The Mess At CBS

Some of the brightest programming minds in the glory days of radio who were used and abused by consolidation could be having the last laugh right now about how they saw this embarrassing decline in radio coming.

But it's not funny.

The latest bump in what has become a rocky road for terrestrial radio is the decline of the morning show.

Morning shows can represent 40% or more of a stations total revenues. The morning show still makes the station.

So you would think with the stakes that high these Einsteins at consolidated radio would have a Plan B in case one of their franchise hosts (God forbid) died, left for the competition or even said a racial slur on the air.

They should, but they don't.

When Howard Stern left for Sirius he gave about a year's notice. CBS CEO Les Moonves didn't want to take him off the air although Stern was chomping at the bit to go to Sirius. Stern was the franchise for many of their stations and yet CBS Radio still couldn't come up with Plan B when Stern bolted for Sirius. Even today, CBS hasn't made up for the lost Stern revenue.

When Don Imus decided to end his career, his CBS-owned station WFAN, New York, didn't have a backup plan. Imagine that? A 66-year old morning host who tends to get controversial and no Plan B.

Did I mention that the morning show makes the payroll, makes the profit, makes the money that makes the consolidators beloved shareholders happy?

WCBS-FM, the legendary New York oldies station, was blown up leaving $30 plus million out there on the street and the replacement Jack ("We play what we want") format was put together in less than 30 days. New Yorkers remain unimpressed. Hopefully, new CBS Radio President Dan Mason brings back WCBS-FM as the beloved oldies station it was.

A CBS Chicago oldies station was put to sleep when headquarters decided that a 30-day wonder format could replace the billing.

CBS thought that Jack got off to a promising start in Los Angeles and the Hollander regime moved dangerously to install it elsewhere including on its New York flagship. Was this any way to run a radio group?

CBS has made a lot of mistakes and it is not alone. But CBS has been mismanaged, true. Still, other groups have no Plan B for the loss of key talent representing critical station revenue.

No minor league for bringing up new talent.

No backup plan in case things go seriously wrong as they tend to do from time to time.

You can blame consolidation and it's worth doing that because consolidation hasn't helped. How can you have a minor league to develop air talent for tomorrow's morning shows when you're busy bragging about the cost-savings of virtual voice tracking.

Existing talent has been mismanaged and over priced in some cases.

I always wondered why so many radio stations played music in the morning and didn't have a personality on the air. Now I know. Many of those stations never had a Plan A let alone a Plan B.

It's as if a baseball team put eight players on the field but didn't have a pitcher.

Remember, you can't blame iPods for this lack of vision. You can't blame satellite radio. They have no backup plan either. You can only blame the suits who are running today's consolidated radio groups.

With a future that includes the next generation that doesn't even like to listen to radio, to paraphrase the comedy team Laurel and Hardy, "this is a fine mess you've gotten us into, Lowry".

In fairness, if we've learned anything in the past two weeks it is that CBS is second to no one -- not even Clear Channel -- for mismanaging radio stations.

You'd think those on Capitol Hill concerned with the loss of local radio would take notice of the monster they have created -- an industry of two major players, both proven by shareholder value and other more subjective means -- not to be able to run competitive radio stations.

Say, I've got an idea.

Run the stations like their individual, locally operated and managed radio signals.

The suits can still play corporate big guy and fire managers and stuff. But how about letting 1,110 + radio stations run as separate individual stations? Programming decided in the mark. Decisions made by the professionals you employ at each station. You can reward them with bonuses if they do well or fire them if they don't meet your expectations. This way you can keep your firing skills well-honed.

How can I say this delicately to top radio executives?

Just take yourself out of the radio business and let your local management do everything. You can still go to conventions, corporate meetings and speak to analysts on Wall Street. That's your core competency.

Let the professionals run the stations.

How do I know it will work to be convinced that the present way doesn't work.

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