Friday, December 28, 2007

Radio’s Rogues Gallery of 2007

In no particular order - and by no means complete:

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Boy Kevin Martin: He transformed the FCC into a hackapalooza where all deals are done under the table. Want to buy in? Boy will direct you to his preferred lobbyists. Just ask Sam Zell. He can get anything he wants at Kevin Martin’s restaurant.

Sure there’s no shortage of those wanting to put a stake through the heart of this grotesquely corrupt system – but it’s not going to happen.

The General Accounting Office ratted him out for leaking confidential material to preferred lobbyists and companies and he still has a job and hasn’t been brought up on charges thanks to his wife’s employer and Bush string-puller. He’s got him covered so well that you can’t even see the yellow streak running down his back.

Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the RIAA: The RIAA has engaged in everything from the Patriot Act to breaking every invasion of privacy law without reprimand to search and destroy illegal downloaders.
Its SoundExchange division encouraged Internet-only radio stations to set up payola deals with labels to reduce the cost of royalty payments for airplay.
Now, they’re closing in on radio like hyenas surrounding a wounded animal with its MusicFirst Coalition’s latest extortion in disguise: charging terrestrial radio a tariff for streaming music.
The RIAA is the lobby wing of the major labels, mostly foreign owned and infamous for not paying its artists the royalties they’re owed.
Don’t believe it? Check the track record of the RIAA with the few that had enough money to audit their labels.

Who says crime doesn’t pay? Not Bainwol.

David Rehr a.k.a. Fumbles, President and CEO of the NAB: Here’s a paper tiger’s paper tiger. The six words he hears from everyone: “Go away, kid. You bother me.”

Royalties? Unrealistic censorship? Satellite merger? He's boxing with the big boys now. I guess Pater never taught him how to defend himself. The only box he knows is the one he can’t get out of. He had an opportunity to threaten Mitch Bainwol that he’d expose the RIAA for the thugs they are but his lips were trembling too much to form the words. He can write one hell of a letter, though. Actually, hundreds of them. Too bad none of them were effective – or even read for that matter.

We always thought that what made Milwaukee famous would make a fool out of him.

Former CBS Radio Chairman and CEO Joel Hollander: Lost in translation. Jack, Free-FM, the Zone – enough already.
We knew it was only a matter of time when CBS Broadcasting Chairman and CEO Les Moonves and Hollander would take that ride in the country where only one of them would return.

Peter Ferrara a.k.a. Sgt. Bilk-o, President and CEO of the HD Radio Alliance: We know it’s a dead horse but we enjoy beating it anyway. The HD Radio Alliance is a sheltered workshop for the otherwise unemployable radio executive.
It’s a place where a dollar chases a dime.

How many HD Radios did its tent revivalist Sgt. Bilk-o legitimately (real figures, not his) sell this Christmas? Do you know anyone who’s bought one? Even on QVC?

Even his former disciple, the Coot, is rallying against Bilk-o’s latest creative. More proof that when the ship is sinking the rats are the first to leave.
When the house of cards finally collapses will Bilk-o say the following words before a live audience, “Your Honor, I believed everything in the radio industry was on the level?”
Bet on it. He'll squeal like a pig.
Designer consultants (names need not be mentioned – yet): The Coot is a cheap knock-off. You can always ID the knock-offs. They’re the ones telling you that everything they told you to do for the past ten years was wrong but it’s your fault for following their advice. Start with the Coot’s Chicago stations and go from there.

True, there’s that oily designer consultant who’s even worse – but I’ll wait until his dossier is complete. You’ve heard of double dippers? This one’s gone quad. The net has been thrown over people for less than what this rogue and his associates have done to this business.

The Mays Family, BainCapital and Thomas H. Lee a.k.a. Fiddle and Faddle: – Here’s the problem with being a member of the Mays family’s Lucky Sperm Club. Eventually, the luck part runs out.
Sure there are those that’ll say Randy Michaels left Clear Channel radio in a lurch – but how many years has it been since they ousted him and they still can’t turn it around?

What can you say about a company that fires its best – from account executives to air talent – and replaces them with those that’ll work the cheapest? You get what you pay for.

Instead of trying to embrace new technology that could’ve bought them time, this troglodytic company beat it to death. Their radio home pages look like porn sites. Bad ones.

Take Fiddle and Faddle, otherwise known as the BainCapital/Thomas H. Lee privatization deal. The Mays family conned them into the deal that they can’t get out of without a heavy payoff.
Their aborted plan to divvy up what was left of the morally bankrupt company is in stasis and they may be forced to call the Mays’ bluff, cut their losses and back out of that deal.
And Wall Street’s gotten wise to the Mays father, son, and holy roast family con: heads I win, tails you lose. This time it may be closer to no one getting the gold and everyone getting the shaft.

Don Imus: How can we miss you if you don’t go away? A lot of good you’ll do Citadel. Imus is little more than a reoccurring presence, like herpes.

Mel Karmazin, Gary Parsons and the XM-Sirius satellite radio merger: Here’s the logic. Fewer stations mean more variety? I guess that’s true when competition gets in the way of good programming. Will it really matter five years from now? Doubtful.

Mel and Gary aren’t really rogues. They’re the sharpest people in the room. Mel has never forgotten where all the bodies are buried and which sepulchers await their permanent guests.

Arbitron President and CEO Steve Morris and the Portable people meter: Another one who’s not a rogue but has to deal with his share of them. The diary served its purpose in its day just as horses did before automobiles. It’s time to join the 21st century and those in radio opposing the PPM should realize that it will do far more to help their cause than hurt.

True, there are still a few bugs. It’s a new product. So far, though, it’s confirming what we already knew. Few listeners have a favorite radio station anymore. Those that listen, listen less. And commercial radio morning drive numbers aren’t what they used to be.

The bad news for those still doing radio the old fashioned way? Fill in the blanks.
The following rogues aren’t really radio anymore though there are those that hope and pray that they return to the medium.

The Tribune Toxic Twins – Sam Zell and Randy Michaels: Who cares? Sam Zell and his wingman Randy Michaels are going to do what they want to do whether or not you like it, have an opinion about it, or just want to be an armchair quarterback.
Do you really believe Zell and Randy Michaels would want to get back into radio - a business they’ve already destroyed? That cow’s been milked dry and put out to slaughter.

Michaels doesn’t need revenge. He’s already gotten even with Clear Channel while they’re getting odd. He left them in the lurch with a product that is worth significantly less than what they paid for it.

To those few past and present Clear Channel and Jacor staffers that Randy did take care of who are on tenterhooks that he’ll return to radio, here’s a fact. He’s not spending as much time thinking about you as you are thinking about him.

Now, if you find yourself under the employ of Tribune, here are some fitting words from your former employers, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Weapons of Mass Zellstruction

Are you really all that surprised?

Did you expect anything less from Sam Zell?

He positioned Boy Kevin Martin’s FCC hackarama to give him what he wanted – and one day later word comes down that soon-to-be-Chairman of the Tribune Corp. Zell is taking out Dennis FitzSimons and making the socially maladjusted Randy Michaels the new Chief Executive Officer of the Tribune Company.

(Don’t cry for Fitz. He jumps with a $38 million golden parachute.)

The Trib should rename the position for the CEO formerly known as Bennie Homel. How about Chief Executive Butcher? Prince of Darkness? The Executioner?

It’s obvious that Zell bringing Michaels in was premeditated. Some would say premeditated murder considering what the company will look like once Zell finishes parting out the joint.

How about that? These poor souls at the Trib Corp. will now be working for a CEO with the social skills of a loan shark.

It’s hard to say who’ll be worse off – those that get downsized or those that don’t.

You thought I was joking on November 30th when I said the layoff and buyout lists were being prepared?

In fact, Zell and Michaels are already one step ahead. They’ve even wrapped up the invites to their next golden parachute club jump.

They’ll build it on paper, they’ll profit from it, and you’ll eat it. Money is always more fun to spend when it belongs to someone else.

Why should Zell worry about that cool $10 billion in debt? Follow this scenario. For starters, the Trib will unload the Cubbies for a cool billion - at least.

Don’t believe Zell is bringing back the AM-FM-TV-newspaper ownership era. He did this deal to sell off as many papers as he can. They’ll market their L.A.Times, Newsday, and a few others for far more than they're worth to some suckers. That’s a few more billion there.

Zell knows that there are those concerned about the future of newspapers. They’re the ones working for them.

You have to hand it to Zell. He’s trapped four banks: JPMorgan, Merrill, Citigroup, and Bank of America to move with him on this deal. It can’t go south because they’d lose around a half billion.

Question: How many times can these institutions go to the Chinese for a bail out?

Someone’s always out there gullible enough to buy their hype. But Zell and Michaels are two peas in a pod. Add two more and you’ll have the media equivalent of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

One of the crown jewels in the Trib’s new media division is Career Builder. No, that’s not a joke but it will be.

