Sunday, May 31, 2009

Radio: The Bigot is back!

Peter Smyth is the Chairman and CEO of the Boston-based Greater Media.

I’ve never met him. What I know of him comes from reading his radio-as-a-victim blogs.

I’m familiar with his stations. He has two of the best rock radio PDs in the business on his payroll.

I hear he allows managers make their own decisions and, for that reason, has a low turnover. Some say he's loyal to a fault.

I’ve read his bio. Spending most, if not all of his adult life in Boston and being in the radio business he has to know first hand that in the past half century the market has produced some of the best talk radio hosts in America: Jerry Williams, Larry Glick, Paul Benzaquin, Ken Mayer, Bob Kennedy, Peter Meade, Paul Sullivan, and David Brudnoy.

Just short of a year ago, Peter Smyth asked an open question in his monthly blog: “How in the world did we become the bad guys?”

It was in reference to the imminent Sirius-XM satellite radio merger.

He defended terrestrial radio by claiming, “Local, free radio represents every demographic and every community in the nation. We employ hundreds of thousands of dedicated and talented individuals, from every city and town in America. We deliver local news, weather, traffic, and sports updates every hour, every day, 365 days a year. We raise hundreds of millions of dollars every year for local and national charities and people in need.”

Exaggerated? Certainly. We know of many markets that don’t have a single radio station that provides those services and we can count on one hand the number of stations that do so every hour, every day, 365 days a year.

But let’s get back to that “bad guy” question. Specifically, what makes you a bad guy, Peter?

Is it your forgiveness of hate on the public airwaves?

Is it your support of a vile bombastic xenophobe named Jay Severin who does afternoon drive on your WTKK-FM in Boston?

This clown makes Michael Savage sound moderate by comparison.

Like you, I support the First Amendment, which safeguards speech from state restraint.

I won’t dispute the fact that you have the right to fill every one of your radio stations with vicious, bigoted commentary if you so desire.

And you do have the autonomy to pay Jay Severin a million dollars-plus a year to call Mexicans “criminaliens,” “leeches,” and disease spreaders.

Once, when a caller defended Muslims, Severin replied, “I have an alternative viewpoint. It's slightly different than yours. You think we should befriend them; I think we should kill them.”

And what exactly does he mean when he says President Barack Obama must be “stopped at all costs?”

You, as the CEO of a privately-held company, also have to right to terminate an employee for “just cause.” I’m pretty certain Greater Media, as a private sector employer, established specific guidelines to follow when disciplining or terminating employees.

I have to ask. What exactly was it that he said that made you to pull him off the air for a month?

Before I go any further, let me make it clear that this is no liberal versus conservative rant.

My concern is that when a talk show host uses words like “kill” and “stop at all costs” responsibility becomes compromised.

I'll credit you for shrewdly manipulating the media just enough to keep Severin's name in the news nearly every day in May.

Since it’s apparent that Severin has enough clients willing to market to his bottom-feeding hate mongering audience you now feel he’s worthy of keeping on the public airwaves and deserves every penny of the million a year plus bonuses you’re paying him to spew his racial rhetoric.

Just because it’s not illegal makes it right.

So what if Jay Severin, the dogmatist formerly known as James Severino, has a checkered past?

He didn’t really lie about having a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University. He just forgot he didn’t have one.

When he claimed he won a Pulitzer Prize? Come on, we know he was only kidding.

Severin also claims to be a former Republican Party political consultant, who “worked” on the presidential campaigns of George H. W. Bush in 1980 and Pat Buchanan in 1996. Exactly what he “worked” on remains ambiguous.

One fact Severin declined to reveal is that among 25-54 year olds, his show is Arbitron People Meter rated 15th place. That’s pretty bad for a station whose slogan should be “Race bait and ye shall receive.” His conservative talk archnemesis Howie Carr on Entercom’s WRKO is in fifth.

