Who Is the Mr. Burns of Radio?

C. Montgomery Burns is – according to The Simpson’s website – the richest man in the mythical town of Springfield.

He has a monopoly on the Nuclear Power Plant.

He controls local elections.

He built “a contraption large enough to block out the sun and plunge the town into complete darkness”.

Mr. Burns is “more misunderstood than evil”.

Sounds like some people at the helm of powerful radio companies to me.

And it begs the question who is the Monty Burns of radio?

Able to monopolize their business. Able to control Congress, the FCC and to some extent the DOJ. Big enough to build a platform large enough to block out daylight for the smaller operators who live in their shadow.

Is it Citadel CEO Farid Suleman?

Let’s do the litmus test.

He can’t really monopolize the business, but he does have some impressive stations he purchased from ABC – a company that sure gave new meaning to the concept of timing is everything based on their sale to Citadel.

Farid Suleman has power, but he can’t control Congress alone – just doesn’t own enough stations. However, like Mr. Burns, he can block the daylight out of his employees future by operating stations on his bean counter theory that “Even Less Is More” – which one ups Clear Channel’s “Less Is More” strategy.

No – Farid may be heartless. He may be in over his head. He may be chummy with the board of directors, but he’s no Mr. Burns.

What about Clear Channel?

Certainly Clear Channel is big enough to monopolize the business and set the standard on Wall Street (as low as that standard has been lately for radio stocks). Clear Channel not only has great influence in Congress, they devote staff and revenue to trying to influence lawmakers.

Clear Channel is certainly big enough to block out the sun and rain on everyone else’s parade at the same time.

Sounds like the right company, but who is Mr. Burns?

Lowry, Mark or Randall?

And if one of this trio is Mr. Burns, does that make their assistant, John Hogan, Smithers?

Just asking.

Alright I am having a little fun here, but on the serious side what have the advantages of power, privilege and ownership done for Clear Channel – or for that matter any other major radio consolidator?

It’s not lost on some of us that radio consolidators have been granted unprecedented advantages – even a near monopoly – and they have managed to do worse for having a leg up on everyone else.

Maybe disadvantages are better than advantages in radio.

You know, the one owner who can barely afford to own four stations and loses money perennially, but serves the community and subsidizes any losses with revenue from other businesses.

Or cost overruns caused by hiring live talent, one program director per format, paying sales commissions and expenses and dare I say – spending money on audience promotion!

Maybe only owning a few stations made all of radio better – more diverse, more bullet proof.

After all, these so-called mom and pop operators who sold their stations to the consolidators got the better end of the deal now, didn’t they?

They got their money off the table at the top of the market?

And whose stock is selling for little more than $1 a share.

Actually, now that I think about it – I am doing a disservice to Monty Burns.

At least he is able to make a big profit.

Who in radio can make that statement today in spite of every advantage they could have every dreamed of?

Imagine if the real advantage had been leadership and not just monoply.

Radio, then, might be part of the solution to the record industry's ills not part of the problem.

Radio might be ready to annex new media instead of having its fate become a prisoner of new technology.

Radio might also be synonymous with mobile and cellphone content not just entertainment in a car.

At least Mr. Burns knew how to run a local nuclear power plant -- a lesson radio broadcasters should heed.

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