Let’s look at what the world the surviving Trib employees will live in.

Start with their new version of HR? When in doubt, just alter the records, or tear them up.

Telling dirty jokes and degrading women while not mandatory, will be strongly recommended.

Maybe Michaels will start wearing that rubber penis around his neck again?

Computer records? Hard drives were made to be fried.

Video-tracked news. Who needs local anchors when you can take one with a low cut top, match her with Jerry Springer, and feed the world?

Your local Cleveland weather will now delivered from Grand Rapids.

Dallas will do Houston.

L.A. will cover San Diego to Seattle.

Here’s a new concept: re-running actualities. All fires, shootings, murders and unemployment lines look alike.

Why use a stink of human camera crew when you can just rerun stock footage of storms, accidents, cats in a tree, an arrow shot into a duck’s wing? You see one, you see them all.

You need cute? Run stock footage of puppies or kittens in a box.

Sports? A touchdown is a touchtown, a goal is a goal, a home run’s a home run. Just superimpose a logo. Big deal.

Per Inquiry? Per hour.

How much you want to bet that Zell scarfs up Oak Hill's Broadcast Media TV stations, too? That’s the company Michaels just came from. Some theorize that Zell parked him there.

History repeats itself. Minutes after the TeleCom bill was passed in early ’96, Michaels, then with Jacor. bought up maximum eight-station clusters in Denver and Cincinnati. Even if eight was the cap, that didn’t stop him from going over and above. In San Diego he bought 12 by skirting the law and adding four stations from across the border to legally stay within the cap even though his salespeople were selling time on all twelve.

He was considered a real genius – and he was. He loaded up on stations, spun everything off to Clear Channel, lived like a Mays off of their fat, and when he got caught charging his private flights to his own private charter company for top of the rate card, all they could do was park him and pay him until they could get rid of him.

I’m all in favor of high-energy, take-no-prisoners aggressive competition if the end result includes an improved growth product. That’s not what this is.

Sure, he’ll jazz up and shake up the TV industry. But, like Clear Channel, he and his cronies have all the fun and, in the end, it’ll be others cleaning up his mess and paying off his debts.

I know there are those that feel Michaels has good intentions. Pol Pot, Pinochet, Stalin, and Slobodan Milosevic, just to name a few, had their followers too.

You should’ve heard the messenger from Fox TV address the troops when he announced that Broadcast Media, Randy's pre-Zell, was buying their station in Cleveland.

He said “I’m sorry” twenty-two times.

How are their benefits? “I’m sorry.”

How safe is my job? “I’m sorry.’

What about local news? “I’m sorry.”

Need I continue?

I hear Michaels is planning to move the whole Trib op to Melrose Park. The strip joints are better there.

Here’s the new business plan for the TV and cable side. Strip it to the bone, suck out the marrow and sell it to some unsuspecting idiot by way of the greater fool theory. There’s always a greater fool than you willing to pay even more than they did for something that’s not worth half as much.

You would be correct, sir, in your prediction that the guy that did the most to destroy radio now has TV to kill.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Radio-TV-Newspaper? I was there 39 years ago.

My second job in radio was with an FM station that, along with an AM and television station, was owned by a major daily newspaper.

The year was 1968. The newspaper was the Boston Herald-Traveler. It owned WHDH AM and FM.

The AM, FM, and TV were housed in the same building. The newspaper offices were miles away, downtown.

I never witnessed any relationship between the Herald-Traveler newspaper and the radio and TV stations. They were considered separate entities.

The newsrooms of the radio and TV stations and the Boston Herald-Traveler worked independtly of one another. In fact, so much so that there were frequent complaints from both the stations and the newspaper over not sharing exclusives.

Let me take it one step further. Back then, the Herald-Traveler was the Republican Boston Brahmins newspaper. The Boston Globe, which fueled the fire of its rival’s plight was and is the Kennedy-style liberal daily.

When we did our first ad campaign for WHDH-FM’s rock format, the advertising was distributed evenly between the Herald-Traveler and the rival Boston Globe.

The company purchased WHDH AM and FM in 1946 and signed on WHDH-TV in 1957.

The AM had a successful middle-of-the-road format. The FM was automated beautiful music and going nowhere. The TV station was the market’s CBS network affiliate at that time.

WHDH-FM, the station that hired me, changed format to album rock.

Though Boston already had an FM rock station, WBCN, which had signed on in March, three months earlier, the company believed the market could easily support two stations in the same format because of its large college population and young demographic.

WBCN, a former classical station (its call letters stood for the Boston Concert Network), was an independent stand alone FM, owned by T. Mitchell Hastings, a slightly eccentric an FM-radio technology pioneer turned broadcaster, who had signed the station on in 1958.

At the same time as WHDH-FM changed format, the Herald-Traveler Corporation was in court, trying to save its television license.

The FCC granted the Herald-Traveler a provisional television license due to a contentious matter dealing with an alleged coziness and influence peddling between a former FCC Commissioner and a former Herald-Traveler chief executive in the early ‘50s.

Challengers to the TV licensed claimed that illicit transactions between the two resulted in the newspaper winning the TV license over other applicants.

The snubbed applicants questioned the media concentration of a newspaper, two radio stations, and a television station and that, along with the alleged misdeeds, was enough, they claimed, to have the Herald-Traveler’s television license revoked.

Several companies that were hoping to seize the WHDH-TV license went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge it.

Because of that it was decided that WHDH-FM would remain automated - but in the new format until a court decision was reached.

At the time everyone at the stations and newspaper were confident that the Herald-Traveler would win.

So, in the interim, my responsibility was to select and program music, using the automatic racks, and filling any remaining time with instrumentals to round out the hour. I was only 18 and it was only part-time - but here I was selecting and programming music for a major market station.

I had a ball scheduling in Cream, Hendrix, Joplin, the Moody Blues, Iron Butterfly, Eric Burdon & the Animals, Steppenwolf, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Small Faces, and the other prog-rock artists of the time.

In early 1969, we got the news.

A rival company, Boston Broadcasting, Inc. was granted approval to replace the Herald-Traveler's WHDH-TV.

It came out of left field. No one anticipated it.

Without the TV station, the Herald, which was rumored to be losing $4 to 5 million a year, was put up for sale as distressed merchandise.

A few years later the radio stations were put up for sale. A dynasty dead.

What’s the difference between 39 years ago and today?

39 years ago a television station's profits could bolster a newspaper.

Today? Not a chance.
The classic WMMS 1975 production of A Christmas Carol is now on line at

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Radio: Today, it’s war.

Leading the charge is Boy Kevin Martin, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, which he believes to be his own personal hackery.

Just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, the victim du jour is you.

Martin’s trying to push through more deregulation; allowing corporations in nearly all major cities to own TV and radio stations and newspapers in the same market.

He wrote off criticism from Congress as bipartisan politics and said that he was “not convinced that we would ever reach a consensus on media ownership.”

Kev, ever think there’s good reason for that? But I digress….

Even a threat by Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) to investigate some of the improprieties uncovered by the dreaded General Accounting Office on Martin’s leaks to certain media companies and trade groups failed to deter the Boy Kevster.

Martin refuses to admit that he broke any rules. He was just passing along inside information to those companies and groups so they could get their lobbying efforts in order. It always helps to know which palms need to be greased and when. What’s so bad about that?

Face it. When was the last time you heard of the corrupt being prosecuted and convicted in Washington anyway?

If there’s one thing those Bushoid Republicans can’t stand, it’s democracy.

Even our beer drinkin’, hell raisin’ Fumbles had the NAB launching a “defend Kevvie” campaign, though the latter considers the former a mess in a dress. It’s probably the only thing I’d ever agree with the Kevster on.

Those backing the Kev claim the need for more flexibility and rule relaxing and anything less critically jeopardizes its competitive fight with new media. It’s a weak argument considering radio and TV are free media and the alleged new media competition they’re whining about isn’t.

How to survive in Washington? Never confuse anyone with the facts.

Times and technology have changed and there are old rules that should no longer apply in this brave new world – but the issues and solutions are not as black and white as Martin claims.

Personally, I liked the ethically-impaired Martin’s raison d'ĂȘtre for pushing through more deregulation. He claims the major chains are truly concerned for the smaller station chains and the few remaining independent owners, whose backs, they claim, would be crushed by the costs and paperwork that would come with increased regulation.

In their world, clusters surrounding and squeezing an independent radio station for ad revenue, has nothing to do with the ability for those stations to survive.

Just a couple of weeks back, the Senate Commerce Committee fired off a message to Kev declaring its unanimous endorsement of a bill, which would oblige the FCC to address localism and minority ownership before acting on larger media ownership rules.

Martin’s a cockroach. His earth gets scorched and he’s still standing. His cross-ownership campaign should’ve been dead by now, but it isn’t. Kev got his way and lived to see another day when Sam Zell got his Tribune waiver – and that waiver is proving to be a game plan that could fall Kevvie’s way should the deregulation stalemate end up in court.

