It was bad enough when CNBC ran a brief piece titled Clear Channel or Static Interference on CNBC’s Street Signs where host Erin Burnett asked a direct question – “Is the Clear Channel deal going blow up or not?” to the usually unflappable Thomas H. Lee co-President Scott Sperling, whose reply channeled Porky Pig on a b-b-b-bad day.
It only got worse when CC radio head John Hogan released the most unconvincing, conniving press release, which all other disingenuous press releases will be measured against for the foreseeable future. It declared that Clear Channel born again of fresh new initiatives that would show its commitment to the wants and needs of their cities of license.
It did nothing other than humiliate the entire radio industry. When the company with the most number of stations commits a faux pas of that scale, what message does it send to everyone from the ad community to the government on the way it conducts business?
Can you imagine a conversation between Hogan and Fumbles?
Tribune Chairman and CEO Sam Zell conveyed more discomfiture when he told Bloomberg TV that his leveraged $8.2 billion deal to buy that company, including its radio and TV assets, was “a mistake.” His quote, “If you bought something and it'snow worth a great deal less, you made a mistake and I'm more than willing to say I made a mistake.” He could’ve been speaking of the “buy now, figure out what to do with them later” business plan the radio industry followed post-deregulation.
At least Zell sidekick Randy Michaels’ reputation as king of all tosspots is secure. He’s now done to newspapers what he already did to radio and TV.
Want more? There’s plenty. The Scranton Standard-Speaker reported last Friday that Citadel’s WARM-AM, licensed to that city, had gone silent two days earlier – and its corporate Chief Operating Officer Judy Ellis, knew nothing about it. Quoteth Ms. Ellis, “You would have to call those at the station in Scranton.”
Citadel – where accountability is optional, at best.
The Standard-Speaker also contacted the FCC. ““They have 10 days to (officially) notify us that they’ve gone silent and, after 30 days, they would need our authorization,” said FCC spokesman David Fiske. “They’ve got to come to us with facts and they have not said that they’re going out of business.”
The paper deserves credit for finding the one person in Scranton who knew what Citadel didn’t about its own radio station. Meet the Saturday host of a barter show, Polka Weekend, Sam Liguori. Sayeth he, “Unless someone with a lot of money buys the license, WARM will say dark.”
On Friday evening, Scranton’s WNEP-TV reported that WARM had shut down “a few weeks ago” and that employees at the station were told, “it was too expensive to repair the transmitter.” If that’s the case, Citadel is negligent in its reporting to the FCC.
Like Clear Channel, Citadel feels beholden to no one but itself; least of all its listeners, its clients, and the FCC. It parcels out information on a "need to know" basis. Unless you’re Farid or Judy, you don't need to know – and even they didn’t know that one of their Scranton stations went dark.
When the FCC was F-Troop under Kid Michael Powell and Boy Kevin you could get away with anything. But it’s a different FCC now. The days of ‘if you see a chance – take it’ are over and perhaps Citadel, as we know it, will be, too.
It’s been said that the omens are plentiful at this spring’s Vegas bash.
Concomitant with the NAB convention opening, came news of a filing Clear Channel Communications parent CC Media Holdings Inc. made with the SEC, which revealed its whopping 23 percent loss in revenue during Q1 2009 compared to the same quarter last year - from $1.56 billion to $1.21billion.
Clear Channel did make one top ten list. It joins Univision, Rite Aid, Six Flags, Beazer Homes USA, Harrah’s Entertainment, MGM Mirage, United Airlines, Ford and GM as one of the ten most bankruptcy-endangered companies in the U.S., according to MSN Money.
While we’re at it, how about the report that many chains are shutting down their HD Radio stations to cut the additional $3,000 to $5,000 they add to an annual electric bill? Just think. If the HD Radio Alliance got their way and the HD stations went full power, that annual bill would jump to around the $30,000 to $50,000 range. Of course, that doesn’t include the extras HD Radio is siphoning off the bottom line like license fees, maintenance, and those darned overheating problems.
It seems like the only trade reporting on good vibes at the NAB convo is the same one that commended John Hogan’s new initiatives – Inside Radio. Yes the Clear Channel owned and operated Inside Radio. It’s to the radio industry and the NAB what Pravda was the old Soviet Union.
I’d be remiss if I left out U2’s Bono and his poorly timed (for the NAB) comments
Just a few weeks ago, Fumbles was falling all over himself with praise to Bono for thanking radio for helping U2 achieve superstar status.
Now, let me tell you about Bono. He’s probably the smartest and most fiscally responsible rock star since David Bowie.
Bono also has a pretty good memory and can recall when the band released “Beautiful Day” in the fall of 2000 from their forthcoming album All That You Can’t Leave Behind. He was told that radio in America had changed – and the band would now have to pay to receive airplay on pop and rock stations. And since U2 had a long lag time between albums – it would cost the band at least double the going rate to get "re-established at radio."
Bono – and every other artist looking for radio airplay - learned that a couple of years after deregulation, Sam Zell’s drinking and strip joint buddy, Randy Michaels, who had maneuvered himself as CEO of Clear Channel’s radio division, came up with the radio equivalent of clean coal – legal payola.
When Clear Channel marketed its new pay-for-play rate card – the other radio chains fell in line like the penguins they are. The radio industry pitched legal payola as an example of that non-traditional revenue stream that Wall Street was becoming skeptical about.
U2 paid the freight, got airplay, and a hit single and album that followed. But Bono never forgot that he had to pay for something he used to get for free – and knowing that payment was deducted from directly from the band’s royalties bothered him even more. Things like that don’t sit well with an artist who probably still has his First Communion money hidden in his shoe.
He’s not getting mad. He’s just getting even.
If a frog is dumped in boiling water, it leaps out and lives to see another day. If it’s dumped in cold water, which is heated slowly enough, it gets used to heat and is boiled alive.
Dead boiled frogs. That’s what the radio industry has become; so immune to the crises facing it that its participants don’t even notice they’re drowning in it.
David “Fumbles” Rehr, this is the industry that you represent and it’s your show.