concert, you sell tickets; if you’re a radio or TV station, you sell time. You’ll make money if you provide the fulfillment.
I’ve been asked at book signings why I haven’t followed up with a book about Clear Channel. In addition to recommending Alec Foege’s Right Side of the Dial, I feel if there is another book to be written about Bain-Lee’s privatization of the company it should be done by Stephen King – because this one will be truly frightening. I don’t want to give away the plot but it ends with Clear Channel so out of touch with what the radio audience wants that everyone stops listening to their stations; clients stop advertising, and to survive they must feed on themselves.
I anticipate that Bain-Lee and Clear Channel will follow the same pattern of a doomed romance. First discovery, then infatuation, then familiarity and, finally, contempt.
When you give one the power to save you, you give them the power to destroy you as well. So far, the Mays family still feels lucky. But luck, in due course, runs out. Just like the Soviet Union’s.