On Saturday, the WTTK website announced that “On Tuesday June 2nd, at 3 p.m., Jay Severin will return to the weekday afternoon timeslot on Boston's Talk Evolution 96.9 FM-WTTK. Jay regrets the remarks for which he was suspended and understands that his comments were indeed wrong and hurtful to the Mexican and Mexican-American communities. Accordingly, we feel it is time to end Jay's suspension and welcome him back to WTKK. All of our hosts have strong opinions and talk radio is a format for open and spirited debate about the many issues we face in Boston, New England, our nation and our world. There will no doubt be times when you disagree with Jay - and our other hosts too - but our ultimate goal is to maintain a level of conversation that is entertaining, compelling, and thought-provoking, yet civil and respectful. While we will not always succeed in walking this line, we will continually strive to do so.”

“There’s 10 years of context here of me . . . and because of my extraordinarily strong relationship with my colleagues and with (Greater Media chairman and CEO) Peter Smyth, I was confident - with a commitment to do the kind of show that they want me to do and I think the audience wants me to do - that this would be worked out,” Severin told the conservative Boston Herald yesterday.

And that’s "how in the world" some people become bad guys.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Radio: Hogan's Zeros

Clear Channel Radio CEO and Crypt Kicker John Hogan is for those of us who want to reform radio what Sarah Palin was to Saturday Night Live. We have assurance that there’ll never be a shortage of material coming from his San Antonio compound.

How about his tasteless, mindless “Get A Job” promotion (or is that one being written off as, ahem, public service), where twenty-one participating Clear Channel stations will offer the unemployed a “chance” (his word) to nominate themselves for one of five weekly on-air slots? The "winning" jobseekers will get thirty seconds of fame to pitch for work on the stations. Sick.

The press release is here. In it, Hogan quoted recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but declined to mention the thousands of Clear Channel employees he selected to be added to the ranks of the unemployed.

I haven’t heard the promo on the air yet. My guess is that it’ll include a disclaimer that reads: “Former Clear Channel employees are not eligible.”

Did you hear the new one about John Hogan? Remember when he announced an “impressive new level of commitment to local community affairs that will define a new, higher ‘minimum level of service’ for all markets,” and added, “We believe when radio focuses on serving local communities, it is radio at its finest?”

No, that wasn’t a punch line.

“Clear Channel Radio has long led the industry in both the quantity and breadth of community-service programs at the local, regional and national levels.”

That wasn’t either – but it should’ve been.

Actually, none of it was intended to be a joke. It’s from an authentic April 15 press release issued by Clear Channel, which announced their - get this - nationally-driven commitment to localism.

Their pledge for change resulted in more firings and fewer local programming hours.

The last time I checked most Clear Channel stations are still running the same identical public affairs program at the same time.

Here’s more Hogan: “We are materially increasing our commitment to community programming, increasing our accountability, and broadening our public-service contributions in every local market we serve.”

Question, Hogie. Isn’t every market you serve local? Just asking.

Finally. Forty-four days after these commitments were made and ignoring the possibility that Clear Channel could be bankrupt within a couple of months, Hogan announced the appointment of two managers that will lead the company’s new initiatives, how ever ephemeral they may be.

Meet 36-year old Senior VP of Programming Darren Davis. He’s assuming the newly created post of Senior VP of Premium Choice.

I hope it’s a position they plan to keep around for awhile. You don’t want to go down in the record books as the John Paul I of Clear Channel.

His job is not to change the litter box but to “…improve program quality for all dayparts.”

Translation: Replace local talent with voice tracking. In Clear Channel-speak the word improve is defined as eliminating a salary.

He’ll also oversee the quality control of localism pronunciation. An outside-the-market voice tracker for their Kiss station in Boston will be taught that the suburban city of Quincy is pronounced Quin-zee – not Quin-see as in Quincy Jones and that you don’t pronounce Worcester as Wor-chester.

Let’s get to know Hogie’s second appointment of the day - Clay Hunnicut. He’s Senior VP of Programming for Clear Channel’s “East Major” region (don’t ask me where or what it is) and will take on additional duties as – Hogan loves slogans and titles – Community Engagement Director. The job title sounds like something that would put a stain on a career.

