Sunday, January 24, 2010

Radio: What's changed?

You wonder why so many look upon the radio industry as a collection of Tin Men these days?

I’m nearly certain that no maritime group or organization ever named “an excellence in shipmasting” award after the captain of the Titanic.

I don’t believe the airline industry will name an “excellence in piloting” award after the two Northwest Airlines pilots that dozed off and overshot their Minneapolis airport destination.

Even Wall Street - in its worst behavior - never named an administration award after Albert “Chainsaw” Dunlap.

But leave it to the National Association of Broadcasters to further humiliate the radio industry by naming an “excellence in broadcasting” award after Clear Channel co-founder and patriarch Lowry Mays.

The Clear Channel Foundation and one of its primary law firms, Wiley Rein, kicked in $125,000 to the dubious Broadcasters Foundation of America with that catch.

The ethically challenged Lowry Mays, in a prepared statement, said the foundation is about “helping others in the industry who have run upon difficult times.”

He could be speaking of the thousands of employees his company downsized over the past decade or he could even be referencing the ownership disaster his family conned private equity firms Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee into.

One in his position with a cleaner conscience would’ve donated the $125,000 minus the “name the award after me” strings attached covenant.

It’s true there was a time when Lowry Mays’ Clear Channel was a radio industry leader. Whatever moves they made, others followed.

But you’re no longer a leader if no one is following you.

Was anyone stunned by the sudden Chapter 7 liquidation of liberal network Air America? I’m surprised that it lasted as long as it did. It was to a radio network what Terry Schiavo was to life support.

Air America had the wind sucked out of its sails when it chose to be a network instead of a syndicator of talk programming. It was undercapitalized, overstaffed, and mismanaged.

Whatever the case, I won the bet by predicting that of the two artificially-alive radio entities Air America would go belly-up before HD Radio. Speaking of….how many HD Radio units were sold during the Christmas shopping season? Yes, you can include Zune sales.

You have to give props to Rush Limbaugh. Ratings stunts are the oldest trick in radio’s playbook - and Limbaugh parlayed his phony attempted heart attack as a perfect roll-up to the winter Arbitron.

Rush also deserves recognition for hanging on to his showboat crown. Rival Glenn Beck pulls off an appendix scare, Rush tops him with his ticker fib. One can only imagine the medical ills these gasbags will conjure up with for the spring book.

Then there’s Howard Stern. Will he stay or go? Those that know aren’t talking - but the sure bet is that wherever Howard goes Mel Karmazin will follow - or vice versa. Their fortunes, including agent Don Buchwald’s, have been intertwined for twenty-four years and what makes anyone think that’s about to change?

Is it even worth speculating about the next half-dozen or so radio groups about to file for bankruptcy protection?

The Citadel bankruptcy is yesterday's news. Its CEO Farid Suleman is a kept man. Kept by the bankers who can’t figure out his bean counting schemes. How could anyone who made that much money for Mel fall so flatly on his face? Then again, did he actually do anything to make Mel money other than to provide an accurate bean count? When he was at CBS/Infinity was all the Farid hype just hype? ‘Fraid so.

Farid gave himself a nice Christmas present and stuck his investors with coal. He portrayed himself basking in the limelight as the radio industry’s new big time operator of the third largest broadcast chain.

Instead, he proved that he was pulling everyone else’s.

Rewarding failure stifles growth and innovation. It sends the message that wrong is the new right.

Until radio addresses that fact the bad news will continue to outweigh the good.


Walls of the Buzzard

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Radio: The song remains the same

You haven’t heard from me because there’s been little to write about.

I know. There was Citadel and NextMedia. Those were inevitable.

Citadel. It’s the tale of the bean counter that couldn’t count his own beans. There are reasons why proficient number twos make terrible number ones. Number twos believe in cutting and firing their way to a victory they never achieve.

That’s why other radio chains utilizing the equivalent philosophies will be condemned to same fate.

Are they even worth writing about when we already know the end of the story?

Then there’s NextMedia.

Its business plan was to buy up smaller market stations and sell them to greater fools for more than they paid for them. One problem. They paid some hefty multiples to acquire these stations.

They initially benefited from a bounty of takers but the company didn’t heed Kenny Rogers: Know when to hold them, know when to fold them.

There was that moment in time when they should’ve sold while the greater fools were still buying- but exit strategy disagreements ensued - and Next Media ended up holding on to yesterday.

There’s more.

Lending institutions continue to hold on to their bad assets and allow those that got them into this jam to continue running their empty shell companies.

What was that quote from Citadel’s CEO and architect of doom Farid Suleman?

Business will continue as usual.”

I keep saying it over and over. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

That means Citadel, and the other major radio chains, will continue to downsize and devalue their programming, promotion, and marketing. Instead of investing in content, they’ll pick up long-in-the-tooth Donnie Osmond or some other syndication off the bird. Live and local? Get real. The stink of human costs money. Promotion and marketing? That’s a needless and costly expense.

It wasn’t all that long ago, actually, that the only stations that carried nets and syndication in their most important dayparts were small market stations.

Maybe Farid was duped into believing that Donnie can host the 21st century version of Don McNeill's Breakfast Club.

I’ll bet Suleman truly believes that Citadel could survive as a content provider for news, sports, and programming.

It gets better. The other radio chains teetering on bankruptcy believe their eventual bankruptcies will be considered as a cost of doing business.

What about real broadcasters?
They’re exercising great patience. Two words: Fire sale.