In his world, wrong is the new right.

Some claim Martin may try to turn his FCC deregulation proposal into a swap meet. Give me what I want and I’ll throw you a bone. Maybe. Maybe not.

He could claim he’ll acquiesce on re-regulation of stations for the option of having companies prove that they’re acting in the public interest and creating a “live operator” rule, a nonsensical, unenforceable rule that stations must have at least the stink of one live human being operator on duty at all times.

The chains, of course, will claim poverty, insisting that would add even more work to overworked and underpaid program directors who are already overseeing multiple stations (not to mention those well-listened to HD Radio stations) – sometimes in multiple markets – and that the bulk of the grunt work will fall on them.

So it’s everyone else’s problem that these companies abided by the greater fool theory and significantly overpaid for their radio properties?

Let ‘em eat smoke from a distant fire sale.

Then there’s that pesky rumor leaking out of Martin’s office about foreign ownership – or at the very least, foreign investment in U.S. broadcast media.

Maybe he’ll play swap meet on that deal, too, and settle for allowing U.S. stations to hire Baahir, Bhumin, and Bandhu from Bangalore to voice-track.

That’s a joke. I think.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Radio: I have seen the future of radio and it is HD!

I stand corrected.

Peter Ferrera, a.k.a Sgt. Bilk-o, is right.

How could I have misjudged his acumen?

I should’ve known better considering his brilliant past-performance as a senior VP at Clear Channel, where he managed over 400 stations in seventy markets throughout the mid-Atlantic and south.

The value of those stations must’ve increased substantially under his watch.
Bilk-o is the rightful sage of HD Radio. A dim-bulb he is not. Steve Jobs is nothing more than a tent revivalist by comparison.

Foolish me. How could I have even considered that HD Radio would be abandoned for dead at retail? I now recognize HD Radio for the flawless invention that it is.

I should’ve never doubted one who was a former executive VP and board member of that exceptional outfit known as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Anyone associated with Fumbles has to be amongst the highest of achievers.

I don’t blame Bilk-o for being arrogant. He is committed to promoting and marketing the first eminent invention of the twenty- first century.

One would presume that Bilk-o would’ve been given the same respect Tim Berners-Lee received for his dedication and development of the Internet.

The inequity of it all!

Bilk-o is a promoter’s promoter and a marketer’s marketer.

This past weekend I visited Wal-Mart, Costco, Best Buy, and other retail outlets, and watched in wonder as HD radios flew off their shelves.

Consumers bypassed the iPod and satellite radio displays and stood in long lines for the chance to buy an HD radio.

You should’ve seen that thick coat of dust covering the iPod endcaps.

Most of the consumers I talked with credited the motivating radio spots they heard on their favorite radio stations, which detailed all the stimulating new formats available on HD radio.

It is such a no-brainer. Why pay for additional radio station formats from satellite when you can get them on HD radio for free?

And what good is an iPod? You already know what you’re going to hear.

It was almost inspirational to see Apple’s swagger and belligerence about the success of its iPod and iPhone deflating.

While observing the excitement for HD Radio at Wal-Mart, I called a friend who owns a BMW dealership. He told me of the back-orders for HD Radio-equipped BMWs. His customers don’t even want a car unless it has HD Radio.

Those $100,000 per-station upgrades the radio chains invested in to carry digital signals are paying off big-time.

Ibiquity predicted that they’d move between 1 million and 1.5 million HD radios by the end of the year. Judging from what I’ve seen at retail, they’ll do at least that much – if not more.

I have to credit Ibiquity with its unique promotion and marketing. Rather than be effusive about it, here’s a link to their site: It’s creative done right.

I now understand why Bilk-o always appears tense and on guard, as if he is expecting to be attacked by wild birds at any moment. He has to feel like Galileo Galilei did when ridiculed by associates and harassed by the Roman Catholic Church for his claim that Earth was just another planet rotating around the sun.

Remember when they laughed at Bilk-o last year when he was asked to explain HD Radio? "Quite honestly, it doesn't stand for anything,” he said. “The concept was somewhat of a steal from HD television, where viewers know it means better quality."

Who’s laughing now?

After I left Wal-Mart, I noticed a number of triple- tandem trailers lined up at the store’s receiving dock. I asked one of the drivers what they were hauling.

“HD Radios,” he said, “We’re trying to keep up with the insatiable demand.”

Then I woke up from my nightmare.
New updates at

Friday, December 7, 2007

Radio: Fish stink from the head

Understand this and you’ll understand it all.

We’ve been in a cycle of fiscal uncertainty long before the dot com bomb.

Whatever the case, you must recognize that Wall Street is no longer a factual economic indicator. It operates under its own convoluted set of rules - and because of that – it’s incapable of comprehending the gravity of our financial problems until well after they occur.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that the top one percent control 19 percent of the nation’s income. The Dow’s ups have everything to do with how the wealthiest investors are faring. The Dow’s downs happen when reality catches up.

Wall Street will always buy into a company that claims it can operate with fewer employees. On paper, that means greater profit.

The reality is that long term, it can turn into a catastrophe.

Remember “Chainsaw” Albert Dunlap and Sunbeam? He slashed thousands of jobs, streamlined operations and took its stock from $12 to $55. In reality, Dunlap padded revenues by manufacturing larger quantities of merchandise and selling them at heavy discounts. Not long after, warehouses were flooded with unsold inventory and Sunbeam dropped to $11/share.

Almost sounds like Clear Channel, doesn’t it?

Let’s start with one fact: Private equity firms and radio don’t mix.

For the past week we’ve been hearing about Clear Channel’s annual holiday tradition.


Clear Channel never ceases to amaze me with their Orwellian rationalizations.

Meet Earl Jones, Clear Channel’s Chicago market manager and self-proclaimed station sultan. Here’s his elucidation for the latest round of downsizing at his stations: “We are re-expressing our assets to achieve greater results.”

How about the announcement that Clear Channel regional VP of programming Jim Richards will now also add the midday shift on its classic rocker, KGB in San Diego, to his list of daily duties.

Credit Clear Channel for coming up with the modern-day version of the medieval stretching rack.

You’re wrong if you don’t believe I’m tired of picking on Clear Channel. It’s not the people that work for the company. I have empathy for them. It’s the people running the joint that perturb me.

To be fair, let’s pay a visit to another broadcast company. Seen Citadel’s stock since it acquired ABC radio from Disney? I just checked a few minutes ago. It’s down around a buck ninety-eight. Five years ago, when Wall Street was still buying the radio investment hype, Citadel was trading for around twenty dollars-plus. So much for their Don Imus boost. You think Hannity’s going to save them?

My nomination for best-run media company today goes to Disney. The same week they sold the ABC radio division to Citadel, they struck a $7.5 billion deal to merge with Pixar.

That’s called selling an unprofitable past for a profitable future.

After reading this you may ask why boy FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is so gung-ho for further deregulation? If approved, it would allow a single company to own up to a dozen radio stations in a single market. That includes New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other major markets.

And why is Clear Channel, a company that’s fruitlessly trying to pawn - er - sell off its smaller market properties strong-arm campaigning to increase its holdings?

Let’s ask Clear Channel Executive Vice President Andy Levin.

Lev-zo claims that “changes to the radio ownership rule are once again necessary.” Here’s his logic: before the ’96 Telecommunications Bill became law, six out of ten stations were losing money. Now, he says that “radio companies are again facing major operating challenges.”

In other words, it didn’t work so we’re doing it again. It’s sooooo Clear Channel!

What’s the real reason why six out of ten stations were losing money? Try too many of them. There were – and still are - more radio stations than the market will bear. The reason there are more radio stations is from the time when FCC junked up the FM frequency in the eighties by adding all those 5,000 watt class A stations, licensed adjacent to larger, rated markets. The FCC alleged they were added to offer local broadcasters and minorities an opportunity to acquire their own radio station licenses – and they did. There was, of course, the routine loophole. If you met all the requirements (there were many) and awarded a license, you could re-sell it immediately.

Is it even worth trying to guess how many of those stations are still owned by the original license holder?

The Clear Channel crusade for additional deregulation is merely their up-front pimping for the private equity firms BainCapital and Thomas H. Lee, whose plans to take Clear Channel private have been delayed until 2008. Poor bastards.

Private equity firms exist to acquire often-troubled companies. They sell off their less profitable divisions – in this case, smaller markets that generate less revenue – and take their major market holdings and – hoping the greater fool theory is alive and well - chop them up into several companies with the hopes of creating new IPOs.

Do the math. More major market stations, more companies, more "value" to peddle.

You’ve probably heard that boy FCC Chairman Kevin Martin bought time through his latest deceitful stunt - using the Tribune waiver as an opening to toss out the cross-ownership rules in all markets.