At Clear Channel, there’s no such thing as wearing too many hats until you tip over.

Though Hogie wasn’t specific about Hunnicut’s job definition, we have to assume that it has something to do with making sure those twelve promised PSAs-a-day run between 6 PM and 6 AM.

Should a group of close friends have an intervention with Hogie? At least tell him that no one is buying this crap?

If you wore glasses that made you look cross-eyed, wouldn’t you want to know?

You may ask how can Clear Channel pull off live-and-local – and do personal appearances - when most of their dayparts and just about all of their weekend hours are voice-tracked or syndicated?

Let me introduce you to the new Clear Channel National DJ Replicator. It’s brought to you by the same people that gave you other Clear Channel innovative programming breakthroughs like Premium Choice, Less is More, and the Format Lab.

Now, every market can have their own Ryan Seacrest and Elvis Duran. Or Steve Harvey and Kid Kraddack. Maybe you prefer Big Rig, Doc Reno or John “the B-Man” Beaulieu.

The Clear Channel in-person voice-tracking National DJ Replicator is a lifesize, full color cardboard stand-up of your favorite Premium Choice Clear Channel voice-tracked personalities. They come complete with movable arms and legs and a place for a local intern insert his or her lips to lip sync to pre-recorded introductions.

For example, the Ryan Seacrest Replicator comes complete with a customized voice track: “(station) thanks you for coming to our (name) event today. I’m Ryan Seacrest. Ryan Seacrest-dot-com.”

The National DJ Replicator allows you to create personal appearances with your designated Premium Choice DJs.

Don’t laugh. I fear that I just gave Hogie an idea.

I was going to suggest that Hogie consider taking Clear Channel’s radio division non-profit – until I realized that it already is.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Radio: Sympathy for the devils?

Please allow me to introduce you to these men of wealth and waste. A $19 billion - with a b - waste. Debt, to be precise.

I’ve always defined Clear Channel’s post-deregulation radio acquisition business plan as “buy ‘em up now and figure out what to do with ‘em later.” Here’s the rest of it: “We’ll just keep shafting our shareholders and they’ll just keep taking it.”

That didn’t work. Neither did the buyout that followed. That’s what happens when there are no heroes, just villains.

Always being so certain about everyone else’s attentions is a surefire system of failure.

It’s been nine months since private equity firms Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee privatized Clear Channel in that lethal $27 billion leveraged buyout.

Now, the good ol’ devils are making their implausible claims. Have you heard the one about them remaining in good standing with the terms of its senior loans?

Now, let’s pay a visit to CreditSights, a leading independent credit research company. They’ve heard that one, too – and they’re not buying.

According to their findings, Clear Channel will most likely overreach its debt limit later this year, which will force those poor bastards into bankruptcy.

According to Jake Newman of CreditSights, as revenues and EBITA deteriorate, Clear Channel will surpass covenants that limit its secured leverage to 9.5 times EBITA this year.

The latest impediment occurred when Clear Channel’s largest senior lenders rejected a debt exchange proposal by Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee, in their all but ineffectual juggling act to restructure the company’s debt before July. If unresolved, terms of the loan agreement will be violated, which, in turn will almost certainly bankrupt Clear Channel.

The senior lenders were allegedly offered in part an exchange of some of their $15 billion in debt for $2.5 billion that is owed to the company from Clear Channel's billboard business.

Though Bain and Lee could pump more money into Clear Channel to avoid bankruptcy, it will do little to stop its fiscal hemorrhaging.

That rumbling and crumbling sound you’re hearing in San Antonio? You guessed right.

Clear Channel’s billboards are someone else’s problem. I’ll focus on the radio side.

We won’t have Clear Channel radio CEO and slogan snatcher John Hogan to kick around anymore.

I’ll give him points for his characteristic concept of stealing slogans and attempting to create programming notions around them.

Let’s get right to it. Hogie, come on down.

