Clear Channel -- The Purple People Meter Eater

What Clear Channel, the largest radio broadcaster, is doing to delay or disrupt implementation of Arbitron's much needed People Meter ratings methodology reminds me of the Sheb Wooley hit in 1958 where he sang about the one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater. To me, Clear Channel is acting like the Arbitron People Meter Eater. Refusing to even allow all-important encoding of their stations' signals to permit these personal devices carried by a sample of listeners to record Clear Channel station listening. Surprise! Clear Channel is taking a hard-nose policy on pricing and other issues that clearly haven't helped radio into even the present. Forget about the future. Right now with diarykeepers recording their listening from memory in old-fashioned weekly, written diaries, radio comes in dead last again in the "I Want To Be A Competitive Medium In The Digital Age" department.

Clear Channel, the People Meter Eater, is showing again why radio is in the post-consolidation mess that it is in. A real leader leads. They jump out ahead on difficult issues. They work through problems. They compromise. They put their industry as a whole ahead of their own company interests. This has not happened with Clear Channel. And it's no surprise that in my opinion they've run down the industry by acting in what they consider their best interests not radio's. In the end, they drove themselves out of business into the liquidation that is currently underway because radio has been weakened by their actions and policies and by other consolidators also acting selfishly. It makes you wonder what consolidation would have been like if occasionally the consolidators actually made some sacrifices for radio as a whole.

What's worse is that as Clear Channel sells off stations, takes the remaining remnants private and gets ready for life without the outdoor division, what's stopping them from getting behind something the radio industry has needed for years? Haggling for greater cost savings? A show of muscle or resolve? An honest dislike for the technology? Or is it just Clear Channel being Clear Channel? Nothing has changed. Whether they are to be remembered as the most hated or most admired consolidator is in the hands of their contemporaries. Back when they didn't care for my Inside Radio stories about their operations, many radio people swallowed their tongues. I can almost understand that then -- they were hoping not to anger the Purple People Meter Eater. But now? These brave souls are still hiding while their industry is in decline.

Perhaps its time to speak up.

During the past difficult ten years, radio people -- for their own protection or whatever reason -- have ignored the consolidators when they have fired good and loyal employees for the sake of Wall Street, cut research and resources in the name of shareholder value, looked the other way when consolidators litigated instead of advocated and as their industry took a beating -- had the nerve to blame iPods and the Internet -- but spared it's consolidated leaders. Radio execs in denial also had a holy jihad against satellite radio, a business that has still not gotten off the ground and represents very little threat to them.

Radio One at least agreed to encode its stations to enable People Meter technology but not to subscribe. This showed they were unselfish if not willing to help lead its industry into the future. In all fairness it must be pointed out that stations will have to pay an estimated 65% more for electronic ratings. Sorry, it's not free. Stations pay more for everything else, but ratings make them money. If electronic ratings turn out to be better for radio than diarykeepers reconstructing a week's worth of listening as they often do, radio stations will recoup some or all of that increase.

Another doomsday possibility for a hurting medium: Clear Channel may be responsible for a possible showdown between advertisers and their many large radio stations. Will the agencies fail to buy ads on stations not reported by Arbitron's People Meter as some threaten? If so, you'd have to conclude that these agencies have guts. But I wouldn't hold my breath.

The worst case scenario is that agencies shrink from the People Meter standard, buy ads on unencoded stations and allow radio's "leaders" to continue to do an outstanding job of leading their industry -- leading it into the past.