It’s doubtful that Martin will be around after the first of 2009 when his buddies will be forced to vacate the White House. Until then, though, Martin will take advantage of time remaining to further foul FCC rules and regs.

Whispers heard in and around a certain Washington D.C. building at 12th street, S.W., claim Martin is preparing to press on for foreign ownership of American media. That’s for all those Saudi princes that’ll buy anything American. How’s that for a bail out scheme? The greater fool theory is alive, well, and thriving.

And fish will continue to stink from the head.

Monday, December 3, 2007

It's a Clear Channel Christmas

It’s Christmas. Some stations flip to non-stop, non-maintenance seasonal music while they try to figure out why their time spent listening continues to plummet with their regular format.

At Clear Channel, it means it’s time for the annual holiday season bloodbath. The fatality list is too long to list. Ten were whacked in L.A., for starters.

Don’t take it personally. If you’re with Clear Channel, the stations you work for are line items – nothing more. When your entire business philosophy, post-radio deregulation was “buy ‘em now and figure out what to do with ‘em later,” with absolutely no thought of any down side, what else would you expect? The bigger Clear Channel got – the more problems they created for themselves.

Unless you were fortunate enough, like John Hogan, and given membership in the golden parachute club, which Randy Michaels and Sam Zell set up shortly before scamming the Mays family into buying Jacor, you have no job security.

Catch that, Tribune employees?

See, we misunderstood John Hogan. We thought “less is more” was about reducing commercial inventory – not personnel.

Successful criminals always travel light.

Now we hear that Clear Channel plans to eliminate what little remains of their promotion and marketing departments.

Come January ’08, their account executives will be responsible for producing their own remotes. Yes, a $5.85 minimum wage entry level position for someone wanting to break into a career in radio will now be handled by the sales department.

That means in addition to writing the business, sales people will have to drive the station van to the event; set up the banners, booth, and sound system – and tear everything down after the event.

How much you want to bet that the account executives that don’t jump ship will just stop selling remotes?

You can thank Fiddle and Faddle a.k.a. the private equity firms of BainCapital and Thomas H. Lee. They’re the ones that paid the Axis of Evil, otherwise known as the Mays family, billions to take Clear Channel private.

Who says medieval systems don’t work anymore? The Mays family ends up with a major cash incentive for screwing everything up while everyone else, Fiddle and Faddle included, are stuck with a cash disincentive. That’s what you do when you run out of money to steal.

We knew that house of cards would tumble eventually. So did the Mays family. The deal was done so it would fall on Fiddle and Faddle. And Fiddle founder Mitt Romney wants to be your next President?

Memo to anyone making six figures or over at Clear Channel: Start looking now.

Friday, November 30, 2007

When Sammy met Kevvie

Sam Zell made one thing perfectly clear to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin: He wanted radio-television-newspaper cross-ownership for the Tribune Corp. and nothing less.

He didn’t care if Kevin got his full-blown deregulation revisions approved. Zell was only interested in his deal and if Kev didn’t come through he’d be through - and singing soprano, if you know what I mean. He made that fact quite clear in his closed-door meeting with Kevvie last week.

You can always spot Kevin in Washington. He’s has the Zell brand burned onto his backside.

It's rumored that Kevvie didn’t even get a taste – at least over the table.

Memo to GAO: Please check the books and run the numbers in the Chairman’s office at the FCC. Yes, again!

You almost want to feel for Kev. All he ever wanted in life was to be part of the Bush-Cheney brugard.

The stupidly brilliant or brilliantly stupid Martin sought to abolish all cross-ownership bans by his drop-dead date of December 18 but realized that in the current political climate he’d end up in a long, expensive court battle and the image of his Grand Old Party would be further tarnished in the court of public opinion.

He used that pretext as his out for Sam Zell. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to require companies to be divesting properties while there’s litigation going on,” said the boy Kevin while patting the sweat from his forehead.

Zell didn’t get exactly what he wanted. The deal Martin cut keeps everything status quo at the Tribune for another two years.

Still, it’s enough for Zell to take the Tribune private by the end of the year, which is all he cared about. Had he not scored the big wet kiss from Martin, Zell would’ve been stuck with enormous missed-deadline fees. If his proposed $8.2 billion buyout of the Trib been delayed to the following year it would’ve put his convoluted Employee Stock Ownership Plan on a permanent vacation.

Though the deal still needs full commission approval, it’s expected to pass without a hitch.

Trib Chairman, President and EO Dennis FitzSimons released a statement that read, “"We are pleased with Chairman Martin's proposal which, if approved, will enable Tribune's going private transaction to close by the end of the year.” Rather than cite the real reason for getting this deal done, FitzSimons continued, “This will allow Tribune's local media outlets to continue their commitment to outstanding journalism and service to our readers, viewers, listeners and advertisers."

Translation: The layoff and buyout lists are being prepared as you read this.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Radio: The National Association of Bamboozlers


Did you hear about the piece in the Washington Post yesterday on the National Association of Broadcasters latest feeble attempt to block the XM-Sirius merger?

The NAB was forced to admit it was behind a total of 8,500 e-mails opposing the merger, which were forwarded to the House and Senate.

Even worse. They’re phonies!

You can’t make this stuff up.

The Post tried to make contact with sixty of those “whose names were attached to similar, anti-merger emails instigated by the NAB.”

Only ten of the names were real and only one recalled filling out something about the merger – but had no position on it.

Fumbles, now you’ve been caught stuffing the ballot box. Did you hire former Ohio Secretary of State and election-fixer Ken Blackwell as your consultant?

What were you drinking?

Is this another one of the “new ideas” you promised the radio industry when you first took over the helm at the NAB?

Did you really believe, given your dubious past performance, that you’d avoid scrutiny on this one?

There’s obvious and there’s painfully obvious. You’re in the latter.

Fumbles, you’re Elmer Fudd to the rascally rabbits and XM and Sirius.

I like the way you hid under his desk and dispatched your doorstop and mouthpiece, Dennis Wharton, to sheepishly confess and confirm that the NAB bought pop-ups on numerous consumer web sites, including and

Love the header: The XM/Sirius Merger will Create Higher Prices. Stop the Monopoly.

The site offered participants a choice: Yes, I’d like to stop the monopoly and an option to file a comment or No, thank you.

None of the people contacted by the Post recalled going through the procedure of supplying personal contact information.

That didn’t stop your boy Wharton from counter-claiming that the NAB has the names, dates, postal addresses, and e-mails to prove the responses were sent by real people.

That’s like elections where dead people are still registered to vote.

Stretching the truth, one could say real people they once were.

Those among the living deny sending the e-mails – and some are enraged that their e-mail addresses were pilfered and used by the NAB without permission.

"I have a high degree of confidence in this," Wharton told the Post. "They (the e-mailers) had to physically type in their name and address. It was a fairly rigorous process."

Memo to Dennis Wharton: If you’re going to lie, lie convincingly.

How did XM and Sirius respond to Fumbles’ latest stumble?

"The timing and pattern of delivery of these comments is highly unusual and suspicious," said Kelly Sullivan, a spokeswoman that reps both XM and Sirius. "The letters lack any apparent common tie or indication of the source of the effort, all of which calls into question the legitimacy of the filings."

Fumbles, the standard operating procedure when caught manipulating a self-made poll is to blame it on a data entry problem. Make sure you attribute the gaffe to some “immediately fired” intern.

What you did isn’t exactly hacking – but it does prove that you’re a hack. A fraudulent hack.

Fumbles, this is your life at the NAB, so far.

Your Radio 2020 campaign – all of two months old - is a stiff.

Your claim to being a Congressional insider has proved to be false. You can’t even get the FCC on the line – and that commission is run by one of your own kind.

Now this?

Even your most loyal supporters now cringe at the mere mention of your name.

It’s almost a given that the XM-Sirius merger will go through – and, even worse, just to screw with you, Fumbles, the FCC and Justice Department will almost certainly release their decision when you least expect it.

How about the night before Christmas or the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day?

Fumbles, check your calendar. It’s nearly 2008. Three years ago the Congressional Management Institute polled 350 congressional staffers and learned that half of them didn’t believe form-letter messages were authentic or were sent by constituents.

The House and Senate offices were fed 318 million of these e-mail form letters last year. Do you really believe they’re taken seriously?

You’re useless, Fumbles, useless.

Is this how your NAB members want their money spent? Is this the image the radio industry wants or needs right about now?

You’re not even bright enough to be called a carpetbagger. You’re just a carpet and your opponents are walking all over you.

Read the Washington Post story here:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Radio: That was then, this is now!

One year ago today!

The lucky sperm club Mays brothers snookered private equity firms to buyout Clear Channel. Providence Equity picked up the TV stations while BainCapital and Thomas H. Lee took radio.

That was then, this is now!

Private equity firms made a staggering number of bad deals over the past year. Among them – you guessed it - Clear Channel.

They used to call private equity “smart money.” Not now.

