Saturday, September 19, 2009

Radio: Mr. Smith goes back to Washington

Damn it. The 22nd annual Public Radio Programmers Convention had just wrapped up. It was an encouraging, energetic convention full with creative people and innovative ideas and concepts. The one distinct difference between commercial radio and public radio is that the latter doesn’t play the victim. Nor do they have to be convinced that the future of radio is localism coupled with rights to every viable broadcasting platform. They fully recognize that their new market is on line. I was about to write something about the convention and its many creative participants when I got the news.

I’d also written up another piece congratulating the National Association of Broadcasters for not trying to jump the gun and sign, seal and deliver a new President and CEO in time for the NAB Radio Show in Philadelphia this week. That move, I wrote, would’ve harkened back to the years when do-or-die mergers would be hastily wrapped up to meet the NAB convention deadline. Remember the years when Karmazin, Ginsburg, Michaels, and others who are no longer part of the terrestrial radio cartel would strut through the halls of the NAB basking in the glory of their latest radio mega-merger?

The NAB has been without an official leader since David “Fumbles” Rehr was fired last June. That was the best news from that org is years. We got through the summer comparatively unscathed.

My take was to let the NAB Gang of Four mind the store, with COO Janet McGregor as acting President, while leaving it up to both the radio and television industry to decide whether or not one organization should handle both radio and television – or would it be best for each to have its own association.

But, no. When will I learn? Buddy Starcher was right. History repeats itself. First, as tragedy, second, as farce.

So who’s Fumbles’ follow-up?

Former Senator Gordon H. Smith, come on down.

Barring contingencies, the 57-year old former two-term Republican Senator from Oregon will officially take over Fumbles’ former functions on November 1st. He’ll make a brief appearance at the NAB Radio Show this week.

He was born in Eastern Oregon and raised in Maryland. He attended Brigham Young University and Southwest University of Law.

Before he was a U.S. Senator, he served in the Oregon State Senate, including one session, in 1995, as Senate President. He was defeated for reelection last year by Jeff Merkley, a Democrat.

Prior to entering politics, Smith took over his family's troubled business, Smith Frozen Food, one of the largest distributors of its kind in the U.S. Though he turned the business around, he was hit with charges of poor working conidtions, waste water violations, employing illegal immigrants, and low pay. Only a third of his work force was full-time and receiving health insurance. When Smith entered politics, his wife Sharon took over as its President, CEO, and board chairwoman.

Smith served in the U.S. Senate from 1996 to 2008, where his committee assignments included the Senate Commerce Committee, the panel that oversees all broadcast-related legislation.

He’s one of the guys that the NAB used to lobby. Now he goes from getting his butt kissed to butt kisser – a feat the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) has down to a French kiss science.

He took the nets side over his constituents and consumers when he voted against the sale and use of DVRs, like TiVo. Now, he’ll have to apply reverse logic to do battle against the RIAA on Capitol Hill. The good news is that he’ll also be on the side of consumers by beating back those thieves.

Smith was considered a moderate Republican. He supported gay rights, including the Human Rights Campaign but flip-flopped with the Federal Marriage Amendment.

One of his most radical move was as chief co-sponsor of the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s hate crimes bill.

Smith’s independent streak most likely stems from being red in a blue state. How much of his purple is politically

motivated versus acting on logic and opinion remains to be seen.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, this joke’s already making the rounds: The other unemployed Mormon, Mitt Romney must’ve turned it down. But don’t laugh. There’s a six degrees of Romney and radio as a founder of private equity firm Bain Capital, which now shares ownership of the cracked and cratered Clear Channel with Thomas H. Lee, another Boston-based p.e.f.

I don’t care if Smith’s religion calls for him to paint his face blue and howl at the moon to chase the devil away. My concern is that, unlike his fumbling, bumbling, letter-writing

predecessor, he will stand up to the radio industry's Satan - The Record Industry

Association of America (RIAA) and have enough juice on Capitol Hill to beat back those bastards and show that organization’s true colors and intentions.

So far, the NAB has given away the store these thieves time and time again. The best Fumbles could do was lob verbal dud grenades at the RIAA and others challenging the radio industry.