You lifted “less is more” from a turn-of-the-last-century proverbial phrase by architect Ludwig Mies Van Rohe. Its original meaning was that simplicity and clarity lead to good design.

You resurrected the phrase to define reducing commercial load time without decreasing spot load by selling shorter-length spots for a higher rate. You managed to convince both the silver spoon Mays kids and yourself that it would result in an increased time spent listening.

One problem.

Clients refused to pay more for less and you neglected to take into account that your pitiable programming content wouldn’t hold listeners.

Then there’s your just-announced Premium Choice – a name stolen from a cat litter brand - to describe your neither local-nor-live voice-tracking and syndicated content, which has replaced local programming and content at most Clear Channel stations.

Hogie, Ryan Seacrest will never be Dick Clark. Stop repeating that. It's annoying.

Like everything else this King Midas in reverse initiates, Hogie’s method of modern programming was a dizzying decent into irrelevance and a bitter catastrophe for the radio industry. Hub and spoke = Broken wheel.

Even worse. Many of Hogie’s programming conceptions were copied by other radio chains, which- you guessed right - suffered the same disastrous results.

The danger with any monoculture is that one single failure takes everyone down.

Thanks in part to Hogie’s predecessor and tutor, the forked tongued and ever-loathsome Randy Michaels, Clear Channel ruined the sixty-year relationship between radio and the labels in just one decade. Now, every music-formatted station will be penalized with an unwanted and costly performance royalty fee.

Clear Channel led the way in making radio an also-ran in advertising revenue. Ask anyone under forty-five if they even have a favorite radio station anymore. You gave away mornings to TV and afternoons to personal choice. That so-called captive in-car audience found other mediums of captivation.

And if radio listening is being challenged by everything from iPods to satellite, why are NPR’s numbers up?

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating. The view from Clear Channel’s San Antonio offices was that the “masses were asses” and its audience would take whatever it gave them. It failed to take into account that even asses know when they’re getting kicked.

And how about that? Now, the shoe’s on the other foot.

I’d like to say that I hate to say I told you so, but I won’t. I don’t have to.

Actually ,the only thing that’s missing is an end card from one of those old ‘50s or 60s B-movies – “The End.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Radio: The RIAA's performance royalty glee

So here we are.

If the streaming audio rates the NAB negotiated for terrestrial radio stay remain in place and the Performance Rights Act bill is passed, music radio will be history.

How many times do they have to be told? When content sharing is becoming part of most online media business plans, why is the radio industry allowing itself to be pushed and shoved in the opposite direction?

Radio invented it. When radio stations started playing records after World War II – it didn’t own the content – but playing music on-air provided its owners - the artist and the label - free exposure to the court of public opinion – the radio listener.

It’s the same principle as Google’s search engine. They don’t own the content that’s searched.

Did you see the score on Capitol Hill last week? The labels v. terrestrial radio: 21-9. Radio? Drop it likes it’s hot.

And what did the NAB have to say about radio’s slaughter?

What say you, NAB mouthpiece Dennis Wharton?

“Lawmakers are growing increasingly skeptical over record label claims that this legislation is about helping artists. And given the historic abuse of artists by the labels, who can blame them? The sad truth is that a performance tax will cripple an artist's number one promotional vehicle, free radio airplay, and it will transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from America's hometown radio stations into the coffers of foreign-owned record labels."

Dennis, when the NAB board fired Fumbles you were supposed to sack his speechwriter, too.

The NAB - S.O.S./different mouth. Denial, denial, denial.

You don’t get it - do you, Dennis? That vote verified that radio’s credibility with consumers is even shoddier than the labels.

Wharton’s quotes would have you believe radio’s winning. It’s not. Not even close. Short of a miracle, there will be a performance royalty fee on terrestrial radio broadcasts soon. David “Fumbles” Rehr gave that one away when he tried to play tough and the RIAA publicly tweaked his nose.

Right about now we should add that some of the best new music to be released over the past few years is coming from independent labels and direct-to-consumer sales that aren’t card-carrying members of the RIAA.

