Radio One Dollar

Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins doesn’t understand how his stock has plummeted to below one dollar a share.

While’s he’s pondering that question, he has accepted a bonus, a nice salary and it's business as usual – for him.

Many radio people are wondering how a once mighty business can fall this far with so many talented and capable people still on the payroll of the major broadcast companies.

Radio One Dollar is not alone.

You know about Citadel – or should we call it Cita-Sell -- where a $1.50 a share stock earns its CEO Farid Suleman $11 million a year. By contrast, Radio One Dollar shareholders are getting a real bargain.

Do I even have to mention Clear Channel – the largest consolidator and biggest trendsetter for the radio industry? Papa Mays and his two sons have been escaping with large compensation packages for many years. Their shareholders must be scared to death. The share price only trades at the mid to upper $20 price because greedy Wall Street money people and investors want to make a quick buck. But if the Lee and Bain deal doesn’t get done, Clear Channel shares will take a further dive and it will be ugly in San Antonio.

And don’t worry. The Clear Channel management team -- very concerned about security issues hired consultants to tell them that the Mays family needs to fly private. So what else is new?

These three companies are not alone in their you-not-us cutbacks. But they represent the companies most blatantly spitting in the faces of the employees they have fired or even retained on a shoestring – not to mention the almighty shareholders.

I have little sympathy for the shareholders who let these guys get away with murder and have failed to demand better corporate financial compensation oversight.

So how do major broadcast entities – loaded with free cash flow potential – manage to scrape up the bottom with poor performance and clueless answers for how to turn it around?

That’s what is so frustrating – it’s all needless.

Even if you don’t like consolidation – and I never have and never will – it didn’t have to turn out like this.

Take Chancellor, the company that was once run by Jimmy de Castro that later morphed into AM/FM before it wound up as collateral damage for Clear Channel.

I know. I know. It was a different time. Things were better. Radio had less competition. It still had young listeners. The record industry was still vital and Steve Jobs hadn’t developed his killer app – the iPod.


Study de Castro. His New York market stations could drop a fortune on a party – one party – for advertisers and no one questioned it as long as they performed. And did they.

Try that today and Farid, Al or the Mays would have your head. It wouldn’t be prudent – unless that money went into NetJets and inflated fuel charges.

Another quality missing in many radio operators today is motivation. I always said de Castro was the Tony Robbins of radio. He was so charismatic you could understand why his managers worked so hard to deliver. Hell, even when I had differences of opinion with Jimmy – and I did – I still liked the guy.

The ability to spend your own budgets.

Someone who believes in you and makes you want to kill for them.

How about foresight?

Don’t you like to work for someone who is up on technology? I hate to mention de Castro again – but – he was one of the first radio execs I know who carried a Blackberry.

Jimmy’s wasn’t the only one who knew what he is doing.

Randy Michaels was as good a competitive programmer as existed back then. He made Jacor what it was on the back of loyalty, aggressive marketing and programming.

Mel Karmazin is another guy I liked. His bean counter, Farid Suleman, should have learned more working by his side at Infinity for all those years. Mel may have thrown nickels around like manhole covers but even today I get emails from his former programmers who say Mel is no Farid when it comes to giving programmers what they need. Of course, Farid is no Mel, either.

Emmis is a radio group paying a horrible price for being good in a bad industry. We forget Rick Cummings was the architect of the Power brand that sustains the company to this day and his boss Jeff Smulyan is one of the most people-friendly operators there is. Jeff tried to buy back his public company and take it private – the right thing to do. Shareholders prevented him in an ugly public fight. The wrong thing to do. Smulyan was acting in their interest. Check the Emmis share price today.

As much as I dislike consolidation, even I will admit that consolidation alone did not bring the radio industry to its knees.

The people who took the groups private did – and they are all still securely in their jobs while the talent around them is paying for their incompetence.

What if the Mays family didn’t didn't grow Clear Channel into an 1,100 station behemoth – what if Smulyan did? Who could argue that the Evil Empire would at least not be that evil and Emmis might have done a better job.

What if the Mays boys had chosen Jimmy de Castro to run radio – even though they surely felt the hot breath of Jacor’s Sam Zell down their backs before Zell agreed to the merger and assured the appointment of his man, Randy Michaels.

Okay, what if Clear Channel kept Michaels in charge instead of elevating John Hogan back in 2002? Is there anyone who would argue that Hogan couldn’t carry Randy’s Blackberry?

Then Joel Hollander at CBS – the wrong man for the big job. Les Moonves fixed that with his skillful hiring of a good radio man – Dan Mason. But still, Mason is still cleaning up the mess and a lot of time, good will and money has been lost.

Entercom is a closely held company of the Field family and it hasn’t really met or advanced the fate of radio under its control.

What if Michael Eisner bought stations instead of passing on consolidation? It’s hard to argue that Disney was not a better operator than Citadel or a lot of other big radio companies.

What if some of the smaller groups got to buy ten or 20 more significant properties that instead wound up in the Clear Channel or CBS portfolio?

What if. What if. What if.

So perhaps the reason we have a Radio One Dollar and a Cita-Sell today is because the fathers of radio’s consolidation movement were not and still are not ready for prime time.

A new day is coming for the media business, but it is not coming for radio until new blood deals with the harsh reality of 12 years of mismanagement and lack of leadership.

That’s the only cure – not cutbacks. Cutbacks are the excuses of CEOs who don’t have what it takes to compete in today’s world.

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