"I am honored to have been selected as NAB's new president and consider this an opportunity of a lifetime," sayeth Mr. Smith. "As radio and television stations embrace new technologies and new business opportunities, I look forward to articulating to public policymakers the unique and positive role played by local and network broadcasters in the fabric of American society."

"We conducted an exhaustive search to identify the very best individual to lead a great trade association," said NAB Gang of Four member and Joint Board Chairman Steve Newberry. "We're convinced we have found that person in Gordon Smith. His background as a lawyer, a statesman, and as an entrepreneur — coupled with his extensive knowledge of broadcast issues from having served many years on th
e Commerce Committee — make Gordon eminently qualified to represent the interests of free and local broadcasters in Washington."

We know he's a television guy. Whether he has the stuff to be radio's savior remains to be seen.

True, we haven’t buried the Citadel and Cumulus way of doing business deep in a cement-filled plutonium tomb yet – but we’re getting closer.

And, no, Smith has not been briefed on Clear Channel CEO John Hogan’s been there, done that, and what did it really amount to in the end style of management either.

Please, whatever you do, don’t show him the RAB’s Best of Radio website.

We don’t want to discourage him before he starts his new job.


The Cleveland Press covers the Buzzard in 1977


Radio Lifer said...

You know why that Who song "Won't Get Fooled Again" has remained popular for thirty years? It still stands - "meet the new boss/same as the old boss" and once again WE, meaning the radio industry, GET FOOLED AGAIN! Please, we don't need another Fumbles.

Anonymous said...


I do not always agree with you but this time I think you have made the right points here.

Not thrilled about Smith. My fear is that he will run a TV first organization. It may be time for two separate organizations. One for radio, one for TV and both run independently.

Worthy of discussion.

Anonymous said...

I hear that this NAB convention will be the last one attended by the "den of thieves" that ruined our radio business. The same old names, the same old meetings, regardless of what city we are in. It alll comes to a head this week in Philly.. It is about time I would say. Over and out.

Anonymous said...

john, thank you for your nice words about the public radio convention. i enjoyed the panel you were on. it was the most lively and informative. i see your comparison between fm in the 70s and on line and mobile today. all of the panelists were the best along with the stations they represent. your encouragement and support of public radio is deeply appreciated. i hope to see you involved more with non com in the future.

Anonymous said...

I actually think it's a good choice. Smith is friendly with lots of people on both sides of the aisle and of course has two cousins in the Senate among the Ds.

He will actually be effective.

You missed the most obvious mormon connection, though. Bruce Reese headed the search committee and that's the only reason NAB was able to land such a big name.

Given that Reese is one of the few broadcast execs with scruples and good business sense, I'd say this bodes well.

Anonymous said...

John, I agree with Anonymous 10:21. It is worth giving Smith a chance. I do not take the view that anyone would be better than Fumbles. We need a leader and a healer. I think Smith can rise above the petty politics of the NAB, too and not get snookered by usual suspects that have dominated the downward spiral of the NAB. I am not going to the convention this year. I am not in the mood to see grown men cry and the last stand of the snake oil salesmen trying to squeeze the last drop of blood from the radio groups.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one noticing that its the same "names" now showing up at new media events now and trying to control those too? The recent mergers I have been reading about on the Internet radio level (Ando Media, Specail Audio, etc.) do not fare well for this industry. Suddenly I am seeing the same names of those who ruined radio showing up at new media events. Check the roster of RAIN's event. I will be checking it out.

Anonymous said...

I am at the NAB and the one problem I have with Gordon Smith is shared by a number of people I have talked with:
NO BROADCASTING EXPERIENCE. Bruce Reese is a good man that may have been given an impossible task. Find someone before the NAB Radio Show begins. If that is the case this was a rushed decision. Gordon Smith is a talking head who may have problems on Capitol Hill. A man without a party. To liberal for the Republicans, too conservative for the Democrats and a wishy-washy voting record that keeps out of focus his real intentions. Count me disapointed.

Anonymous said...

I am also in Philadelphia at the NAB. So far the talk is about two things.
1. How many other Citadels are out there ready to implode?
2. The rushed hire of Gordon Smith as NAB CEO.
After all we have gone through this is still an industry in denial. There are other groups about to fail and pretending they will not happen will not prevent this worst case scenario.