The labels’ ethical cirrhosis that used to infect radio stations has now spread to Capitol Hill.

Here’s your elected officials capitulating to clientele that combine the sobriety of Lindsay Lohan, the savoir faire of Michael Vick, and the vocabulary of any character in a Quentin Tarantino movie.

We’re talking about the music industry here. These are people that will hold a golf tournament for charity except that they forget to name the charity, because it always begins at home.

This is a business where an artist is most likely to receive royalties due after a label audit.

You were expecting maybe honesty? Integrity?

Rep. John Conyers, Jr., sponsor of the Performance Rights Act (H.R. 848) says, “that the needs of small, minority, religious, and non-music broadcasters are taken into account as he and other Members of Congress continue to work on the legislation.”

Read between the lines here. He’s helping the RIAA divide and conquer.

I’m not defending Clear Channel, Citadel or Cumulus. Come on, how long do you think they’ll be around? I’m saying you can’t run with multiple rule books. One law must fit all sizes – and any law that forces radio to be extorted by the labels is wrong.

This tiered payment system, based on revenue, has stations with annual gross revenues – remember that word gross, we’ll get back to that - of under $100,000 paying a flat fee of $500 each year.

Stations with gross revenues between $100,000 and $500,000 will shell out $2,500 a year.

Stations that bill between $500,000 and $1.25 million gross will send the RIAA a $5,000 kiss annually.

Stations billing over a million and a quarter gross will be required to negotiate royalty fees with the RIAA’s SoundExchange collection wing with the wiser-than-you-think judges on the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), the government body that sets royalty fees. According to the bill the CRB will settle disputes and weigh the value of music to a station and its promotional exposure to the labels.

What’s it worth to be a fly on the wall in one of those meetings!

In all honesty, it’s still too early to tell the good guys from the bad on this one. You’re not dealing with a bipartisan issue here. This one? It’s all about the money – and that’s where it gets precarious.

Now here’s the good news. Stations grossing $5 million will be exempt from the fees for three years and those grossing over that amount will be exempt for fees for one year. Such a deal!

Now, lets get back to those gross revenues. That’s defined as all revenue earned – including those three worlds that have come back to haunt radio time and time again – non-traditional revenue. It’s all gross – not just time sold on the air. It’s all gross.

They’re not just stealing the stove. They’re coming back for the smoke.

Did you sell station merchandise? Did you put on a job fair? Ka-ching! Ka-ching!

My guess is that your best bet of getting V.I.P. tickets to any of this summer’s major tours is to either have an in with someone on the Copyright Royalty Board or be a fellow Congressperson or major contributor to one who’ll cozy on up to Rep. Conyers. If you want V.I.P. U2’s – you’re talking premium. You’ll need an in with someone on the Copyright Royalty Board for those ducats.

Remember the old RCA-Victor logo with the dog and the Gramophone – His Master’s Voice? Just cut and paste Rep. Conyers’ head on the dog. One picture is worth a thousand words? That one’ll be worth the entire Performance Rights Act bill.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Radio: Broom and gloom in Pittsburgh

Did you hear that David “Fumbles” Rehr is still coming to work every morning at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)?

Here’s the clown that carpet-bombed the radio and television industry out of any hopes to achieve parity with new media in the twenty-first century – and he’s still allowed in the building?

Come on, Fumbles. This is broadcasting. Capishe?

There are no fare-thee-wells. When you’re out, you’re out.

Just ask the thirty-five former employees of Sheridan Broadcasting’s three radio stations in Pittsburgh.

Unlike Fumbles, who botched nearly every NAB assignment on Capitol Hill and knew his days were numbered, the employees of WAMO AM and FM and WPGR -AM had no such advance warning that last Friday would be their last day.

They were called into a mandatory meeting late that afternoon.

WAMO-FM’s Hip Hop/R&B format was consistently Abritron-rated top ten – and placed eighth in 12+ total audience ratings in the Winter ’09 Arbitron with a 4.5 share – up from a 4.0 in the Fall ’08 survey.

