The Mourning Radio Show

Lost in all the cutbacks, firings and cost adjustments that consolidators have been making the last few months is the demise of the morning radio show.

The morning slot is responsible for up to 50% of a radio station's total revenue yet that apparently means nothing to consolidators desperate to make their latest poor quarter look a little better.

Clear Channel is the leader in dismantling morning shows but CBS is not far behind. They are the biggest, but they're not alone. Other operators are no better -- the morning show is no longer sacred.

We've seen morning teams divided in half -- one half left to create all the magic.

Able and consistent personalities let go because -- well, they make too much money. No, they don't make too much money. They don't make enough as the consolidators will find out when they shoot themselves in the foot one more time.

But this time, there will be no hiding. Radio has been neutered during the course of consolidation to please Wall Street money people -- you know, the bottom line. These operators are either insane or have a death wish for their stations by cutting into the morning shows that bring them the lion's share of billing.

Radio is becoming a commodity not a profit center because the execs making the decisions are making decisions that cut profitability -- as their stockholders have discovered. In the alternative, why not just become a commodity?

What's fascinating about this latest move is that it is a real indicator of how clueless radio executives have become.

You don't grow a business by cutting back. Look at any growth business. Cutbacks just make losses look better.

You don't fire your quarterback because you can pay a cheaper one to do the same thing. Any team that has ever tried it, got what was to be expected -- nothing.

Radio is in need of morning shows and personalities -- something to distinguish them from iPods or jukeboxes. Recently when I wrote that my USC students suggested more personalities in all dayparts to win them back, some readers shot that down with comments about how personalities like Rick Dees in LA have a one-share. So much for personalities, they intimated.

But radio has some excellent personalities still on the air and, increasingly, some of whom who are unemployed. What it doesn't have is owners who are of the same caliber. Promotion is anemic. TV advertising non-existent. Promotional money -- sparse if it exists at all. Producers and content providers a vanishing breed. When guys like Bill Gardner are out of work -- due to his firing by CBS at KOOL-FM in Phoenix -- something is seriously wrong. The man does a clean family show, is consistently entertaining and oh yes, gets ratings.

Gardner is not alone. Unfortunately there are too many talented radio people under or unemployed who could add some personality back to radio.

But never mind, who needs ratings? We need cutbacks, right? Short-term diversions to cover up inept leadership by all consolidators and by many smaller operators who are tantamount to lemmings.

Radio should be developing personalities not dismissing them. Hell, there isn't even a minor league for big market personalities any more.

The next generation, by the way, has it right if the sentiment expressed by my students is representative of the greater demographic. Listen to them. You need personalities in the morning, midday, afternoons, evening and all-night. Yes, all-night. Radio was once famous for all-night personalities. Need I name them all?

And since the industry is hell bent to get rid of the proven ones, don't get the idea that cranking out controversial "morning zoos", Howard Stern imitations or Don Imus clones is what I'm talking about.

That train has left the station.

Most young people don't know who Imus is and would never think his nappy headed ho comment was funny. They already know talking about breasts and sex on the air is very 70's -- remember how the FCC looked the other way while Stern titillated the audience. No more. Stern is radio's version of "pay per view" and Imus is an accident waiting to happen again.

And being famous doesn't impress them. Entertainment does. Being an authority on something or being funny or being real -- things we in radio have either forgotten or have lost sight of while we're cutting off our ratings and profit lifeline.

It appears the radio big boys -- who with every misguided new move are dismantling what used to be a pretty good business -- have decided their necks are more important than the industry's well being.

There is no excuse for such a tactical mistake.

In its glory days radio stations knew that without a morning show, they were a mid-chart also-ran.

As the consolidators will find out, today is no different.

The once mighty morning show is dying and radio's available listeners will mourn its demise and a generation that never got to hear talent developed for its tastes will be cheated.

No wonder they think radio sucks.

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