Bruce Reece was given an impossible task if he was told to have someone in place by convention. This is a huge mistake. Reece has no real broadcast experience. Being on a committee and dealing with day to day issues are not related. Will Reece be a TV or radio guy. I cannot see him being both with the enormous learning curve he has before him. Once again radio gets screwed.

"Let's give him a chance" is the same thing that was said when David Rehr was announced. John, I hope you are wrong about history repeating itself but my gut tells me you are right.

Anonymous said...

So Bruce Reese was given the task to find someone to replace Rehr by the start of the NAB Radio Show. He did just that. That it was done before the Radio Show is a message that Gorden Smith will be as dedicated to radio as he is to television. He already had his learning curve and knows the business. He has experience in it. I bet he knows more about the business than most of the posters here. I don;t think Gorman was dissing the choice. He gave you background, gave you facts both pro and con. No body is perfect. I think Gorden Smith will be an fine choice as the NAB CEO/President. He is well spoken and has a history in Congress. May we all forget the man we called Fumbles.

Fed up manager said...

The frenzied dash by the NAB to have a new CEO on board by the Radio Show is just plain foolish. Show me Gordon Smith's radio qualifications.

This is another dumb move by an organization that has been run like a merry go round carnival ride for way too many years.

I think radio should demand a separate organization. Maybe they can be related, maybe not.

What do you think?

former cleveland manager said...

according to inside radio gordon smith jumped at the opporunity. even the nab expected there would be a negotiation process.

to me this is a guy who hated being a lawyer and missed the big time of getting his ass kissed by both sides of the fence by playing moderate. the "kid leo" question asks can gordon smith go from getting his ass kissed to someone who has to kiss ass for a living?

Anonymous said...

Mark and Randy Mays are pissed about Smith. Maybe that is a good sign.

Anonymous said...

Broadcasters will hate Smith's ass. He is in favor of LOCALISM!!!!! He also voted for stiffer obscenity fines!!!!

I do not think he is the right choice. Once again the NAB voted partisan instead of logical.

Prediction: Meet the new Fumbles same as the old Fumbles. Maybe his style will be different and not as confrontational. He does not know the industry he represents and you just cannot have a crash course in radio and TV and expect to pick it up like that.

If radio is smart they will leave the NAB and start a separate organization. I doubt that willhappen since most of the radio groups around at this NAB will not be around for the next one.

This is the "farewell" to the C-companies year.

Anonymous said...

So far there is more talk about what is going to happen to Citadel come first of the year. The NAB this year is more networking than anything else. It is the last hurrah for some groups. If it were not for the good weather the weird vibe permeating throughout the place would be overwhelming.

Anonymous said...

To those saying Smith doesn't know radio, I'd counter that knowing Congress is more important for his position. Washington is a Byzantine place. For example, one huge difference? Senators retain floor privileges after they leave. As a congressman or senator goes in and out to vote, a former member can accompany him virtually anywhere in the building; other lobbyists must stay behind the ropes. Former members have an entirely different status than lobbyists. They are royalty.

David Rehr's problems stemmed from being nothing more than a money guy for DeLay. Former staffers are a dime a dozen. When Smith wants to get something moving, he can pick up the phone and talk to any member of Congress. Why? Because some day every member will be a former member, and they'll want the same courtesy. That's how it works.

When Rehr wanted a meeting, it had to be arranged and scripted. The Congressman had to be reassured he was the dominant player and Rehr, of course, couldn't be stood up for fear of embarrassing him in front of the industry or press. You can't imagine the hoops that had to be jumped through for appearances. Even Eddie Fritts traded on Trent Lott's name. Eddie had the temperament for it, but you can be sure that everybody knew who the power was.

Bagging a senator to head an association is a rare and amazing thing in the lobbying world. Senators can make so much money doing little favors here and there, they almost never consider putting up with the headaches of lobbying for a single association. To convince Smith to sign on was a huge achievement. Those griping about his lack of radio experience are just showing how little they know about lobbying.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:44 makes the most sense on this one. Reese got a guy that can work the room. He doesn t have to know the product, he knows the right people and what hot button to push. The NAB board will put together the program - and that is where you as broadcasters should be focused. The NAB Board trips all over itself. That is where change is needed.


