Clear Channel Locks Up Programmers

When I saw the headline "Clear Channel Locks Up Programmers" in Inside Radio's afternoon email yesterday, I'd be lying if I told you I didn't say, "oh, shit".

It sounded like "Hogan Gone Wild" to me. It's not bad enough to underpay, under budget and under appreciate their employees but now he's throwing them in jail?

Well actually, all kidding aside, I like what Clear Channel Radio President John Hogan is doing on this issue in principle. It's a beginning. He deserves some credit for starting somewhere because the other radio groups aren't even trying to do multi-year deals with their people. It's true Clear Channel is still firing people, but all the groups are doing that, too.

In case you missed it, Clear Channel signed long-term contracts with Alfredo Alonso, Darren Davis, Clay Hunnicutt, Phil Hunt, Tom Owens, Tom Poleman, Gene Romano and Alan Sledge -- what Hogan considers his senior programming team.

That's a good thing and since Clear Channel is often the industry leader -- for better or for worse -- this is a move that has the potential for being for the better and may be worth emulating.

But if you want to go one better, consider this:

1. Now sign your best program directors in local markets to long-term deals so they stay with you and can help make the transition from terrestrial radio to the digital beyond. These programmers may not be the "yes" men you want, but they are the fiduciaries of the format and the license. In years gone by, radio stations that had long tenures were programmed by one or two PDs over the life span of a successful format. There is a reason for that. That's where studying history could be very timely today.

2. Give them an adequate budget to employ live personalities at least 85% of the time and always from 5 am until 12 midnight. It doesn't matter how good the PD is that you have locked into a long-term deal if he or she doesn't have the budget to compete with other stations and new media.

3. Eliminate regional program directors. They stifle creativity and cause more problems than benefits accrued. If you trust the local program director, judge him or her on whether they accomplish the goals you have in mind (more later). If they put the license in jeopardy (which very rarely happens), you have your remedies. Otherwise, trust them and leave them alone to program. I love the programmer John Sebastian. He's his own man. A brilliant program director and he refuses to compromise on quality. He's paid the price for it along the way in his career but if you had a station to turn around -- and you could manage to leave him alone -- his record is consistent in getting the job done. There are lots more of these passionate PDs around but the control freaks running radio groups need a level of hand holding called regional PDs.

4. All music should be determined by the PD you just signed to that long-term deal at each crucial station. It's ludicrous to make music decisions anywhere other than right in the market.

5. While you're paying your lawyers to write contracts, allow these PDs you're signing to also lock in their morning talent where applicable. The mornings are the best part of the station -- at least for revenue. If the morning team gets ratings over the long haul, tie them up and make them a fixture. It's cheaper in the long run. The current panic strategy by group owners to fire morning jocks because they make too much money is stupid. I can't tell you the number of readers who have told me they got fired right after the ratings came out -- and they were number one in the book! (See how these CEO make radio worth less than $1 a share?)

6. Make sure you have 20% of your programming budget allocated for digital media. Let me be clear (as they say in politics). Not money to repurpose the morning show or run a web site with your dj's pictures on it. This is money to start your second business (or dare I say second revenue stream) -- new podcasting content, new Internet streams, new merchandising revenue strategies. (I have some current and former radio personalities as clients who have asked me for help developing a place in podcasting. If they know radio won't last forever, what's a radio CEO's excuse?).

7. I've mentioned it before, but this is as good a time as any to reiterate it. Make that contract include a yearly goal sheet that corporate and the PD must sign to continue the relationship. One sheet of paper. Company puts down the goals. Let's say 25% increase in 25-54 listeners. Morning show improvement of 10% audience and 20% revenue. But you must also include a line with the budget number. The PD must work within that budget if he or she puts their name on the goal sheet. Include a line that says when the year is up, management will review the PD's performance. This way everyone is on the same page. Giving a PD a station to program without a stated budget is like giving a US Airways pilot directions to fly to Philadelphia without a flight plan, money for fuel and help. (What? They do that already? Bad example. You know what I mean).

Look, there's a lot of stuff John Hogan has done that I plainly don't like.

Hogan is on the right track by locking up key personnel.

Now he has to use the long-term contract concept to retain those other than senior people.

You can tell me I'm all wet (I've heard it before), but I called this baby right back in 1996 and I believe I see where it is heading in the future.

Sound, local terrestrial radio -- not cheap programming to save money -- as long as terrestrial radio can attract available, older listeners.

Internet streaming -- a scary thought to the broadcasting industry that is apparently sitting this one out.

Mobile content and podcasting -- the new radio.

It's inevitable. Just look at the generation that is coming of age.

For those of you who would prefer to get Jerry's daily posts by email for free, please click here. IMPORTANT: First you must check your mail or spam filter to verify your subscription immediately after signing up before daily service can begin.

Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.