Both WAMO-AM’s Urban AC and WPGR’s gospel formats were syndicated and had ratings lower than whale excrement. WAMO-AM, 1,000 watt day/830 watt night and licensed to Millvale, PA, placed eighteenth with a 1.2 12+ total audience share while WPGR, 5,000 watt day/1 watt night, and licensed to Monroeville, didn’t even show.

The WAMO call letters, which have been in continual use in Pittsburgh for sixty-plus years, signify the city’s three rivers– the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio.

At the meeting, employees were told the stations were sold to an unidentified company.

Those that qualified received a severance package.

Employees were asked to clean out their lockers, turn in their keys and ID and were wished well on their future endeavors.

Following the meeting, Sheridan contacted local news media and released information that the station’s new owner, St. Joseph Missions, would change the three stations’ formats, leaving market number twenty-four without a formats serving the Pittsburgh African-American community. Arbitron estimates Pittsburgh's African-American population at 8.2 percent.

No information was provided nor could be found on-line regarding the identity or background of St. Joseph’s Missions, which purchased the three stations for the such-a-deal fire sale price of $8.9 million.

Rather than answer questions about the sale, Sheridan hired a spokesperson, Russell Bynum of the Pittsburgh-based Bynum Marketing and Communications, who referred to St. Joseph Missions as "religious-oriented.”

"This was a difficult decision for the owners, but it was a necessary situation for them," he added. "When we look at Sheridan, we are looking at a strong organization that has had to make these changes to adapt to the movement and the changes in the marketplace."

Translation: It takes money to make money but Sheridan was obviously not making enough of it.
Sherdian Broadcasting, which is headquartered in Pittsburgh, is the principal owner of the American Urban Radio Networks group, the only African-American network group in the U.S. American Urban runs three networks, which they claim reach an estimated 20 million African-American radio listeners. The company still owns radio stations in Atlanta, Birmingham, and Buffalo – at least for the moment.

Sheridan Broadcasting owner Ron Davenport Sr. bought WAMO-FM and AM in 1973, His son, Ron Davenport Jr., is the general manager. The company purchased WPGR-AM in 2001.

"This is a business decision," he said. "That's the reality of the marketplace. The marketplace determines how businesses go, and industries have to change with the times."

Fear of the future – specifically, the insurmountable obstacles following NAB’s botched negotiation with the RIAA’s SoundExchange on streaming audio royalties and the forthcoming almost-certain-to-happen performance royalty fee were the unofficial reasons for Sheridan’s decision to pull out of station ownership. Arbitron’s people meter ratings and their effect on urban formats was also rumored to be a deciding factor.

Regarding its decision to abandon the African-American radio audience in a market it’s headquartered in, Bynum claimed that Sheridan tried to find minority buyers for the Pittsburgh stations but – no surprise here - none were able to secure financing.

He added, "I believe someone will fill the void."

That’s more than one can say about Fumbles, whose continued relationship with the NAB should just be voided.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Radio: Give us 22 minutes and we'll give you commercials

Come on, admit it.

You can’t help but chuckle every time someone from Clear Channel opens his or her mouth.

Ever since Thomas H. Lee co-president Scott Sperling sputtered, stuttered and fell all over himself a few weeks back on CNBC when asked the question, “Is the Clear Channel deal going to blow up?” it’s been one misstep after another at the Double C Ranch.

Another one? John Hogan. Forget about the swine flu crossing the border. Hogan’s showing severe symptoms of foot and mouth disease. He’s been planting his foot in his mouth every time he opens it.

Local? Live? Is he for real?

Back to Hogie in a moment.

Let’s start with silver spoon CFO Randall Mays and his just-released memo to his employees.

“We’ve had some questions relating to speculation about the health of our business,” he wrote. “Any such speculation is just that.”

Master Randy was countering a New York Times article on Clear Channel in their business section a few weeks back. It didn’t speculate on whether Clear Channel was in financial breakdown. It did speculate on the time frame of when the company will collapse.

