Monday, May 18, 2009
Radio: Broom and gloom in Pittsburgh
Did you hear that David “Fumbles” Rehr is still coming to work every morning at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)?
Here’s the clown that carpet-bombed the radio and television industry out of any hopes to achieve parity with new media in the twenty-first century – and he’s still allowed in the building?
Come on, Fumbles. This is broadcasting. Capishe?
There are no fare-thee-wells. When you’re out, you’re out.
Just ask the thirty-five former employees of Sheridan Broadcasting’s three radio stations in Pittsburgh.
Unlike Fumbles, who botched nearly every NAB assignment on Capitol Hill and knew his days were numbered, the employees of WAMO AM and FM and WPGR -AM had no such advance warning that last Friday would be their last day.
They were called into a mandatory meeting late that afternoon.
WAMO-FM’s Hip Hop/R&B format was consistently Abritron-rated top ten – and placed eighth in 12+ total audience ratings in the Winter ’09 Arbitron with a 4.5 share – up from a 4.0 in the Fall ’08 survey.
Both WAMO-AM’s Urban AC and WPGR’s gospel formats were syndicated and had ratings lower than whale excrement. WAMO-AM, 1,000 watt day/830 watt night and licensed to Millvale, PA, placed eighteenth with a 1.2 12+ total audience share while WPGR, 5,000 watt day/1 watt night, and licensed to Monroeville, didn’t even show.
The WAMO call letters, which have been in continual use in Pittsburgh for sixty-plus years, signify the city’s three rivers– the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio.
At the meeting, employees were told the stations were sold to an unidentified company.
Those that qualified received a severance package.
Employees were asked to clean out their lockers, turn in their keys and ID and were wished well on their future endeavors.
Following the meeting, Sheridan contacted local news media and released information that the station’s new owner, St. Joseph Missions, would change the three stations’ formats, leaving market number twenty-four without a formats serving the Pittsburgh African-American community. Arbitron estimates Pittsburgh's African-American population at 8.2 percent.
No information was provided nor could be found on-line regarding the identity or background of St. Joseph’s Missions, which purchased the three stations for the such-a-deal fire sale price of $8.9 million.
Rather than answer questions about the sale, Sheridan hired a spokesperson, Russell Bynum of the Pittsburgh-based Bynum Marketing and Communications, who referred to St. Joseph Missions as "religious-oriented.”
"This was a difficult decision for the owners, but it was a necessary situation for them," he added. "When we look at Sheridan, we are looking at a strong organization that has had to make these changes to adapt to the movement and the changes in the marketplace."
Translation: It takes money to make money but Sheridan was obviously not making enough of it.
Sherdian Broadcasting, which is headquartered in Pittsburgh, is the principal owner of the American Urban Radio Networks group, the only African-American network group in the U.S. American Urban runs three networks, which they claim reach an estimated 20 million African-American radio listeners. The company still owns radio stations in Atlanta, Birmingham, and Buffalo – at least for the moment.
Sheridan Broadcasting owner Ron Davenport Sr. bought WAMO-FM and AM in 1973, His son, Ron Davenport Jr., is the general manager. The company purchased WPGR-AM in 2001.
"This is a business decision," he said. "That's the reality of the marketplace. The marketplace determines how businesses go, and industries have to change with the times."
Fear of the future – specifically, the insurmountable obstacles following NAB’s botched negotiation with the RIAA’s SoundExchange on streaming audio royalties and the forthcoming almost-certain-to-happen performance royalty fee were the unofficial reasons for Sheridan’s decision to pull out of station ownership. Arbitron’s people meter ratings and their effect on urban formats was also rumored to be a deciding factor.
Regarding its decision to abandon the African-American radio audience in a market it’s headquartered in, Bynum claimed that Sheridan tried to find minority buyers for the Pittsburgh stations but – no surprise here - none were able to secure financing.
He added, "I believe someone will fill the void."
That’s more than one can say about Fumbles, whose continued relationship with the NAB should just be voided.