Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Radio: Cheap thrills

It didn’t turn out the way Clear Channel planned.

Clear Channel’s spin week spun out of control right from – as they say in Mays-ville – the git-go.

Amid the dismal radio news about declining revenues and revised lower expectations, this was the week Clear Channel was supposed to put a positive spin on the industry by acting-out a part quasi-transparency and part-mea culpa to the business community.

Wouldn't it be nice for the radio industry to have something to combat the bewilderment at next week's N.A.B. show in Vegas?

Clear Channel kicked it off Monday afternoon with a well placed, well timed, and heavily advance-promoted live interview with Thomas H. Lee co-president Scott Sperling by Erin Burnett on CNBC’s Street Signs.

THL is one of the two Boston-based private equity firms that took the Titanic of the radio industry private.  

Don't get me wrong.  Sperling's one of the best at this.  He's mastered the game face of being open, calm and contented.  He usually gives the appearance of someone who has accomplished what he had set out to accomplish in his life.

Sperling was primed – or so he presumed. Fresh from a $250 Newbury Street salon haircut and sporting a $500 Louis of Boston dress shirt and Brioni tie, he freeze-framed a confident grin on his Eric Carmen-goes-Wall Street face. He was ready to play his role of king of all spinmeisters.

But it was all downhill from there. In fact, it got ugly. It was kid sister Erin beating up big brother Scotty - live on CNBC.

Over 200,000 watched Scotty trip, stumble, and fall.

The piece was aptly titled: Clear Channel or Static Interference.

Erin dropped the bomb on him in the first ten seconds, “Is the Clear Channel deal gonna blow up or not?”

Scotty went from Eric Carmen on a good day to Eric Burdon during one of his bad years.

“We, y’know, can’t talk about, uh, uh, specifics on the, ah, performance of Clear Channel ‘cause we’re in, uh, a quiet period as we going to be releasing numbers in the near future.”

When he finally got around to answering the question, he said, “We don’t have an expectation that it’ll blow up.”

Throughout his brief appearance on CNBC, he uh-uh’ed more times than a college radio dj opening the mic for a first show.

Don’t take my word. Watch the disaster footage here.

One can only imagine Scott getting pulled over by the cops.

“Officer, honest. It’s not my fault. I didn’t see the recession coming.” 

Sperling’s moment in the sun on CNBC coincided with a Clear Channel manager’s meeting, which had shepherd John Hogan herding his flock back to San Antonio.

I’ll spare the comic relief about the Kremlin and the Politburo - and the Borg, for that matter.

Clear Channel “leaked” the alleged results of the meetings to the press in the form of two separate press releases, which were, for all the wrong reasons, so transparent they should’ve printed on Saran Wrap.

The version of the wrap-up press release – the one Clear Channel wants in the trades this morning – claims that local program directors have the autonomy and, in John Hogan’s own words, “total choice and flexibility” to do what they feel is best for their market. They will have, we are to believe, options to choose either nationally –produced programming like Ryan Seacrest, Elvis Duran, and Steve Harvey, among others, or keep their programming local.  

Hogan will have you believe it’s the opposite of “I’m only following orders.”  But it's not.

Clear Channel also promised to do a minimum 12 public service announcements per day and increase its committed-back-when-it-paid-its-payola-fines obligation to support local talent on appropriately programmed channels.  

On the former, only twelve?  Those could be rotated in the overnights.  I wonder if they'll continue to run the same public affairs programming Sunday mornings on all of their market stations at the same time? 

On the latter, this I have to hear. Certainly, Clear Channel can claim they're already playing lots of local artists at their New York, L.A., and Nashville stations.

Shall we put the Clear Channel press releases into the English translator?