John, this is in the L.A. Times this morning. It was hinted at the Public Radio convention that this story would be coming. I feel we have a problem if public stations begin to use Arbitron like commercial stations. The PPM is one more device beyond a cellphone and mp3 player that respondents have to carry around. I think the question is how many will? This isn't exactly related to your blog though it brings up something we discussed at great length on a couple of panels including yours.
Click here to find out more!

KCRW's People Meter problem
A new rating system indicates that the iconic public radio station is falling behind in listenership. Management takes issue with the methodology.
By James Rainey

September 18, 2009

Listening to velvet-voiced Jason Bentley the other day on the radio pitching KCRW's first-ever Halloween masquerade ball at the fabulous old Park Plaza hotel, my mind began to drift.

I would jettison my news-dweeb persona on that day, not so far off, and disappear into the writhing dance crowd, losing myself in Bentley's grooves. Techno. Trip-hop. (If only I knew what that was.)

That fantasy would have to go on hold, though, as I had decided it was time to call Bentley's bosses with more prosaic concerns -- like what's happening to public radio in L.A. and could your audience be in danger of slipping away?

The question had been raised for some time, most pointedly when last month's Arbitron ratings showed three Los Angeles public radio stations -- KUSC-FM (91.5), KPCC-FM (89.3) and KKJZ-FM (88.1) -- substantially ahead of the once preeminent KCRW-FM (89.9).


The numbers, and the "Portable People Meter" (PPM) the ratings outfit uses to collect them, have been the subject of furious debate nationally among radio programmers for more than a year. Suffice it to say that the bosses at KCRW believe theirs is one of the stations whose listenership is being grossly undercounted.

I won't claim to have nearly enough expertise to settle the technical arguments about Arbitron's new audience estimates. And surely ratings can be overplayed. But the numbers give at least a hint at the shifting balance of power in Los Angeles public radio.

For at least a few years now, more listeners have been moving steadily toward stations with consistent formats -- like KPCC's news and talk and KUSC's classical music, a niche it holds almost alone after other stations dropped the format.

KCRW proudly and somewhat defiantly maintains its eclectic brand, carrying everything from National Public Radio's news programs to unique home-grown shows on food, books, public affairs and more.

If you measure by its growing Web audience, stronger than its competitors', and its list of subscribers, large and robust, KCRW has much to celebrate and little to fear.

Still, I couldn't help but wonder if those ratings numbers weren't cause for some worry.

"This has been a growing concern over the last several months, since we started seeing the new numbers," said one member of the KCRW foundation board, who asked not to be named for fear of angering station management. "You can quibble with the numbers. But even if they are just true relatively speaking, then we should be asking what they mean."

Another board member shared similar feelings -- though both of them, and a third board member I spoke to, stressed that they think the station has no cause for alarm or a hasty change in direction.

"To me the great achievement of KCRW is to remain eclectic when so much of media is going to narrower and narrower niches," said Steve Lavine, president of California Institute for the Arts and a board member at the station. "That unlikely mix of cutting- edge music and news and information and cultural commentary is what's so valuable."

Even so, it did not go unnoticed anywhere in local radio last month when Arbitron (relying on the new PPM devices) showed KUSC with a total of 737,000 listeners per week, tops on public radio's airwaves not only locally but across the nation.


Pasadena-based KPCC ranked fifth nationally with a "cume" of 549,000, and jazz-oriented KKJZ came in at 317,000. KCRW trailed at 289,000 weekly listeners.

When I asked about the numbers, KCRW General Manager Ruth Seymour made me feel a little like that fat PC guy in the Apple computer ads, his mind rooted in hopeless convention while arty Appleman scans the vast horizon.

"I hate these stories," Seymour said, adding that "Arbitron has devised a marvelous system to measure radio in the 20th century."

Seymour, to be sure, is not alone in arguing that the measuring system is flawed. Of particular concern: The People Meters don't record all the people who listen to the news and music programs that KCRW transmits via online "streams" distinct from its main programming. Arbitron also doesn't report listening by people out of town and overseas, where the station's music, in particular, has a big following.

Joanne Church interprets ratings data for public radio stations as president of the Radio Research Consortium.

She agrees that KCRW gets shortchanged, to a degree, by the failure to fully measure online and out-of-town audiences.