Clear Channel and BainCapital/Tommy Lee are stuck in a place they can’t get out of. The deals they thought they had in place to unload unprofitable properties disintegrated to dust.

Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall at those crisis meetings at BainCapital and Tommy Lee?

And how much is Clear Channel stock worth now?

I won’t hold you to a number since it’s still dropping.

Hate to say I told you so, but I did.

Is it against the law to yell “fire” in an office building in San Antonio? How about "fire sale?"

Seven years ago today!

Radio stocks were still red hot. Clear Channel stock was doing $90-something, Emmis was $60-plus and it was right around that time when I said if you’re holding radio stock - sell.

I’m no Wall Street expert. Not even close. But I do know radio and it was clear to me and others closest to it that reality was setting in and, clearly, the party was over.

Five words to live by: Never believe your own hype. The radio industry did.

In essence, they bought their own hype about radio having a “captive audience” in cars and being a “forced destination.”

Few decisions in the radio business were made that cautiously thought out beyond the present moment.

When it was becoming apparent that the multiples were truly off the wall and debt would be a major problem to service, radio adopted a new rule: Don’t confuse us with the facts.

If I were doing the soundtrack to what was going on in the radio industry at that time, I’d lead with Frank Sinatra’s “Forget Domaini.”

When it was apparent that the stock slide wasn’t a fluke, the Mays family trotted out every cheap clichĂ© in their playbook.

Don’t you hate when that happens?

Now, Clear Channel’s failures and misfortunes are thisclose to devaluing all radio.

Let it happen. The grim reaper’s already set up shop. There’s not much left to artificially prop up.

The faster it happens, the sooner we can deal with the how to’s for its recovery.

And the end result could be good for most in radio. At least for the creative types.

Real broadcasters will benefit from the fire sales and buy smartly and hire wisely. The spectators will be cleared from the field.

In fact, real broadcasters may buy back some of the stations they sold to Clear Channel and others for the same price they were worth before the Telecom Bill land grab falsely inflated their value.

So what have we learned from all of this?

It’s as easy as one, two, three.

One, there’s only so many radio stations you can own and manage efficiently.

Two, private equity firms and the radio industry don’t mix.

Three, Radio’s free and still relatively more accessible than any other medium, which means any success is driven by the product.

Better days could be ahead.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch.

I hear that the Mays family members and their former friends in private equity will be dining on cold shoulder and hot tongue this Thanksgiving.

Kevin, we hardly new ye!

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is about to throw himself out of Washington, D.C.

He’s a clue-challenged failure and a fraud.

And what does a failure and a fraud do when confronted with that reality?

Run for public office.

Yesterday, Kev returned to his roots - North Carolina - to speak on a rural health care pilot program.

Rural health care? What does that have to do with the FCC? Nothing and everything.

Kevin, who was born in Charlotte, is pushing what would be a 42-state broadband tele-health (those Republicans love their double-speak) network.

What Kevin’s really doing is testing the waters.

Though his FCC term as a commissioner doesn’t expire until 2011 – his Chairmanship will almost certainly be replaced under new Presidential leadership.

Some in Washington feel this is Kevin’s exit, stage left for his return to North Carolina and a run for something, anything.

Hate to tell you this, Kevin, but no one’s going to miss you in Washington.

You were inept and dropped the ball one too many times – and this is what your friends in high places think of you. The rest of us wrote you off a long time ago.

You weren’t the guy the Bushoids hoped for. You were nothing more than a sheep in sheep’s clothing – and even that’s giving you too much credit.

Even Sam Zell had to grab you by the lapels and throw you against the wall or something close to it. He needs some temp waivers from the FCC to get his $8-plus billion buyout of the Tribune corp. so he can close the deal and avoid the almost- imminent financial penalties due if the deal doesn’t get done by year’s end.

Kev, you told him you could walk that through. What happened? Zell rhymes with Hell and that’s what he’s putting you through for your lack of obedience.

It doesn’t help, Kevvie, that you didn’t cover your tracks well and word got out on your clandestine meetings with Zell, which breaks a whole lotta FCC rules and regs. Then again, Kevin – what’s another rule and regulation to break when you’ve broken so many already?

I think the GAO lost count of yours.

All Zell wants is to keep WGN radio and TV in the empire. Is that too much to ask? It’s not like Chicago is market size one or two. Kevin, that’s easy stuff made easier. There was enough diversion with Iran, Iraq, gas prices, recession, and other fun stuff to slip your Zell deal through.

If you trace Clear Channel back far enough, you’ll find Zell’s fingerprints all over the Jacor side of the deal. It was Zell that helped create golden parachutes for all those ham-fisted executives Clear Channel can’t get rid of.
And it’s not just Zell you’ve frustrated. You’ve enraged the top-of-the-chain radio groups for your inability to lift the eight-station cap on large markets. What’s the problem with one company owning just about every radio station in a major market?

That kind of dominance just may make radio valuable again, at least provisionally - for all the wrong reasons.

You should’ve re-read your job description as defined by the current administration. You were supposed to eliminate those exasperating ownership caps once and for all while garroting any remaining free media.

Who needs low power FM neighborhood stations that serve specific communities when you can approve and blanket markets with Christian-right programming from a central, national location? At least that much you did.

Kevin, you were put in position to be the bagman for big media – and given all the tools and political clout to do so and, somehow, you still found a way to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.

I’ll hate to see you go. Without knowing it, you actually aided and abetted the other side.

Kevin, my boy, you walked into a field of land mines. House Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) put it in writing that he has “serious concerns” about your December 18 deregulation time line.

Go back to North Carolina. Run for something, anything.

And take your wife, please. She’ll be out of work as soon as Dick Cheney, her employer, is out of office.

You won’t miss those small-talk conversations at Washington dinner parties that always end up with “I pity you,” whenever you’re asked what you do for a living.

Three words, Kevin: You blew it!

I don’t think we’ll be seeing you around Capitol Hill much longer. North Carolina’s calling and maybe you still can save enough face to run for something as long as it doesn’t require too much skill and follow-through.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Radio: XM-Sirius - Everybody Wants Some

Today’s the day of the merger vote for XM and Sirius shareholders.

The Sirius side votes this morning; XM, later this afternoon.

It’s pretty much a given that most will vote in favor of it, which would put both companies, worth an estimated $4.7 billion on paper, under Mel Karmazin/Sirius rule.

That doesn’t make it a done deal. The official federal nods, which should come down the D.C. pike in the next 30 days, will be from Justice and the FCC – but don’t expect a bottleneck there.

That rubber stamp is already wet with ink.

If you see Fumbles, buy him a drink and find a designated driver so he doesn’t smash his NAB company car on I-395 tonight. Poor Fumbles. All those letters, all that Johnny Ray-style crying on Capitol Hill – all for naught.

You’ve heard of Karmatic retribution? Call this one Karmazinatic retribution.

Fumbles, call your office. You have a dozen broadcasters waiting on the line. It’s not pretty.

But just when you think there’s nothing else to worry about other than who to downsize at the merged companies, along comes the Bethesda, Maryland based Georgetown Partners, a minority-run private-equity firm, asking the feds to grant them control over the satellite channels aimed at minority listeners.

The spinmeisters at Georgetown oppose the XM-Sirius merger on the grounds that it would limit the number of channels for minority programming. The firm demands that if the deal goes through some of the channels must be turned over to a minority-controlled entity and that entity should be Georgetown Partners.

How convenient.

That’s their way of saying they want hope and opportunity when, in reality, they’re hoping for an opportunity.

The firm claims that if the merged company offers channels a la carte as it all but promised it would, that would put minority niche programming at a disadvantage since subscribers would be most likely to select the mainstream channels.

Say that again?

They are asking to lease 60 of an estimated 300 channels from the combined company, which it claims will be used to create free, advertiser-supported channels in addition to the subscription-based channels. So far, both the DOJ and FCC remain mum on the Georgetown proposal.

This is one of those times where inertia in government is good.

Both XM and Sirius claim Georgetown’s in it for the hand out – and that most minority organizations, including the NAACP, support the merger.

Minority-owned terrestrial radio operators remain opposed to the merger. James Winston, he being the executive director and general counsel of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters came up with the line of the week, “Putting conditions on a monopoly still creates a monopoly."

Georgetown knows how to make a buck or two. In 1999, it combined forces with GTE to acquire $3.2 billion in cell phone licenses from Ameritech. It later became part of Verizon Wireless.

It makes one wonder that if Georgetown got their way who they’d eventually flip the stations to.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Radio: Is it really that bad or is it worse?

Imagine starting your day listening to the top rated morning show in the market and hearing this promo: Ever think of advertising on (call letters)?.....Now is the time. We have great deals, but they won't last long. Contact (sales manager) today at (phone number)."

A friend brought up the fact that this is the kind of message one would expect from an anxious small suburban AM or on a TV station that runs incessant p.i.’s.