Clear Channel Radio Launches Plan to Improve Program Quality for All Day Parts

Plan Includes New Channels, Premium Choice for Local Program Directors, and Sophisticated Talent Analysis

SAN ANTONIO – April 15, 2009 – Clear Channel Radio today announced a multi-point plan to raise the bar for radio programming across all day parts and platforms, including online and mobile. The plan includes the launch of new programming and makes programming and on-air talent that’s proven to be most popular with audiences, available more broadly to local program directors in all markets for all day parts.

Translation:  We will be firing more announcers and replacing them with more voice-tracking and syndication – in all dayparts.

Our programming objective is to increase audience size and engagement across all day parts and all platforms,” said John Hogan, president and CEO of Clear Channel Radio. “At the same time, we face a particularly difficult economy that makes it extremely challenging for some local stations to invest in developing the highest-quality programming and talent. Despite the difficult economy, we see enormous long-term opportunity in investing in things that immediately improve the competitive situation of our stations.”

Translation: If we have fewer announcers on more stations we’ve automatically increased the surviving air talent’s audience size – and it will allow us to put smaller markets on full automatic pilot. Farm teams  We're dealing with the here and now.  Forget tomorrow!

Local Clear Channel Radio program directors will have total choice and flexibility in choosing the Premium Choice programming elements. They can elect large portions, single pieces, or none of the offered programming. All of the Premium Choice elements were determined in full consultation with the company’s most experienced and trusted programming and operations managers.

Translation: I’m sorry. Did I leave out the words “in your budget?” Sure, you can go 24/7 with whatever you want provided you have the budget to do so.  And you don't!

These improvements have been part of the company’s long-term strategy to strengthen its competitive position,” added Hogan. “We’re accelerating these pieces because of the undeniable competitive opportunity presented by this market,” he said.

Translation: Our sales and collections are so bad we that have to do another trimming of the herd now.  We haven't forgotten about downsizing our traffic and billing ops.  We're just waiting for the next three-day holiday.

A primary element of the plan is “Premium Choice,” an ongoing, rigorous analysis that identifies Clear Channel Radio’s most effective content across music genres and on-air talent and presents significant expansion opportunities for both. Content and talent are selected for the program based on the evaluation of new PPM-based audience-measurement reports and data produced by Clear Channel Radio’s proprietary talent performance tool.

Translation: Think of the stink of human as money wasted.  If you put our Premium Choice (sounds like an off-brand coffee) and Localism on the scales of justice - come on - do I need to tell you which way the scales will tip?

Over the past two years, the company has rigorously evaluated all of the programming at every station across every day part. Based on tests of the programming elements, audience growth and ratings have grown dramatically.

On Air with Ryan Seacrest increased audience share in San Francisco by some 86% within three months of beginning its broadcast there; and the show increased audience share in Denver by some 46% in the same timeframe.

Similarly, Steve Harvey has improved ratings in all 10 markets into which he’s expanded.

“Alongside music artists, on-air talent contributes enormously to the quality of an AM or FM broadcast,” added Hogan. “Now, local talent can be rewarded for extraordinary success.”

Translation: Being live and local? It's so overrated.  Radio listeners?  Screw 'em. They can't tell the difference.

Clear Channel’s performance analysis tools evaluate a wide range of variables connected to a broadcast program and/or specific on-air talent and identifies properties with significant potential to succeed in other markets. The company believes it is the most sophisticated tool of its type in broadcasting. The performance analysis tool and the Premium Choice program will combine to build the careers of lesser-known talent that consistently outperform their peers.

Excuse me, I have to reboot the translator.

Translation: I’m still trying to figure out what this one means. Anyone speak Hoganese out there?  

The press release continues....

* Creating new channels, by genre and by personality

Also central to the plan is an expansion of the programming currently being created for the company’s online and on-demand broadcasting platforms. The new channels will focus on either a specific music genre or specific on-air personality.

Launching imminently in the genre category are Country Road and Soft Rock. They join existing channels including erockster, Pride, smooth jazz, slow jams, and others.