But Church also believes that the new Arbitron ratings are "at least as reliable" as the old system, in which a sample of listeners kept diaries of the programs they followed.

Yet the shift from the old to the new rating system has cost KCRW more than any other public radio station -- dropping to an estimated 289,000 listeners a week from the 539,000 that Arbitron reported in spring 2008.

Longtime KCRW consultant Will Lewis has filed a complaint with the FCC about the new measurements. One of the station's theories is that its listeners are too young and mobile to agree to toting around the bothersome People Meter.

"You think our audience, going to the gym with their iPods and Nanos, want to take along this extra, cumbersome device they have to attach?" Seymour asked incredulously.

A less pleasant prospect for the station, suggested by Church, is that KCRW might have benefited in past ratings from a "halo" effect.

"They have such a strong brand that people wanted to report listening to them," Church said. "The diary was very forgiving that way and the meter is not."

Said Lavine, who stressed he was not speaking for the KCRW board: "None of us, no matter what field we are in, like to have our audience become smaller."

But he added that the Arbitron figures don't give a full picture, noting that the station is outstripping most others with its growing Web presence and myriad podcasts and archived programs., indeed, showed KCRW with a larger online audience than other local public radio stations. Nielsen Net Ratings recorded 97,000 unique visitors to for August.

Making all the number-crunching somewhat academic, at least for now, is the station's other bottom line. It has lost little, if any, appeal with subscribers, counting more than 50,000 of them. With corporate underwriting thrown in, the station raised a total of $12.5 million in the most recent fiscal year.

The key challenge will be similar to the one facing many media, including newspapers, Lavine said. That is: finding ways to make money off the Internet audience.

Steve Behrens, editor of, which closely follows public broadcasting, cautioned in the meantime against "media writers' obsessions with ratings and box office."

Who wouldn't, after all, want to support the station that brought the world comedian Harry Shearer's biting, hilarious "Le Show" and Warren Olney's trenchant public affairs programs, along with the latest dance beats from Lagos?

I hope the dwindling numbers are based on flawed methodology. I hope I'm just another media writer with a petty obsession.

If not, KCRW might have reason to wonder about its future in the long term. Audience drives subscriptions and subscriptions create revenue.

If the cash goes away, I have to wonder, who's going to school me about trip-hop?

Sign me DISGUSTED said...

Is there anyone other than me troubled by what we are beginning to see take place in the streaming audio arena? It is beginning to smell a lot like the old fashioned radio industry. The latest moves of Ando and Spacial being bought out by Triton turns the streaming business into a monopoly where it controls both sides – sales and numbers. When did “Batman” Mike McVay become an internet radio expert? Is he not one of the consultants that neutered radio? He will be pitching his Boy Robin” Daniel A's latest invention. Look who is sponsoring the event. Accu-Radio already cut their deal with Sound Exchange. So have most of the stations associated with Jennifer Lane. Unless you are part of the Triton cartel you are out of the streaming business. I dare you to print this. If you don’t I will know that you are part of the problem too.

Anonymous said...

John, I think you said at the beginning of the year that it would be a radically different industry by the end of the year. Maybe 'radical' is not the right word. Different definitely is. With the news of Cumulus going to Chapter 11 and Citadel and others not far behind I think we could see some great opportunities coming for broadcast minds/operators. The NAB is the rah-rah rally everyone needs. You can easily tell those who are part of companies on the way down and some new and some familiar faces who are waiting to buy when the fire sales begin. They cannot happen soon enough.

1 Hoo Nose said...

Hey Gorman You ARE missing the biggest story and its not about Gordon Smith. Triton is a cobra and you better learn about it fast. When Audio4cast's Jennifer Lane plays all goody two shoes about the deal understand that she is part of it along with Kurt Hanson of RAIN. Triton has a financial interest in Hanson's Slipstream and RAIN. Above board? Please. Ando - credibility in the metric field? You better do your research. SIGN ME DISGUSTED thought he smelled a rat? Let me tell you those aren't rats they are snakes and all in the same pit.

Anonymous said...

"I am not in the mood to see grown men cry and the last stand of the snake oil salesmen trying to squeeze the last drop of blood from the radio groups."

Like Bob Struble?

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fm radio online said...

thanks Mr john nice writings ..
fm radio online