True, radio’s run those RAB “who listens to radio” promos for decades – but this one sounded desperate as in a seven percent drop in revenue from a year ago when you were only expecting one percent max.

Every month that big black cloud returns to blot out the sun and each month it gets larger and stays around longer.

Another friend who buys time – but a whole lot less on radio these days - told me of another shocker. Twenty-five years ago this station averaged $500/spot (worth about a grand in today’s dollars) in morning drive. This station is now on its knees, kissing your shoes and begging for $50/spot (around $25 in today’s figures).

That company’s even begged him for trade deals.

Does this disturb you as much as it disturbs me?

Has it become easier to herd cats than sell radio?

Of course, regarding those RAB figures, I got a piece of the spin, too, and was told by a sales manager that I hadn’t heard the whole story. There were some areas where radio revenue was up as high as nine percent? Nine percent? I had to check that one out so I went to the Radio Advertising Bureau’s web site to read the breakdown the numbers. Look at them for yourself: If you find any good news in there, please let me know.

Do we now agree that deregulation made things harder – not easier – to accomplish?

There’s more. I don’t know how across-the-board this one is – but a market manager I know who’s with Clear Channel was ordered to fire one full-time person at each radio station he oversees and he oversees a lot of stations. And he has to do it now!

At least it’s like the old days in one respect. If you really have to let someone go, you do it before Thanksgiving. It’s fair to the employee and smart for morale. And you carry them through Christmas.

Most of the time radio’s not smart and there is no morale. Last year Clear Channel fired staffers a week before Christmas.

The mass slaughters have begun at Clear Channel stations in Minneapolis, Houston, Detroit, and Youngstown. If it hasn’t happened at a CC cluster near you, stay tuned. It probably will.

With television writers on strike, the networks are forced to add more reality shows to fill their hours. I have an idea for one: Survivor: Clear Channel.

Some industries were never meant to be that large. Radio is one of them. Radio survived and the great stations thrived when there were long range goals placed on a station’s performance. A respectable product created and nurtured by talented people? What a concept.

When the radio industry’s business plan and philosophy were summed up in 12 words: Buy ‘em now and figure out what to do with them later, it was obvious to those not buying the hype that this would be the end result. Radio got big, its problems got bigger.

I’ve been on the talk and interview circuit promoting my book (plug: The Buzzard: Inside the Glory Days of WMMS and Cleveland Rock Radio. The perfect Christmas gift). As expected, there are the usual discussions about old media versus new, but when the conversation turns to radio all ask the same question: Will radio survive? A year ago the word was turnaround. One market manager I talked to this week used the word jumpstart to describe what radio had to do to get back in the game. Usually, jumpstart means there’s no plan in place.

I hate the term old media – but it stuck. That’s the industry standard line and we’ve got to live with it. Newspaper’s considered old media. Television’s considered old media. And radio? It’s not even being considered.

And those predicted fire sales?

One can only begin to imagine the generosity in the early Christmas presents Sam Zell is passing out to those that’ll decide the fate of his plan to go private with his shaky Employee Stock Ownership Plan for the troubled Tribune corp. He needs FCC approval and his Sherman-in-residence at the FCC, Kevin Martin, is always an easy mark – but the jury’s out on whether the other commishes can be conned. If Zell falls short, he’s dead in the water with financing and (sniff) – where there’s smoke there’s fire.

Clear Channel has to close its deal by end of the year or BainCapital and Thomas H. Lee will also fall short and (sniff) – where there’s smoke there’s fire.

Fumbles, hate to break the bad news to you and your fellow hacks at the NAB - but no one’s buying into your Radio 2020. They’re more concerned with radio, 2007.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Radio: Dormant, not dead

Last week I had lunch with a radio friend who was passing through town.

He brought up this blog and a comment another radio person made to him about it: Why does John hate radio so much?

Hate radio? I was taken aback that anyone reading this blog would make that hypothesis.

I don’t hate radio. I love it. What I don’t like is what has happened to it.

My book, The Buzzard, is out today. You’ll like it. You should buy it. It’s about a championship radio team.

My publisher’s promotion and marketing departments set up its release by scheduling interviews with public and commercial radio, TV, and the press.

All ask of me the same question.

What happened to radio?

Ask yourself why they’re all asking the same question.

Even those working in radio are asking me if it’s dead.

Here's my reply.

There’s an average of four terrestrial radios per household.

Nearly all vehicles have terrestrial radio.

But just because everyone has direct access to terrestrial radio doesn’t mean they have to listen to it.

Why aren’t young people listening? Why are there four million fewer radio listeners than there were a year ago? How many millions were lost over the past decade?

Many – try most - young people don’t listen to radio at all.

Yet, they tell me, they would consider listening to radio if it provided the soundtrack to their lifestyle.

They like new music. Hell, they even like news and information if it’s delivered to their liking.

Since that’s not happening, they’re getting it from the Internet.

They’re getting their new music from – take your pick – TV shows, spots, Internet radio, and word-of-mouth.

Radio’s nowhere.

The industry’s radio listening decline excuses are just about spent.

Radio is up against iPods, Internet radio, satellite radio, video games, blah, blah, woof, woof.

Radio used to be up against cassette players. Remember when some radio stations refused to give away cassettes fearing that winners would prefer hearing their own music on a Walkman?

Did cassettes cut into radio listening? No.

How long have video games and video arcades been around? Long before radio listening deteriorated.

Radio is doing a poor job at holding audience by not providing its listeners – and potential listeners – what they want and what they need.

The Jack format was doomed to failure for many reasons, including its slogan: “We play what we want.” We not you.

HD Radio? It didn’t dupe Wall Street. If anything, that machination made the Street even more skeptical of terrestrial radio. Side channels will serve a purpose for Internet radio in the future – though they will be competing with independent stations that are programmed with passion.

Satellite radio? Terrestrial radio should choose its battles wisely. This isn’t one of them. The NAB’s campaign against the merger is a poor excuse to make Fumbles look busy. It’s like invading Iraq to capture Osama Bin Laden. The NAB essentially provided satellite radio credence by protesting the merger.

Will satellite radio be around in five years?

But I’m not writing off terrestrial radio.

I am writing off those who have controlled the majority of radio stations over the past decade: corporate decision makers who know nothing about the markets they serve; consultants who put their best interests ahead of their clients by imparting dated concepts and hollow, rehashed ideas. Then there are the consultants and advisors that continue to double-dip by using your playlist to make a few extra bucks with labels and artist managers at your expense.

That's the equivalent of mugging and robbing someone, then offering to take them to dinner using the money they just stole.

Those controlling most radio programming today should be provided a cash disincentive for screwing up. Watch how fast that’ll get the spectators off the field.

There are those in the radio business that are about to feel like the smaller reptiles did when the mammals took over.

Did the post-deregulation radio buyers ever stop to think how preposterous it was to believe that radio’s values could not only go up? There’s an old saying: If prices can only go up, all sellers are fools and all buyers are wise. Radio fell for it. Realtors did, too.

I have the perfect slogan for lending institutions: Buy now, pray later.

Just ask the weak chins at Clear Channel. Except for those whose surnames rhyme with Daze or those who Randy Michaels set up with golden parachutes, the morale in San Antonio is almost as dreadful as it is for their radio managers, programmers, and employees.

Just ask Lincoln Financial - where no reasonable offer will be refused.

Is there any radio station in America that is not for sale right now?

Instead of “Gone but not forgotten” it’s “Forgotten –but not gone.”

The only ones who know what the real reasonable offers are – the broadcasters – are waiting in the wings.

They will not be bullshat by the pretenders running and consulting radio today.

Therein lays optimism. And that’s why I still love radio.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Buzzard:
Inside the Glory Days of WMMS and Cleve-
land Rock Radio--A Memoir
Gray & Co., publishers




On sale NOW!
available at

Friday, October 26, 2007

Radio: XM and Bob Dylan - Gotta Sell Somebody

I don’t care whether it’s selling out or buying in.

Bob Dylan was, is, and always will be a brand name.

He knows it and you know it. That’s why he's not Robert Zimmerman.

The year was 1995 and Bob Dylan was under attack for leasing his unsanctioned baby boomer anthem of 1964, “The Times They Are A’ Changin’” for a TV commercial for Coopers & Lybrand, a big six accounting firm and, in Canada, for the Bank of Montreal.

Some were infuriated, some were heartbroken, and most, I have to believe, didn’t care one way or another.

To Dylan, it was a strictly business.

Upkeep of his Point Dume copper-domed manse ain’t cheap, y’ know.

A couple of years later Dylan pacted with a Greek beer company for use one of his more obscure tracks, “Turkey Chase” from the 1973 Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack.

The brew pitch flew under the radar of most fans and critics.

In 2004, Dylan flabbergasted his flock when he leased “Love Sick,” a track from 1997’s Time Out of Mind for a Victoria’s Secret TV spot run. His commercial cameo bordered on creepy since he looked old enough to be the grandfather of the lingerie-wearing model flirting with him.