So Randy, inquiring minds want to know if they do math differently in San Antonio. You’re saying that total revenues are down 23 percent in the first quarter – and you projected that in your Q1 forecast? That’s a question, Randy, because I don’t recall Clear Channel issuing such a statement.

What we have here is the sibling adaptation of good cop, bad cop. CFO Master Randy plays good brother while CEO Mark is the bad-ass.

Master Randy thanked his employees in his memo, adding, “The most important thing we can all do is turn our full attention to improving our competitive position and continuing to generate revenues. The entire management team is doing the same.”

The same….what?

Come on down, silver spoon CEO Mark Mays. What say you?

“Our companies (radio and outdoor) performed well on a relative basis in a difficult economic environment and weakened ad market,” sayeth the Markster. “We commend our employees for their ongoing efforts to engage their audiences, customers and communities through our strong brands, high-impact mediums, and great portfolio of properties.”

I know, I know. Call for the hip boots.

True, Markie didn’t identify what his strong brands, high-impact mediums, and great portfolio of properties are. Do any of us have a clue? No.

Strong brands? Does he mean Rush? Does he mean Ryan?

High impact mediums? HD Radio? Their soft-core porn rock radio web sites?

Great portfolio of properties? You mean your 70-odd radio stations in cash-strapped Ohio?

We do know that when Markie thanked his employees, he was thanking close to 2,500 fewer of them this year over last.

I’d like to tell the silver spoon brothers that every time they downsize Clear Channel they’re firing their listeners.

Now, put your hands together and let’s give a big Texas style welcome to Mr. Live and Local – our voice is Premium Choice – Clear Channel’s radio CEO John Hogan.

And what has Hogie been up to for the last couple of weeks?

Since introducing his vocal-not-local programming initiative for Clear Channel’s radio group, John Hogan, man of slogan, has increased the spot load at his radio stations to a minimum 22 units per hour, which must run in two spot breaks, twice per hour.  Not three.  Two.

Not counted in those 22 units per hour are station promos, contesting, unpaid HD Radio promos, unpaid “Radio Heard Here” announcements, and those twelve “local – Clear Channel cares about the community (fill in market name here)” public service announcements that Hogan promised Capitol Hill he’d carry.

It also doesn’t include sponsored news, weather, traffic reports, or studio sponsorships (You know – the “Joe’s Hardware and Tackle” studio mentions) commitments.

That means Clear Channel’s music format stations will not be playing music for over one-third of every hour.

Let me put it another way. Hogie’s swapped less is more for more is less.

Imagine being the client whose spot is the eighth, ninth, tenth, or eleventh in the cluster? If a spot runs and no one hears it, should you really get charged for it?

Like everything else at Clear Channel, Hogie would have you believe that the decision to run 22 spots an hour in two breaks is up to the “local” manager and program directors. That may be true. Just don’t expect managers and PDs to continue under the employ of Clear Channel if they dare to disagree with Hogie.

There’s another provision. Say, Hogie calls and tells managers to drop their draws and take whatever dollars they can to fill avails– and they get enough clients take ‘em up on a dollar-a-holler offer that stations end up with too many spots and not enough inventory.

What does a good local manager decide to do  if he wants to stay employed?

Run them. See, it’s a minimum 22 spots per hour. There is no maximum.

That also adds up to more savings with Clear Channel voice-track talent. Fewer live breaks means it shouldn’t take as long to voice-track dayparts.

Or maybe this is Hogie’s way to save more money? If over a third of every hour is dedicated to non-music elements on his music format stations that means the station will be playing fewer songs per hour, which translates to lower-than-expected performance royalty fee payments to the labels.

Or maybe not.

You see, Radio & Records unceremoniously dropped seventeen Clear Channel stations from reporting status since their music is no longer programmed locally. Expect more to follow as R&R and other trades identify even more stations, which are programmed from San Antonio –not their city of license. That means labels will no longer service or call on those radio stations. As far as the labels are concerned, except for paying their performance royalty fees, those stations do not exist.

