Let the Firings Begin

The bane of Lee and Bain!

According to the dictionary the word bane means "a cause of great distress or annoyance". That being said, the word Bain as in Lee and Bain, the investment bankers who will make Clear Channel's privatization possible is firings -- massive firings.

Ten in Los Angeles alone last week.

What better time for consolidators that can't get their share price up like Clear Channel to pink slip people than right before Christmas. Families love to have their breadwinners come home and say, "honey, I shrunk our incomes".

You might think it harsh for me to blame Lee and Bain for these actions since they just entered the picture albeit it enabling the Clear Channel deal, but they did recently express public confidence in the present Clear Channel management team including John Hogan. One thing is true of suits -- empty or not -- they usually don't do what their future bosses would disapprove of.

So, game on.

Let the firings begin.

Here's a glimpse of the decimation of radio 2008 according to John Rook's excellent site (click and scroll down to "Radio Games -- 'Tis the Season to Be...) or this account from one of my favorite radio websites Don Barrett's LARadio.com:
10 Clear Channel Personalities Exit

(November 30, 2007) It was a tough day for the people at KOST in particular and Clear Channel in general. Mike Sakellarides has been the only midday personality since the inception of the KOST format in 1982. Today was his last day on the air as the AC station makes significant adjustments to its on-air line-up. This morning we announced that Kim Amidon, half of the long-running Mark & Kim team, exited the station.

A familiar voice in morning and afternoon drive with airborne traffic reports has been Mike Nolan. Mike has been grounded and exits the station.

KOST promotion director, Julie Kertes, also left the station today.

At HOT 92.3/fm, middayer Sean Andre will exit the r&b Oldies station.

At AirWatch, the news and traffic service owned by Clear Channel, let go Mike Baez (Taylor), Barbara Brooks, Jim Curran, Walt Darocha (Jackson), Alan LaGreen, and Sharon Reardon.

On Monday, details to these changes, the philosophical shift to multi-platforms to complement the programming, and perspective from Greg Ashlock, market chief from Clear Channel.
It's been getting ugly out there as Clear Channel has been nipping and tucking. I can't imagine this is going to get any better.

I'm not a Pollyanna. I know radio consolidators have to cut costs --- after all, they have to try to bury their mistakes in the bottom line. But what we're going to see in the year ahead if I am calling it right is radio stepping beyond the point of no return.

I've long been a critic of the so called efficiencies of consolidation. After the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed, consolidators couldn't wait to have everyone in one building, one PD for several stations in each market where possible, one market manager who could double running a station or two to save on high-priced GMs at every station, one group sales whatever and even one receptionist (if they even had one).

But radio consolidators have not been able to come up with one improvement in their programming in the past ten years.

No innovation.

Nothing to keep listeners listening or to attract the next generation of radio listeners. Instead, why not attack the Arbitron People Meter in front of the very media buyers who they have to rely on for revenue and knock it down a peg or two?

Sound sick?

Not in the world of radio consolidation.

So, we have seen the future and it is (as I have said in recent pieces) syndicated morning shows, vanilla voice tracks in one or more dayparts and on weekends and as few real people on the payroll as possible.

No growth company can win without real people.

Google is dominant in its field because it hires as many good people as possible and, by the way, is reported to be a great employer.

Apple is taking over the world not by making headlines with cutbacks, but by staffing up with qualified people.

New age companies like Facebook aren't taking over the next generation by employing efficiencies of scale. People are the resources needed for success -- not chips, not cutbacks, not duplication of jobs.

The losers cutback.

They can't make their numbers without a little help from their corporate bean counter friends. They under-employ, let solid winners get away and actually think they can entertain people, make advertisers happy and do more for less. And every once in a while they save a few insignificant pennies by cutting the employee salary of a cancer patient while publicly saying they are holding his job.

This mentality doesn't work.

That is, of course, unless their game plan is to trim costs and resell the assets they just purchased for billions for an even greater price than they paid.

Isn't that what investment bankers do? They profit.

The tragedy of radio consolidation is that it was the exact worst solution at the exact worst time in the media business when online was coming of age and a new generation larger than baby boomers was being neglected.

I should be giving my condolences to all the radio people fired so far in the name of corporate incompetency and insensitivity. I do feel awful for these fine folks and their families especially at this time of the year. But they will get through this and move on to new horizons where content, management and sales talent will be appreciated and rewarded -- in new media, perhaps.

Consolidators, on the other hand, should enjoy their holidays with the knowledge that they continue to reap financial rewards for failure under a system passed by your Congress, espoused by your NAB and supported by investment dollars from banking firms that sometimes have to be bailed out from their own poor decisions (witness sub prime woes and the coming hedge fund debacle).

If you ever wonder why I have a hard time being optimistic about the future of terrestrial radio it is not because the talented radio executives can't figure out the problems they face. It's because as I said over ten years ago -- consolidation doesn't work. The system is rigged against success except for the principals.

And for those of you who are fond of saying that even the non-public and smaller radio groups are laying off people as well, I say -- look to your leaders and see what they are doing.

See you here a year from today Good Lord willing and I'll bet radio stocks will still be in the toilet which means that while the program directors are getting ratings through antiquated listener diaries, consolidators are getting their ratings from another kind of "People Meter".

It's called the stock market.

When your ratings are down on the stock market, it means potential investors don't think investing in your company builds shareholder value.

If any of these consolidators' program directors delivered such poor numbers for radio listening -- wouldn't it be grounds for firing?

Just asking.

So let the firings begin, but start in San Antonio and other corporate offices where mismanagement has wrecked lives, devalued talented people and stiffed the shareholders who were led to believe radio was a growth industry.

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