Salon cleverly called it “Tangled Up in the Boobs.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

I would’ve loved to have been a fly in the wall at the marketing meeting where it was agreed that Dylan’s appearance in a TV spot could inspire 18 to 34-year old women to buy intimate apparel and reap dividends for Victoria’s Secret.

The latest venture into merging brand Dylan to a product is Cadillac.

In 2002, as part of their all-out quest for a hipness factor they cut a deal with Led Zeppelin to use snippets of “Rock and Roll” for a long-running radio and TV campaign.

Now, Cadillac is back with a deal cut with Dylan and this one is a full-tilt multimedia campaign that rolls in Cadillac with XM Satellite Radio, which is a standard feature in the gas guzzling 2008 Escalade.

XM is, of course, home to Bob Dylan’s weekly radio show.

Expect to see Dylan in TV, radio, print and on-line video ads. The campaign's already on CNBC, CNN, the History Channel, and VH1

There’s a thirty second version, a one-minute version and a two-minute version, and, no doubt, more to follow.

The print campaign kicks off with the November 2 issue of Rolling Stone.

Dylan also sold one of his XM Radio shows to Cadillac. It will feature an hour-long tribute to the brand, featuring his and other artists who've recorded songs that mention Cadillac, including Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” and “Cadillac Ranch.” I’m not sure if the Boss wants to be inadvertently selling Caddies for Dylan – but he recorded the songs and Dylan’s playing them.

The same applies to Aretha on her “Freeway of Love;” “Maybelline” by Chuck Berry, and the Clash’s “Brand New Cadillac.” Like it or not, these artists will help Dylan hawk cars on XM and won’t get to share in the great white wonder’s newfound wealth.

Dylan’s no stranger to Caddies.

“Talkin’ World War III Blues” from the 1972 Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album, contained the lyrics: Well, I seen a Cadillac window uptown/And there was nobody aroun'/I got into the driver's seat/And I drove 42nd Street/In my Cadillac/Good car to drive after a war.

Dylan made another Caddy reference in “Summer Days” from 2001’s Love and Theft: Well I'm drivin' in the flats in a Cadillac car/The girls all say, "You're a worn out star"/My pockets are loaded and I'm spending every dime/How can you say you love someone else when you know it's me all the time?

Stop right there.

You say the XM channel Bob Dylan is on is supposed to be commercial-free?

No one rides for free – not even on satellite radio. It’s just another form of product placement or what they call in radio, non-traditional revenue.

"Some brands can transition from brands to an object as more people connect with the product," says Vernon Irvin, XM’s Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. "Cadillac has done that."

Since Dylan picks a theme for his show and relatable songs, hawking Caddies, they claim, isn’t any different than other themes he plans for upcoming shows, which include California, fruit, something, nothing, parties, mail, and streets. “Cadillac being so woven into the American fabric, there's a lot of songs that incorporate Cadillac into the lyrics,” so says Cadillac’s Communication Manager Kevin Smith, whose job it is to sell all things Caddy.

So while Sting and those other environmentally concerned pussies are pitching Prius hybrids, Dylan’s message for the new millennium is to show the world you have big carbon footprints.

The campaign is scheduled to run until early 2008.

A few weeks back Dylan surprised fans and when his web site used the opening lyric card scene from the D.A. Pennebaker's 1966 documentary, Don’t Look Back, to promo his new greatest hits package. He even went high tech allowing his flock to send their own video e-mail messages placing their own words in the cards that once featured key lyrics from “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” It’s pretty clever. Not sure how Pennebaker feels about it, though.

Around the same time, Dylan did a modern times remix of “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” from his 1966 album, Blonde on Blonde, and shot a new video for it, which can only be described as a parody of himself. Clever – but a parody nonetheless. Unless, of course, you’re just pitching a brand.

The remix is on Dylan's just-released His Greatest Songs collection, available in three packages: a single 18-song disc; a three CD set with 51 songs - and a "Deluxe Premium Edition," which features the 51-song package - plus other goodies, including a 40-page booklet of extended liner notes and rare photos.

Dylan - Masked and Anonymous? Hardly.

Is there still magic in the tank? We’ll see.

...and now for even more free advertising. See how clever Dylan is?

Bob, is the check in the mail?

Dylan's two-minute Caddy spot:

A Bob Blast from the Past:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kevin Martin - This Is Your Life

Kevin Martin, this is your life.

You were hand picked by our Commander in-Chief to finish what your bumbling predecessor Michael Powell started but failed to see through.

Deregulate media.

Lift all ownership restrictions.

What went wrong, Kevin?

Hell, your wife works for Bush string-puller, Dick Cheney. You should be one of the most influential wheeler dealers on Capitol Hill.

Instead, look at you. Worthless, hopeless, and vote-less.

Pushing Fumbles around doesn’t count. Everyone pushes Fumbles around at the NAB.

Granted, Capitol Hill is a mess.

Everyone will abhor everyone else until the primaries are over.

There’s little maneuvering you can do when you have a pit of pols in both parties out for the presidential nod. That's why no one's returning your calls.

And the guy that crowned you Chairman is such a lame duck even his party wants nothing to do with him.

Kevin Martin, this is your life.

Two words will follow you around for the rest of your life: No juice.

No juice as in no juice on Capitol Hill.

All you had to do, Kevin, was deliver full deregulation. Loosen up those stifling ownership rules before Christmas.

See, the reason deregulation hasn’t worked over the past decade is because there isn’t enough of it. Logical, isn’t it, Kevin?

You even set a deadline of December 18. That was so your pro-deregulation special interest group buddies would have a full week to fill your Christmas stocking once you filled theirs.

Instead, you have most of Capitol Hill along with anti-deregulation special interest groups, both liberal and conservative, calling for your Boy Sherman head. If the NRA doesn’t get you, NOW will. Who would’ve thought?

How about Trent Lott (R-MS) and Bryon Dorgan (D-ND) being on the same page?

Let’s talk about that letter from Lott and Dorgan, Kevin, which read, that you must put “sufficient mechanisms in place to ensure that local broadcasters are serving their local communities before considering any changes that would relax the existing rules governing media ownership.” Or this one, “The FCC should not rush forward and repeat mistakes of the past.”

And you thought one had to be a card-carrying liberal to talk like that?

Even Obama’s jumping into the frey. Did you get his letter where he called your December 18 drop-deadline “irresponsible” and your data “inadequate?” He may have slipped in the polls – but he’s still carrying a lot of influence in all the right circles.

It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the candidates – Democrats and Republicans – will begin to scrutinize your every devious move.

Kevin Martin, this is your life.

You’re supposed to set the agenda but others did it for you and it’s not the one you wanted.

They’ve even rearranged your schedule for the next couple of months. There’s that localism hearing on October 31 in Washington. Then there’s a media ownership session in Seattle on November 2. You’d better leave some wiggle room in your schedule, too. The Senate is also planning to have you spinning on a rotisserie next month.

Kevin Martin, this is your life.

It may not be a complete wash.

It’s Christmas and the lobbyists and other assorted influence peddlers hired by Rupert Murdoch and Sam Zell are bringing their bag of Christmas goodies to Capitol Hill in exchange for the elimination of the cross-ownership rules newspaper-radio-TV rules by the FCC and Congress.

Zell wants to buyout the Tribune Company and Murdoch wants to hang on to both the New York Post and his WNYW TV station in the same city.

It depends on how sorry your 3-2 majority cronies at the FCC feel about the decline and fall of newspaper circulation.

Whatever it takes.

Kevin, consider yourself lucky that you may – not will - may win that one – but then you’ll have Congress on you like a starving pit bull.

Your problems are just beginning, Kevin.

There’s that GAO report that tells of your selective leaks to certain media groups on your behind-the-scenes dealings at the FCC. You’ve kept that one out of the news – but not for much longer.

Kevin, this is your life. No one else wants it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Radio: War of the Satellites – the sequel!

Last week was the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch. Three months later, in January ’58, the U.S. responded by launching its first satellite, Explorer I. That was enough for Roger Corman, the low-budget film producer, to rush out an on-the-cheap movie,War of the Satellites. Its purpose was to make a few bucks on playing off of the cold war hysteria, which had extended into the space race. Corman allegedly finished the movie in three weeks.

Satellite radio? That’s a different time frame. Try fifteen years and counting.

Let’s travel back to the year 1992: The Redskins beat Bills, 37-24, in the Super Bowl; the Blue Jays beat the Braves 4 games to 2 in the World Series; The U.S. lifted trade sanctions against the Peoples Republic of China; Nirvana’s Nevermind hit #1 on the national charts; Bill Clinton and Al Gore defeated George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle for the U.S. Presidency - and six companies applied for satellite radio spectrum licenses.