The same holds true for those that used to listen to those stations.

William Burroughs wrote in Naked Lunch of a frozen moment – a flash in time when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork. John Hogan, you are so close to yours.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Radio: Fumbles, Yourrrrrr OUT!

David "Fumbles" Rehr, you’re out!


Officially, it’s a resignation that was asked of you to make.

I hear they had to pry it out of you with the Jaws of Life.

You could say I’ve been predicting your downfall for years.

But I did call it on April 12. By then you were at the point of no return.

So many disasters in so little time.

Considering the irreparable damage Fumbles did to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) it’s hard to believe that he was in that post for less than five years.

Just to put it in perspective, his predecessor Eddie Fritz held the same position for 23 years.

Sure, I’d like to take some credit for the campaign to kick his ass out of the NAB – but I can’t. It was all Fumbles; all self-inflicted.

Now, he’s an accident going somewhere else to happen.

Fumbles joined the NAB as President and CEO in December, 2005 just around the time his left his former employer, the National Beer Wholesalers Association, for health reasons. They were sick of him.

Fumbles sold himself as an insider – as one who had the ear of then-President George W. Bush. Within a few months it was evident that Rehr knew Bush better than Bush knew Rehr.

He sold himself as a savvy lobbyist but proved to have absolutely no skill on Capitol Hill.

When the phone didn’t ring he knew it was FCC Commissioner Boy Kevin Martin. The Boy never returned Fumbles’ phone calls, e-mails, and letters even though they shared the same party and ideology.

In fact, Boy Kevin even went right over Fumbles’ head and mandated DTV transition PSAs when it was apparent that the NAB had no plan of action to promote the change from analog-to-digital. television transmission.

Fumbles, you leave behind a charred legacy of failure. Where does one begin?

Your failure to achieve multicast must-carry rights for TV stations?

Your failure to block the Sirius-XM satellite radio merger?

Your failed “white space” initiative to open up the broadcast spectrum for shared use by on-line devices?

Your failed campaigns to save radio from itself? Radio Heard Here? Radio 2020? Need I add more?

The botched streaming audio negotiations with the RIAA’s SoundExchange that gave the latter even more royalties than they asked for by 2015?

Let me add three more words: Performance royalty fees. 

I’m running out of space. If you want more and have an hour to kill, go to the top of this page where it says “Search blog” and type in “Fumbles.”

Believe me. By the time you finish reading the rest of Fumbles’ follies you’ll be asking the same question: What took them so long?

Fumbles, you’ll be forever known as the one who escalated a business that was stuck in the past to go backward.

Your “resignation” comes with collateral damage.

Where does this leave your professional coat holder Dennis Wharton?

How about RAB CEO Jeff “Ka-Ching” Haley? How fast can that bum kisser get his head out of your butt?

And what of your digital radio buddies like iBiquity CEO Bob “Booble” Struble and poor Lyin’ Diane Warren of the HD Digital Radio Alliance? Is that demented party finally over?

I heard that your thisclose buddy Fred Jacobs took the news hard and spent the entire afternoon sobbing uncontrollably. 

It remains to be seen if the NAB can ever recover from your lack of leadership.

Will the NAB board, which is dominated by old-line major market broadcasters, be able to identify a new CEO with the essential attitude and perception to lead old media into the 21st century?

The economics of the radio and television industry are remorseless, but I believe there are opportunities to marry old media to new and develop a 21st century “side door” revenue stream that will become highly beneficial to both our consumers and clients – and it will happen with or without the NAB. It’s up to that association to face up to today’s challenges or form another that will.

Let’s hear how Fumbles announced his departure.

"I have enjoyed leading America's broadcasters through this time of change and challenge," sayeth Fumbles in his shovel-ready farewell. "Our efforts to educate America about the digital television transition have been enormously successful, and our effort to reinvigorate radio through the Radio Heard Here campaign is positioning radio broadcasters well for the future."

Denial. From beginning to end.

P.S. Take your box of stuffed ducks and…. you know the rest.