In the personality-driven side, new channels for
Kidd Kraddick and Lex & Terry are on tap, joining already successful channels focused on AT40 (Ryan Seacrest), Elvis Duran and JohnJay and Rich.

As with the existing online and on-demand channels, this new programming will be available directly to audiences during a testing phase via the three platforms: Clear Channel Radio’s local-station Web sites,
the iheartradio mobile broadcast application for iPhone and BlackBerry, and the company’s HD2 multicasts.

Translation: Our Format Lab was a stiff. We’ll just continue to pretend it wasn’t and fill up our on-line and HD radio channels with recycled programming. Do we think people will use their i-Phones and Blackberries to listen to Clear Channel stations? Don’t ask.  

* Important opportunities for new, local and unsigned music artists

The third element of the program is the expansion of the company’s already industry-leading programming showcasing new, local and unsigned music artists. Select AM and FM stations will add to existing new-music shows (e.g., urban, some country and some rock), and some stations will also develop customized shows.
In addition, the company will expand its highly acclaimed NEW! program for new, local and unsigned artists available to its highly successful mobile broadcasting application, iheartradio. More than 15,000 new, local and unsigned artists have been promoted to millions of online and on-demand listeners through the program. NEW! is currently available on hundreds of local-station Web sites.

Most recently, iheartradio has seen astounding success on both the iPhone/iPod Touch and BlackBerry platforms.

Engagement among users with the iPhone/iPod Touch is dramatically better than with most AppStore applications. Weekly unique users continue are up by some 43% and the application saw more than one million downloads in just 20 weeks.

And earlier this week, the company disclosed that its BlackBerry App World version rose to the #2 position among all BlackBerry applications, achieving the #1 position among media apps of any kind. The BlackBerry version is on track for astounding success, having been downloaded more than 250,000 times in less than a month.

Also coming soon to iheartradio: traffic-on-demand expands to 10 markets and the company’s highly regarded NEW! program. Since its inception, NEW! has showcased more than 15,000 new, emerging and unsigned music artists to millions of listeners.

Translation: No, we can’t qualify any of those figures – but you have to admit that they look impressive.  Would you like to see the hat I pulled them out of?

This year is a level-setting year in which we’re taking responsibility for the health and success of our company,’ concluded Hogan. “We will continue to actively evaluate economic and market conditions and our competitive position. We’ll also continue to make adjustments throughout the year so we are best poised to take advantage of the upturn as soon as it occurs.”

Translation: We're going out of business.  We're just not there, yet.

Clear Channel could’ve saved the expense of drafting this press release by just using a quote from Pete Townsend, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Even better: Business as usual - with fewer employees.  File under: Musical chairs.

Do you smell smoke?


Anonymous said...

"Translation: We're going out of business. We're just not there, yet."

Looks like they're (CC) getting there already. Any questions?

Anonymous said...

Translation from the Hoganese: We can apply quantitative measurement to qualitative4 issues with the expected accuracy that will generate. And we're great at measuring what happened in the past but have no methods of any kind to identify, develop and distribute new talent or music. What do you expect from a bunch of bean counters?

Anonymous said...

John, Your best yet. All Hogan is doing is another downsizing move and just rearranged the wording to make it look like he knows what he's doing. What a disaster. I smell smoke, too. Musical chairs, I love it.

Anonymous said...

My God! All those wasted words just to announce more employee cuts at Clear Channel. If Hogan was trying to image a "new" Clear Channel he blew it. The only problem is as you pointed out that Clear Channel IS radio to the investment community. What happens to Clear Channel happens to all radio. That is not entirely true although radio created that scenario for itself. There isn't even honesty among the thieves anymore. I think the NAB should have a suicide watch on every floor of the hotels - or maybe the hotel - where the few who are going to the Radio Show will stay.

Anonymous said...

There is a ridiculous interview in Inside Radio this morning with John Hogan. I expected to see it there since Inside Radio is owned by Clear Channel. He sticks his foot in his mouth so many times he must be used to the taste of his own shoe leather by now.