Now let’s swiftly move to 1997: The Packers beat the Patriots, 35-21 in the Super Bowl; The Marlins beat the Indians, 4 games to 3 in the World Series; the U.K. relinquished Hong Kong to Chinese rule; Spice by the Spice Girls was the biggest selling album of the year; Bill Clinton began his second term as President, and of the six companies that originally applied to the FCC for satellite spectrum licenses in 1993, only four remained to compete in the spectrum auction, which only two would win. Their names: Satellite CD Radio, American Mobile Satellite, Primosphere, and Digital Satellite Broadcasting Corp.

Primosphere and Digital Satellite didn’t make the cut. American Mobile Satellite’s bid for $90 million came in first and Satellite CD’s, second with $83.3 million.

Primosphere’s bid was $67.5 million, good enough for third but third place meant over and out.

Later, American Mobile Satellite wisely changed its name to the clever XM, and CD Radio, unwisely, to the utterly farcical Sirius.

But Primosphere didn’t go silently and asked for reconsideration.

What's Primosphere, you ask?

It’s a holding company for Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch, known for their long-term partnership in Q-Prime, an international management company. Maybe their names aren’t familiar but the acts they rep should be. How about Metallica, Shania Twain, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Snow Patrol, for starters.

Now, fast forward to 2001: George W. Bush begins his first term as President; the Ravens beat the Giants, 34-7, in the Super Bowl; Arizona beat the Yankees, 4 games to 3; the top selling album of the year was Hybrid Theory by Linkin Park; what happened on September 11th altered everything - and the FCC denied Primosphere’s application for review and also denied their request to reconsider their dismissal. The FCC said XM and Sirius had them locked – and, for Primosphere, the elevator’s at the end of the hall.

When the FCC refused to budge, Primosphere contributed to making wealthy lawyers wealthier by having them ask a federal appeals court to review the XM and Sirius license grants and the FCC sack of the Primosphere application.

The federal appeals court spent the following year shuffling papers, sharpening pencils, shaking the dust off of their shoes when it got too thick.

Let’s move quickly to 2003. The appeals court finally made their decision and rejected Primosphere’s challenge, stating the XM and Sirus license grants were legit.

In 2004, the can't-catch-a-break Primosphere told the FCC that it wanted to withdraw its 2001 review.

Confused? You ain’t read nothin’ yet.

Now, were back in 2007.

Primosphere, which refuses to die, claims that since the FCC had failed to act on its 2001 request, its satellite radio license application is still pending and wants it to be considered in conjunction with its merger application for XM and Sirius.

There goes the monopoly, dammit!

To prove their point, Primosphere introduced a statement made by the FCC in 1997, which read: (I)f the winning bidder fails to submit the balance of the winning bid or the license is otherwise denied, we will assess a default payment and reauction the license among other existing applicants. Translation: They are still an existing applicant for the right to launch and operate a rival satellite service. If granted, they will launch their own satellites and market its own service. The company added that, in addition to their bid, the FCC was still holding and banking their $140 million in satellite launch fees.


Kevin Martin’s accidentally-on-purpose poor clandestine FCC filing system and follow-through just may keep Primosphere’s plans alive. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Then again, a lot of things that aren’t supposed to happen that do happen at the FCC.

According to their plans, it would take Primosphere roughly five years to be up and running. But here’s their ace in the hole – they could be operational much earlier if given a portion of the spectrum used by XM and Sirius.

The company did their homework and cited a 1999 deal where the FCC gave approval for a satellite TV provider to lease a transponder from another provider on an existing satellite.

This didn’t sit well with Mel.

Sirius fired off its own complaint that Primosphere didn’t need FCC approval to withdraw its satellite radio application. When you’re out, your out – or as Sirius put it, There is no way for Primosphere to un-ring this bell.

What a dilemma. Who do you anti-trust?

If Mel had his way he and Gary Parsons would take Burnstein and Mensch for a ride and only two would come back.

XM and Sirius can’t insist on a monopoly so they’re pushing to have a review of Primosphere’s request to either be dismissed or put on hold until the XM-Sirius merger is completed.

The benefit there is that the Bush-controlled, Kevin Martin-run FCC, preferring to avoid conflict between well known entities and an unknown, would stall on a decision until the merger was complete, then revisit and squash the Primosphere request.

Then there’s the NAB.

Which side is Fumbles supposed to be on? Will the NAB insist that the FCC add another competitor to terrestrial radio to fend off threats of a steroidal merged, monopolistic XM-Sirius? This may put him in the awkward position of backing a new satellite radio start up.

Poor Fumbles. Everyone’s snickering at him – and not behind his back either.

The question must be asked. How much scratch Primosphere is willing to throw at influential lobbyists to keep themselves alive?

So, what we’re dealing with here are the ethics and truthfulness of Kevin Martin and the overall integrity of Fumbles.

This one has more twists and turns than The Departed.

Friday, October 12, 2007

NAB’s Fumbles: “Stop the clock, I want to get off!”

If I looked up ‘David Rehr’ on one of those classmates websites would I learn that he was the kid they picked on at school?

If I looked up ‘David Rehr’ would I learn that the two words he used the most in school was, “I’m tellin’?”

If I looked up 'David Rehr' would I learn that he never played sports because he always dropped the ball?

If I looked up ‘David Rehr’ would his yearbook read, “Most likely not to succeed?”

Fumbles, there comes a time when you got to get tough and that was when you were hired to head the National Association of Broadcasters.

Instead, we got a wimp.

You just can’t find good help anymore.

What is it about a unified XM-Sirius that frightens you? Step back, take a deep breath, chew on a Xanax and get control of yourself.

Stopping the clock? Mel nearly had a bilateral hernia from laughing so hard. Much ado about nothing. You agreed, albeit reluctantly, with the FCC on their 180 day deal merger decision.

You can’t raise your hand and say, “Not fair.” That didn’t work when the big kids shot spitballs at you or knocked the books out of your hands – and it’s not going to work now.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and when the going gets tough, Fumbles writes long letters and petitions. In this case, nine pages of drivel, which you can read here, tidied up in a cute pdf file:

Fumbles has even taken to calling it, “a government sanctioned merger.” He’s not making any friends in high places. Then again he never had any to begin with.

Do you know how to find the NAB offices without a map? Just follow the stench of fear.

Okay, XM and Sirius hired all the right lobbyists while you threw away your war chest on John Ashcroft. Get past that, Fumbles.

You want more time – let me repeat – more time - to examine internal documents you expect to receive through a Freedom of Information Request in hopes of finding some wrong doing at Sirius?

Fumbles, I know your obsessed with finding the memo, the note, or the e-mail that proves your conspiracy theories on their ground-based transmitters and repeaters?

You’d better hope that the tables aren’t turned on you – and a lot of the rule-bending radio faux pas that have occurred over the past decade – accidental or deliberate – aren’t revealed about one or more of your members.

Sure, there’s that SEC 10-K filing that had “certain Sirius personnel” requesting that “manufacturers produce Sirius radios that were not consistent with FCC rules.”

And I'm sure you'll find some little old lady who unitentionally picked up the Howard Stern show or the adult comedy channel on Sirius instead of the NPR or religious station she usually listens to - and her quality of life was forever damaged after hearing a couple of four-letter words.

Don’t you hate when that happens?

Here’s your dilemma, Fumbles. There’s been a fair share of – how can we put it – accidentally on purpose errors committed by the radio chains you represent. Maybe there were a few move-ins that weren’t exactly what one would call legal?

I know, I know, Fumbles. You share that predicament with the FCC, which just can’t keep up with the paperwork – as if by design – on all the buying, selling, trading, and swapping – mostly from a company whose initials are CC.

So you fear the FCC will equalize those evils by tossing one satellite radio’s way? Is that what has you cowering?

Satellite radio is not the enemy. Friendly fire is.

The NAB is supposed to be in a leadership role for the stations it represents. So try being a leader – not a tattletale – because if you play that card, you’re going to lose.

Maybe you’ve forgotten that Mel’s an ex-radio guy – and knows where all the post-deregulation terrestrial radio bodies are buried.

But he’s not your worst enemy. You are.

Let the merger happen. It’s not going to slaughter terrestrial radio. It may, in fact, help it.

Fumbles, consider this.

Who says a combined XM-Sirius won’t get competition from a new satellite radio contender? Ever hear of Primosphere? More about them another time.

Fumbles, we know that you're faxing and e-mailing your resume to any interested party. The bad news is that there aren’t any parties interested in you.

Unless the god Fumbles prays to comes through, he’s going to be living with – at best – a three to two vote in favor of the merger. The Justice department? They’ve already made up their mind. Sorry, Fumbles, you’re toast.

Most people know how to take something significant and restructure it into the symbol their circumstance requires. You’re not one of them.

Fumbles, we know that you've even solicited the Consumer’s Union to secure their anti-merger support. Shocking! You actually had to grovel to a liberal organization.

You're off Ashcroft's Christmas card list for that one.

You can’t predict the future, you can only create it. What kind of future have you created for the NAB, Fumbles?