Hey Feds, Bail Out Radio and Records Next

The government, in what may end up as a one trillion dollar bailout of the banking and mortgage industries, is fast discovering what we in the radio and record label business could have told them a long time.

If only we had listened to ourselves.

Sometimes you need regulation.

Isn't it so -- well, swell that both the Democrats and Republicans are working their buns off this week to cooperate with the president to save the American economy. Or, is it to save their own butts politically? Whatever. They're working together -- there's a headline.

So taxpayers will eventually ante up the rescue funds and the debate will be over whether big government should be on our backs to more closely regulate certain things. (Don't write to me to argue politics, I'm not trying to change anyone's political affiliation). Remember when getting government off our backs was the big mantra carried by talk radio? Now, even John McCain sounds like a regulator and Barack Obama sounds like he's on board the legislative bailout love train.

The auto industry is next on the dole -- again. They need to be rescued from their mismanagement. Radio folks are no doubt in favor of that rescue mission because the auto industry is a big part of the radio industry.

Why not radio and records next?

Radio is as mismanaged as any other industry.

I mean, 235 million people listen to free radio in this country every week. NAB Chairman David Rehr just got finished telling the faithful at his lobby group's Austin convention that we need to be less negative so I'd like to take his challenge and propose the following --

A federal bailout of the radio business and their partners -- the record labels.

You see, radio CEOs have worked darn hard to build shareholder value and everything is against them. The economy. The so-called regulators (for not allowing further deregulation). The Wall Street banks -- the ones they must repay their over leveraged debt to. Damn. Being a radio CEO or a record label exec must be a bitch these days. It's never their fault when things go to hell -- that alone should qualify them for a handout.

Westwood One is living up to its name in terms of shareholder value -- one. Actually closer to 50 cents.

Citadel just saw the Grim Reaper last week when a letter arrived from the SEC that put them on notice for delisting unless they are able to get their stock up over the $1 mark in the next six months. CDL closed at 75 cents Friday.

Regent and Radio One have received similar letters. Regent closed at 90 cents and Radio One at $1.29.

Sirius XM finished at exactly $1 -- up five cents Friday. (It seems satellite radio stocks had the most growth before they launched a satellite and actually started operating. Wall Street loves a future).

That's the real bad news. But even the good news on Wall Street for radio stocks is bad.

Emmis and a handful of others are worth less than $2 a share.

Warner Records closed at $8.60.

There's no big performer in the record business and there are only four major labels.

You get the point.

What's so nice about government bailouts is that it kind of rewards the culprits that have been running footloose and fancy free until they got in trouble. That sounds like radio and records to me, too. Now I know that when the government saves the banking industry it is for the common good of the middle class American, right? At least that's what CNN and Fox tell us. So, my proposed bailout wouldn't pass that litmus test.

But, stay with me.

If that next emergency happens on Main Street USA -- say a freight train derails and spills toxic fumes into the air -- and there is no radio station to provide news and safety information to the public, isn't that a bad thing? My proposed radio rescue would take care of all that because there would be someone there to keep an eye on licensees who are not operating in the public interest.

Oh, wait -- isn't that the job of the FCC. Sorry.

Okay, I'll admit it. My bailout is to help my friends who are in over their heads right now trying to run local radio on Wall Street principles. I just want to help my friends.

There, I admitted it.

Because it's embarrassing to see these once proud radio CEOs looking so clueless. Acting so desperate that they have to fire good people at the one time they need them the most.

Oh, one more thing.

The Mayses were bailed out by Lee and Bain -- and just in the nick of time, by the way. See, the government didn't have to rescue the Mayses from the embarrassment of leading the radio industry into the doldrums. Okay, maybe Lee and Bain couldn't do that either, but they sure write a mean profits check.

And our brethren at the record labels are like "See No Evil and Hear No Evil" -- they just keep cashing their checks and working out their lucrative employment contracts while they try to get consumers (and shareholders) to believe that there actually is a future in selling $15 a month subscriptions for recorded music.

You get the message. I kid the folks in the record and radio industries.

But there is a real sobering message here and Goldilocks had it right. Yes, Goldilocks.

You remember Goldilocks where every member of the bear family has their own unique chair, porridge, and bed, which have unique characteristics. The exact adjectives differ from story to story, but generally the father and mother's beds and chairs are "too hard" and "too soft" and their porridge's are "too hot" and "too cold", with the baby bear's porridge, chair, and bed being "just right".

Well, the record industry is too soft --cushy jobs to powerful executives who don't have the slightest clue about the next generation.

The radio industry is too hard -- the not-ready-for-primetime radio CEOs used to be just like the rest of us until they sold their souls to Wall Street. Now, every last one of them is bankrupt of ideas and finding the rigors of managing terrestrial radio at dawn of the digital age too difficult for them.

The answer is "just right".

Just enough oversite to keep the government off our backs while not defaulting on the responsibility to keep them honest for consumers and advertisers.

Just the right amount of regulation to keep greedy people from continuing to screw up two great industries while the digital age passes them by.

Balance could have prevented the mortgage and credit crisis and as a matter of fact would have prevented irresponsible media consolidation that eventually led to the inability to operate radio and record label assets even with a virtual monopoly.

Imagine that -- how could these two industries screw up when they owned every advantage.

Aah. Maybe that's it.

Owning every advantage turned out not to be an advantage after all.

More competition -- local and from the ground up -- might have made all the difference in the world.

Too much power in the hands of too few was and is the problem. The fix is -- close the executive suite and run radio stations and record labels from the street.

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