I cannot believe that Bain Capital and THL allowed Hogan to put that press release out. It is so bad. Anyone can see through it.

I feel bad for the few remaining live jocks left at Clear Channel. I would not be surprised to see Clear Channel begin to clear out heritage morning and afternoon shows because the hosts make too much money.

You keep saying Citadel or Cumulus will be the first to fall. I think Clear Channel was far too large to survive to begin with and you know what they say about the bigger they are.

Anonymous said...

I think passing out that musical chairs game is the way to go. How soon before Clear Channel consolidates their billing and traffic operations? I'm already looking for a new job and it is obvious that we are one of the markets that will be cut. Most of the billing and traffic people here go back a few owners prior to Clear Channel. We must be a hardy lot. I would think that Clear Channel would have the common courtesy to give us a heads up on when it will happen. It would be better than our manager avoiding eye contact with us.

Anonymous said...

It will fail. More will leave terrestrial radio for alternatives. John Hogan, you will go down in history as one of the worst operators in the history of the radio business.

Sam Zell is admitting he made a mistake. How about that. Zell, Mays and Hogan were led into the Garden of Eden by Randy Michaels.

He may be the biggest dirt bag of them all. He cleaned everyone's clock.

Anonymous said...

Whoever wrote the CC press releases is far too good for's some of the best Orwellspeak I have read. Government is calling you!
But, despite the verbal voluptuosness, the folks with the money have Universal Translators too. The investment community responded with a large yawn and continues to withhold money from CC and other broadcast stocks.

It's not that the money people have given up on broadcasting. They, like many others, are simply waiting for someone to re-establish a successful and sustainable operation in the modern media world. And while they can't tell us what that would be, like the famous defintion of pornography, they will know it when they see it. And they haven't seen it yet.

Anonymous said...

Are they heading down the toilet? Absolutely.

But there is a long, long way to go yet.

I'd predict the Bain-Lee boys won't be jumping ship at least until 2012. Maybe even longer.

Anonymous said...

My favorite line in the Scott Sperling interview is "we expected to have a recession". LOL!!

Anonymous said...

Increase localism by running more PSAs. Decrease localism by having no local announcers on the air.
I don't think that is what the new FCC has in mind.

Anonymous said...

Bain Capital and Thomas H Lee buy companies, chop them up, create new companies, do IPOs and that was probably their original intent with Clear Channel until the bottom dropped out.

I see why there is a business school named after Lowry Mays. He truly is the smartest man in the room. Apologies to Lew Dickey. Who else could have convinced these money hungry bastards from Boston to buy this piece of distressed merchandise?

It took one Texan to cheat two Boston Old Colony boy wanna-bees.

Anonymous said...

Scott Sperling was pretty flustered on CNBC. I saw it as it happened. She went in for the kill. I wonder if she knows people that were shortchanged by Clear Channel. She clearly was not going to let Sperling off the hook. The story in Boston is that he was really pissed off and complained to the brass at CNBC about his treatment.

Anonymous said...

No need to translate anything from Clear Channel.

What they really are saying is HELP! WE'RE DROWNING IN A SEA OF RED INK!

Anonymous said...

I also saw in the last day or so some PR from them about how well Ryan Seacrest and Steve Harvey are supposedly doing in a couple of markets. This crapola to me is at least in part to intimidate would-be competitors. They're scared. This is the perfect time to go after them vigorously.

Anonymous said...

I hope your translation is being read at Clear Channel stations everywhere. It should be required reading. How can a company treat its people so poorly? I know it's radio and I know Lew Dickey who I worked for is no better but come on, people. You don't solve problems by treating your employees like stray dogs, Mr. Hogan.

Anonymous said...

I agree strongly with the post before the previous one. When Ryan Seacrest shows up, there will be lots of people looking for a new radio home. It's time to really work to obtain these listeners!

