The Dan Mason I Want Back At CBS Radio

I take back everything critical I have ever said about CBS CEO Les Moonves.

Finally I can say "Les is More".

Moonves came up big yesterday. A television man who knows little about radio knew enough that he needed a proven radio executive to turn his slumping radio division around. So he hired back Dan Mason. Mason had been doing some projects for CBS since he relinquished his duties to Joel Hollander. Now, Moonves showed Hollander the door and welcomed Mason in with open arms.

I have to say that I have known Dan Mason a long, long time. I like him immensely and so I may not be as objective as I'd like to be. Plainly put -- I'm happy for CBS programmers, managers and sales people that Dan is back.

In all fairness to Joel Hollander he had a tough tour of duty at CBS Radio. Moonves had it tougher. He works directly for Viacom and CBS chairman Sumner Redstone. Redstone is legendary when it comes to taking the temperature of his companies by sticking a thermometer up the -- well, shall I say -- up the mouth of Wall Street. And lately CBS stock and all the other radio stocks are in the toilet.

But Hollander made matters worse for himself.

No succession plan for Howard Stern, a moneymaking morning show whose absence has hurt CBS earnings since he departed for Sirius Satellite. Hollander had a year to come up with something other than David Lee Roth. He still didn't get it right when he exited.

Poor programming choices. This is what happens when you put a sales guy in charge of programming decisions. Oldies WCBS-FM was blown up leaving anywhere from $16 to $35 million on the table (depending on whose numbers you believe). The "Play What We Want" Jack format was a joke in comparison. In music, we'd call it a mid-charter. Hollander's other attempts at programming especially at WNEW-FM was not pretty. There was management discontent among some in the company when the noose was tightened around Hollander's neck. But make no mistake about it, the noose was of Hollander's making. He dropped it around his own neck. Now he'll be fine. He's a radio guy. He's one of us. Differences or not, we forgive and forget.

But wait.

I want Dan Mason to succeed for his sake, the sake of all those great and talented people at CBS and even for Redstone.

But this is the Dan Mason I want back at CBS:
  • The Dan Mason who can pry some money loose from Moonves to hire salespeople and invest in programming, research and people. This is a tough order because Dan worked for Mel and Dan knows how to run the company on spit, but now CBS needs money to reinvest in infrastructure. Without that, you've got a talented and proven executive trying to do what he did under Mel Karmazin's regime. This would be bad.
  • A Dan Mason who will be left alone by his boss, Les Moonves. Moonves is a pretty good TV guy. Not so good when it comes to radio. Moonves was smart enough to bring the right guy back. Is he smart enough to leave him alone? By leave him alone I mean, don't sell stations out from under him. And don't micromanage.
  • I want the Dan Mason who is going to protect the CBS all-news stations. These are assets that can't be recovered if they are lost. Scott Herman is the guy who knows news. Give him the ball.
  • I want the Dan Mason who can do strategic planning further in advance than those radio dummies on Wall Street who can only see three months ahead. Moonves can use his eloquence to fast talk Wall Street. Mason has to be turned loose to plan for the future and anticipate things like the generation radio just lost (Gen Y) and the generation it is trying to lose by blowing up oldies stations in New York and Chicago (Baby Boomers).
  • The Dan Mason that can separate himself from HD radio. He's been an advocate, but HD is a distraction not a solution. Although he may personally believe in the future of HD radio, CBS needs a President who can objectively look beyond questionable technology to Internet streaming, mobile content and social networking.
So, Les Moonves -- you did good.

But we'll all be watching to see whether you are prepared to give the outstanding candidate you chose to help rebuild CBS something even more important -- your confidence and your financial support.

Radio is not going to be a growth industry. Period.

It has no next generation. It has antiquated technology and it's idea of new technology (HD Radio) is a nonstarter with young audiences.

But radio is also not going to go away anytime soon. It produces large amounts of free cash flow. It can be a good business for a while -- just long enough to go to school on this quirky and fickle future generation and the one coming of age next.

Radio needs to move its content to where the listeners are.

The hiring of Mason is not just a fix -- it is that, but it must be more.

Someone has to lead a major consolidator into the future. Under the right circumstances, Dan Mason could be just the man.

Oh, one more thing.

As a statement that sanity is back at CBS I say give Joe McCoy a call. Tell him to bring back CBS-FM on 101.1 in New York. Admit the mistake in New York and Chicago. It will speak volumes.