The Wall Street Bullies

The Philadelphia Flyers hockey team has been and still is known as the Broad Street Bullies -- named after the street where their hockey rink is located and for their rough style of play.

In radio, it's the Wall Street Bullies. The investment banks and radio CEOs who have sold their radio privileges for riches beyond their level of talent.

The Broad Street Bullies fight with their fists.

The Wall Street Bullies fight with their knives -- the ones that slash station budgets to the bone.

Need a recent example?

Here's how not to rebuild radio into a competitor for increased audiences and more advertising:
"CLEAR CHANNEL/LOS ANGELES Market President GREG ASHLOCK has announced that CC/L.A. VP/Programming MICHAEL MARTIN will add the PD duties at Modern AC KYSR (STAR 98.7), and will maintain his current responsibilities as VP/Programming for the LOS ANGELES cluster of radio stations. He's replacing current STAR 98.7 PD CHARESE FRUGE. Concurrently, MARTIN announced that sister Top 40 KIIS-FM APD/MD JULIE PILAT will add those same duties at STAR 98.7". (From Joel Denver's All Access)
More cutbacks.

More dual responsibilities.

More pandering to the bottom line.

The big and outrageous difference is that the Wall Street Bullies are not roughing up their competitors -- in fact, they are doing a poor job competing with both traditional and new media.

There is one major problem. The Wall Street Bullies are beating up their own teams!

Brilliant! The radio industry is not likely to recover from its long decline any time soon. In fact analyst Jim Boyle says it's been seven years of little to no growth for this sector with an eighth year likely in 2008.

If you're an investor, lots of luck.

If you're an investment bank you know you've got more paydays coming from selling off some or all of the assets in the future once you cut them down to the bone.

If you're a radio executive, talent or sales person, it's another wake-up call that you may want to reinvent yourself in another industry.

Or, you can fight back.

For all the money that has been invested, cutback or wasted, radio never seems to learn how to rebuild its teams into a modern day contender. The little iPod, the kids' Internet, the record labels' greed, the cell phone manufacturers' good luck are killing radio.

Let me direct you to one of my favorite topics -- ice hockey.

The Philadelphia Flyers are my team. I now live in both Arizona and California and yet I still have four season tickets to every game back at the Wachovia Center in Philly -- including playoffs which the Flyers didn't make last year. In fact, they went from an elite team to the worst in pro hockey all in one God-awful season.

Kinda reminds me of radio. From first on the way to worst year after year with no game plan, no strategy -- not even the right players or coaches (so to speak).

Not so this year for the Flyers. They have rebuilt the team and so far at least sit on top of the standings in their division.

That's with a salary cap that caused the loss of an entire season several years ago. (It didn't work really, but it's in place).

Everyone has to work with budget restrictions. Okay, maybe not Google. But almost everybody. So what? That's not the problem.

The problem is beating up your own players.

I bleed orange and black (the Flyers' colors). I've raised two children teaching them the lessons of ice hockey (and there are many). It has occurred to me that maybe these lessons -- and really, the lessons of any well run sports franchise -- might apply to the radio industry.

1. Cut extraneous salary (whoa! Don't get excited. I haven't crossed over to the other side). Rebuilding takes deciding who and what you want to spend your money on and if a person does not fit into your plans let them go, but reinvest that (and more) when you re-stock your team with star players.

2. Look for role players. The Flyers this year had to improve their defense and scoring. Last year they fixed their goaltending. Isolate the players you need. Are you spending too much on your morning show for the ratings and income return on investment? Not enough? Isolate what you are looking for and redeploy the funds. Try to fill as many of the key positions you need with an impact player or a player with growth potential. All this applies to radio.

3. Reward loyalty. The Flyers organIzation (as it is pronounced in Canada) is as loyal to its former stars as many of their players were loyal to them. When present coach John Stevens was hit in the eye with a puck and suffered severe vision loss as a player, he was immediately told by then GM Bob Clarke that he would have a job with the organization from then on. Contrast this to radio where operators fire employees who have cancer or other problems. (I'll tell you more about the latest cancer victim fired while undergoing treatment in a future piece). Loyalty breeds winners.

4. Choose a leader who fits your players. Nothing is worse than assembling a group of talented people and then injecting a GM or PD or GSM who doesn't hold the keys to unlock the talent. This happens all the time in radio. In fact, during the rampant cost cutting created by consolidation, mismatching management with talent has become commonplace. The Flyers now have a less authoritarian coach then Ken Hitchcock -- a Stanley Cup championship coach who they fired last year -- because their young players couldn't relate to his "my way or the highway style".

5. Work ethic is both inherited and taught. I used to tell my kids when the Flyers were losing that "Flyers never give up". Of course, I have some of the same traits. So do they. My son has built the number one AV publication ( through brains and hard work. Hanging in when things get tough is something money can't buy. I used to wonder how all the 4.0 graduates of my college never amounted to anything -- they are so smart. Fortune Magazine did a survey a number of years ago and found that the average grade point average of a Fortune 500 CEO was C+! When I owned Inside Radio and worked into the evening on Friday nights, I used to joke that while my competitors in LA are having cocktails I am outworking them in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Obviously, it paid off.

6. Crave competition. In radio these past few years, people sound like they are defeated. Just because their bosses have gotten them into this fine mess doesn't mean that they can't fight on. Okay, here it comes. The hockey and fighting analogies. Hockey teams -- especially the Flyers -- can also play rough (playing dirty is another thing and it isn't good). In radio take on the competition (which is not satellite, but the digital world in which radio has a weak presence). Hockey is a great example. Play hard. Defend your turf and your team. Play smart. Don't allow anyone or anything to push you around. And for goodness sakes stop talking about hanging on for a few more years until your kids are out of college or you can retire. Playing tough does not make you a poor sport. In fact, it's the opposite. After each playoff series -- usually hard fought and physical -- hockey players line up and shake the hands of their competitors. They respect them.

In hockey you need skill, finesse, instincts, good conditioning and a work ethic.

In radio this would be the definition of a come from behind victory and we're in the final period.

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