Anonymous said...

It is a great opportunity for stations that are live and local to attack Clear Channel. Look at this as a positive move (unless you work there. In that case you know you won't be there for long and that may be the best thing that can happen to you).

Hogan just made CC vulnerable and easy to do in.

telerisghost said...

Hoganese translation reboot: "Expect to see "unproductive" highly paid syndicated talent replaced with "fresh" newly syndicated brown noses willing to work their tails to the bone to feed at the remains of the Clear Channel trough"

Anonymous said...

you are right about attacking clear channel while they are down but it wont happen because there is no such thing as competition anymore. heres what will happen. dan mason will see what hogan did and call his gms and pds and tell them to do the same. more vt, more syndication. if they are doing it we should too. dickey, emmis, entercom will all follow suit. they look at it as an opportunity to save money and miss the point on the opportunity to build. its what killed the auto industry. complacency. the scenario you make is perfect. the problem is radio is made up of ball-less wimps who would rather switch than fight.

Anonymous said...

Not only are the tandem press releases transparent, they are simply the worst ones ever written.

Not a lot of love for CC. But I hate to see this happen to the employees and the business. Nobody wins.

Anonymous said...

Things are tough all over. There is no excuse for a company the size of Clear Channel to issue such insulting press releases. They are not even written well. Why not simply state it honestly. We are losing money. We cannot afford to continue operating. We have decided to syndicate and voice track wherever possible to reduce costs. To disguise the plans as a revolutionary new development is insulting to everyone in this industry not just the poor employees that have to put up with this nonsense from Clear Channel, Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee. Nice shirt, Scott.

Anonymous said...

Radio has killed itself with greed and stupidity.

Randy Michaels even though he has not been a part of Clear Channel for years set up the infrastructure for radio to fail. He didn't care. He got out of the business with millions. Then he hooked up with Zell again for Tribune. Guarantee that Randy will come out in better shape than even Zell.

If there is a man of evil it is Randy Michaels. He has cost more people more jobs.

I don't want to be around when he meets his big payback.

Anonymous said...

"Translation: Our Format Lab was a stiff. We’ll just continue to pretend it wasn’t and fill up our on-line and HD radio channels with recycled programming. Do we think people will use their i-Phones and Blackberries to listen to Clear Channel stations? Don’t ask."

February 2008

"After conducting a survey of 340 HD2 stations to determine their programming needs, the folks at Clear Channel have dumped a number of their HD Format Lab stations due to a lack of demand. According to the Clear Channel Format Lab website, 46 HD stations are left to carry, including stations with names including 'Standing Room Only Showtunes', 'Pride Radio', 'JokeJoke' and 'Wack Comedy'."

"CC Radio’s Format Lab gone?"
November 2008

"So bottom line, the Format Lab is no longer available on the web and has cut some of its formats down to the most successful/desirable. The website seems to only list the main audio streams of CC stations--not multicast HD formats--but does offer a few off to the side: erockster; Pride; Verizon New Music; Smooth Jazz; Real Oldies; Slow Jams and New Country. There used to be something close to 100 formats listed on the site."

"Bonneville pulls iChannel Music"

"Bonneville has pulled the plug on its iChannel Music HD Network and streaming. For the most part, it has replaced the HD multicast with WorldBand Media content (brokered ethnic programming). iChannel allowed indie bands to upload their music online for consideration... We commend Bonneville for giving it a shot—it allowed radio to expose a lot of new, unsigned indie bands from around the world. CC Radio's eRockster HD2 format is still around at a good handful of stations and still outstanding. If that gets shuttered, a good bunch of us just might be done with HD Radio listening altoghether."

John, you sure got that right, and so was Booneville's iChannel HD Radio Network - LOL!

Anonymous said...

