Choices, choices. Who's most worthy of radio's Golden Turkey award?
Let’s bring out the three finalists.
Lew Dickey, President and CEO of Cumulus.
Farid Suleman, President and CEO of Citadel.
John Hogan, CEO of Clear Channel Radio.
Come on down.
Lew, Farid, and John have contributed immeasurable improprieties to the decline and fall of the radio industry. They’re the top executives at radio groups where failure is continually rewarded.
Let’s begin with Lew.
You’re Lew Dickey. You and your brother John boast of being amongst the select few mere mortals to be born with “these extra-large hard drives” in your heads. Your words, not mine. Say you’re right. So what? It’s not the hard drive. It’s what’s on it. The palpable mismanagement you’ve given Cumulus only reinforces the maxim, “garbage in, garbage out.”
You’re Lew Dickey and we can’t fault you for being so vain. Maybe you and John are the smartest men in any room. Okay, Lew, you are the smartest; John is a little slower - but close.
You’re Lew Dickey and anyone with the unfortunate fate of being involved with you and your Brainiac brother finish up in a quick spin through the official Cumulus revolving door.
You’re Lew Dickey and you and John know how to clutch your piece of the action while the company dissipates around you. On the day when Cumulus finally fades into the fog, you and John will wink, smile, look you the rest of us in the eye and paraphrase that old Connie Francis song, “Who’s Smarter Now?” as you walk from your corrupt deal wheel-barrowing bushels of cash.
And how about that Farid Suleman? Talk about rewarding failure!
You’re Farid Suleman. It’s all about bankrupting your company so thoroughly that its lenders are forced to keep you on since you’re the only one who truly knows how badly you screwed up Citadel.
You’re Farid Suleman and you lusted for own kingdom and got it - but you were King Midas in reverse. Everything you touched turned to crap.
You’re Farid Suleman and, you couldn’t even afford to keep one of your Pennsylvania stations on the air - so you just turned it off and fortuitously forgot to report that incident to the FCC, which you are obligated to do as a license-holder.
You’re Farid Suleman and you always wanted to be a number one and now you’ll have the dubious distinction of being the first CEO of a major radio chain to drive it into Chapter 11.
John Hogan? Have you gotten used to the mechanism and strings Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee attached to your body?
You are John Hogan. Clear Channel led the way in voice-tracking and now, here you are - voice-tracked by Bain and Lee.
You’re John Hogan. You believe that we must flout the fact that local sales have as much to do with building relationships as ratings. Don’t confuse Bain and Lee with those facts. They plan to nationalize radio sales.
It’s Das Klear Khannel all over again.
Their radio markets are mere Klear Khannel satellite republics. There’s New Yorkistan, Los Angelistan, Philadelhiastan, San Franciscoastan, and Bostonia, and others too numerous to manage, er, mention.
Like the Soviet Union, it may work on paper - but in practice it will be a dismal failure.
Remember a few years back when you signed off on Clear Channel banning some songs written by John Lennon from airplay? You should’ve banned Vladimir Lenin, whose playbook has too much in common with Clear Channel’s.
You’re John Hogan and if your programming isn’t done locally, why should sales be trusted with those who know the market best? So you hire Chris Soechtig, the former Tampa sales director for the new position of Senior VP of sales operations to oversee the thousand-plus properties.
You’re John Hogan. Your national programmers control what everyone hears on the air. Now, Soechtig will be the counterpart for sales. We can expect those “one day fire sale” e-mails a few markets promoted to become uniform.
If it worked in Philadelphia, it’ll work in Detroit. Same lunch bucket market, right? Sorry, John. Didn’t mean to quote Dan Mason.
You’re John Hogan and you remember the old term “black dollars,” the buys agencies would set aside for urban contemporary formats, some which were on minority-owned radio stations. Clever sales managers at these stations would make sure the buys were spread to all of their properties.
It worked - and it kept many urban stations afloat during lean times.
Now, Clear Channel plans to do this nationally by creating an urban network and putting all of its African-American targeted formats under one umbrella. Buy one? You gotta buy ‘em all.
Okay, turkey of the year? It’s up to you. Lew, Farid, and John. You pick. It’s too close to call.
One more thing.
You can mark this date on the calendar since I’m making a rare, positive statement about the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).
Yes, you read that right.
I’m thankful that the NAB chucked the duck and David “Fumbles” Rehr along with it.
So far, I admire the approach its new CEO, Gordon Smith, is taking with the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) robber barons.
He’s not sending Congress and the RIAA stuffed ducks. He’s not making veiled threats to labels and artists. He’s not writing long-winded letters to the President.
What Gordon Smith is doing is telling the truth.
Radio doesn’t have money. It cannot afford the ludicrous performance royalty tax the RIAA wants to levy on the industry.
Radio is not in the bail out business for the labels.
I’ve said it before. There are no good guys here. When the labels were healthy, radio took advantage of them.
It wasn’t entirely their fault. Whenever the labels offered payola and other incentives for airplay - radio took it.
Radio took it whether it was illegal, semi-legal, or legal. It doesn’t really matter.
In the end, it nearly killed both industries. Music radio ceased to provide the soundtrack to popular culture and the labels pushed only music by artists and managers willing to give up a percentage of their royalties to fund payola.
Radio lost its ability to sell music and the labels have no solid replacement.
Before there is even a discussion on why the RIAA wants to siphon off of radio what it can no longer get from the consumer its labels screwed - Smith is telling it like it is. There is no money to be had.
Mismanagement on radio’s behalf, though real, is not an issue since the record industry suffers from the same disease. Smith didn’t have to say if the music’s not free, we’ll be all sports and talk.
The NAB still faces a tough battle in Congress. David “Fumbles” Rehr did nearly irreparable damage to the radio industry’s image during his brief reign. His abrasive “ready, fire, aim” statements and threats can’t be erased that easily.
Let’s be thankful for two things. Fumbles is gone and we’re another day closer to effecting change in our industry. It will come.