Fighting The Evil Empires

Clear Channel used to be the one and only Evil Empire.

I didn't give them that name.

I believe Eric Boehlert of Salon came up with the greatest description of a ruthless company that doesn't -- in my opinion -- care for its audience or its personnel.

But today there are even more Evil Empires.

Citadel is one of them.

Radio One could be another.

If enough people have been screwed (and I'm including shareholders, now) then fill in the blank for your favorite nominee for Evil Empire.

As some of you know, my dealings with the original Evil Empire resulted from irritating them with news accounts that didn't make them look -- well, competent and honorable. They blamed me. Attacked my credibility. And threatened me for a while.

One day -- just before Thanksgiving as I remember it -- not too long after the turn of the new century, I was served with a $100 million lawsuit.

Randy Michaels who was chief sorcerer at the time even hit me with a RICO action which was promptly dismissed. I thought, who was calling whom a racketeer? The intimidation was heavy. A lawsuit was initiated. As I recollect, they were not interested in settling our differences out of court at first so I filed a $125 million counter suit.

Without boring you with the details (which have been written about extensively and are in the public domain) this group played hardball with me and I defended myself. Eventually they bought my company and each party's actions suddenly went away. So did I. I was restricted from working in certain areas of radio for four years which is how I was blessed to get the sabbatical I enjoyed by teaching at USC.

Little did I know that the company that was going down because it couldn't adapt to the future made it possible for me to work with the next generation and know with certainty why today's traditional media business is destined to fail on its present course.

That's my story -- in brief. I see there are two new books out about Clear Channel -- one authorized and one not. Pay for them if you must. You know the story already -- perhaps too well. It isn't a pretty one.

This got me to thinking how the average person -- screwed and tattooed by the growing number of Evil Empires in radio -- could actually fight back.

Litigation is out.

That's what these people do best. I don't recommend that playing field unless they come after you first. Then, perhaps you'd have to do like I did. Sell my house (in New Jersey) and keep the one in sunny Scottsdale (thank you, Clear Channel). After all, the lawyers must get paid.

Arbitration is a waste. Even when the arbitrator rules in your favor -- if you're lucky -- it's like kissing your sister.

Then, where to look?

I have always admired the way PETA -- People For Ethical Treatment of Animals -- do things.

Back when I was writing Inside Radio I covered the controversy surrounding Bubba The Love Sponge (Todd Clemm) as he castrated and then slaughtered a wild pig and held a testicle eating contest on the Clear Channel station in Tampa. He was suspended but what brought the station to its knees was a beautifully orchestrated boycott of advertisers -- 32 in all.

Talk about castration -- their billing was cut right below the waist by this group of activists who would not be denied.

Howard Stern always got away with a lot on the air but he couldn't kid about the death of Mexican singing star Selena right after her death. A boycott was organized and he eventually had to apologize.

That's it -- boycotts, actions. Publicizing the evil for all to see.

When radio employees get screwed, a powerful option is to organize a boycott against the company and the local station.

1. If the news staff is eliminated, take it to the public and warn what will happen the next time a major catastrophe happens. Sooner or later it will.

2. Get with labor unions nationally and locally and countdown the jobs lost between say, the start of consolidation until now. Print it in the paper. Put it online. Have the labor unions help you enlist support in getting advertisers to boycott companies that are killing local radio.

3. The unions are the most powerful route to your legislators who also have a voice. They can make life very hard for radio owners as they may yet do by requiring them to have human beings on site in case of emergencies (imagine that!). This comes from the Clear Channel Minot, ND debacle a number of years ago. Clear Channel wasn't quite guilty of everything that has been alleged, but still public opinion is powerful and now all owners may have to pay the price for that bad publicity.

4. Firing radio people with cancer or illness -- and I have heard too many of these cases over the years -- means taking the stories to the newspapers, bloggers, websites and, yes, local TV stations. What a human interest story. Let these companies feel their own pain.

5. Target the radio stations local and national advertisers with petitions and threats not to buy products or services. Ask PETA how well this works. Keep the list on a website. Send it along to local newspapers. Some of you may argue that hurting the radio business at a time when radio business is hurting is bad business -- that it doesn't help the survivors. Well, survivors of radio Evil Empires is just another word for tomorrow's casualties. The line has to be drawn somewhere.

6. Buy a share of your radio group's stock if you don't already own it (I hear its real cheap these days) and go to the annual meetings en mass. Raise a stink. Put the CEOs on the spot and don't relent. Imagine this, "Mr. Liggins, please name five reasons why you deserve a retroactive raise when Radio One stock has tanked to $1.07." Or, "Tell me, Mr. Suleman, why you make $11 million a year when our value is close to being a penny stock?" And add, "why must Citadel pay your taxes every year?"

This is not for everyone, I know.

So, never mind any of this if bringing these companies to their knees is not a burning issue with you. Maybe just getting away from them is enough. That's fine.

But for those who want a chance to morph radio into new media, either speak up or continue to watch the carnage. The present crop of "leaders" don't get it.

They say that once you've have had a near death experience you don't fear death anymore.

After my near death experience at the hands of Clear Channel, I know no fear except the concern that the good people (and many friends) at suffering radio companies may be next.

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