Who would want to ADVERTISE on a Clear Channel station knowing that their ratings will continue to decline with the moves? That is the name of the game. CC is also making a big deal about its internet radio streams? They wont be able to afford that in another three years. That is if they are still around. I think I smell smoke too. Bain and Lee will want out of this deal and this is one of those losses they will be glad to see off of their books.

Anonymous said...

I hope dental coverage is included in the "Premium Choice" plan.

Anonymous said...

Great translation. I can see where some would fall for this crap. CC is doing their employees and clients no favors.

Anonymous said...

I always thought Premium Choice was a house brand for Sav-Mor supermarkets.

Anonymous said...

The month of August is getting closer, beware.

Anonymous said...

>> dan mason will see what hogan did and call his gms and pds and tell them to do the same. more vt, more syndication. <<

I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

Mason? No? You're wrong. All he knows how to do is be a copy cat. Look at his 'game plans'. They all have to do with copying what others in a market are doing. He never has an original idea. He will look at Hogan's move and do the same. He will add more voice tracking and 'syndicate' more of who he believes are his star performers. If Hogan told him to jump off of a bridge, he would.

Anonymous said...

im sick of gormans blog. all he does is complain about radio. if radios so bad why does he rite about it?

Anonymous said...

Hey Stooop!! If yer sick of it, quit reading the damned thing! Who's passing out the stupid pills?

Anonymous said...

Hogan goes to Washington to tell them he is doing more localism by running PSAs and picking a charity of the month or whatever. Anybody should be able to see right through this nitwit now.

Thank you Randy Michaels, too. You brought us John Hogan and Sam Zell to ruin our industries.

What Sam Zell tells people he doesn't like we say the same to you. Double 2Q, fat boy.

Anonymous said...

Randy Michaels is akin to Peter Pettigrew from the "Harry Potter" books/movies. A human rat with survival instincts doing the bidding of an overlord. Case closed.

Anonymous said...

>> Mason? No? You're wrong. All he knows how to do is be a copy cat. Look at his 'game plans'. They all have to do with copying what others in a market are doing. He never has an original idea. He will look at Hogan's move and do the same. He will add more voice tracking and 'syndicate' more of who he believes are his star performers. If Hogan told him to jump off of a bridge, he would. <<

I disagree because he's already showing his own path. I think Cox and Entercomm will do what they think is right for them, too.

Anonymous said...

When I grow up, I want to write like John Gorman.

GOD that's good

Anonymous said...

Hot popcorn is still available at the snack bar before the show begins:

Anonymous said...

Let's Everybody Dance!!!

Anonymous said...

I blame Fred Jacobs

Anonymous said...

Damn Right!

Anonymous said...

NAB speech:

"Earlier this month," Rehr noted, "we surveyed radio insiders about Radio Heard Here. And nearly 90% said campaign tools that help the industry convey the power of radio are making a difference. Our goal for radio is simple, yet focused: Wherever there is a speaker or a pair of headphones, radio will be there. We must continue to tell radio's story."

Translation: I asked my wife, kids, and secretary, and two of my kids didn't think it was; hence, the only 90%. It was really 80%, but I know how to fudge data. The incorrigible two have been sent to their rooms with only an AM-HD radio and no supper.

Anonymous said...

Let 'em eat hiss!

Anonymous said...

"Translation: We will be firing more announcers and replacing them with more voice-tracking and syndication – in all dayparts."

Tuesday, April 28, is the day for the next round of firings.

vanillacokehead said...

The suits @ San Antonio could have adapted a line from a Three Stooges movie: "you don't have to use anything on-air you don't want. just use what we tell you." Well done, John, as always...

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to see just how permeant digital memory has become in our lives. It seems like everytime I turn my head, I see something with a card slot or USB jack, haha. I guess it makes sense though, considering how much cheaper memory has become as of late...

Ahhh, I shouldn't be moaning and groaning. I can't make it through a single day without using my R4 / R4i!

(Submitted from S3 for R4i Nintendo DS.)

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