I've Got Radio's Rescue Plan Right Here

If Congress were to rescue the radio industry, it would demand something back in return. Hey, even the failed banks and mortgage companies are going to have to give things up to qualify for the bailout.

It's unthinkable that Congress -- a body that also rescued the auto industry in the same week it poured billions into the financial meltdown -- would be interested in saving radio.

So, let's think about it. Assume these failed radio groups get bailed out ("where's our bailout" said the Lehman Brothers CEO).

I've got radio's rescue plan right here:

1. Put a spending freeze on radio CEOs salaries effectively immediately. Boards of directors should grow a pair and require executive compensation to be tied to shareholder value. Translated, this means if Citadel's stock is selling for 52 cents (which it is) then Farid Suleman's salary should be reduced from $11 million a year (which it is) to, say, $1 million. Fair enough? Oh, and let him pay his own taxes like everyone else (which he doesn't -- the company does).

2. Forget Freddie Mac, look to Jimmy Mack. Martha and the Vandellas could program a troubled radio station better than a meddling CEO. Or, let a program director who knows who Martha & the Vandellas are make those decisions. Fine print: only certified PDs get to make content decisions. If they take the bailout money CEOs will have to play with their iTunes if they want to program radio.

3. Accept some regulation. No more getting government off their backs. The FCC and Congress are going to look closely at their investment (remember, we're assuming they are going to bailout the failed radio industry). You'll have to accept having real live people at local stations to do what real live people are supposed to be doing. From now on you'll have to ascertain community needs. You'll have to compete to keep your licenses. Sorry, if you don't like it -- we're not bailing you out.

4. The government takes an 80% stake in your companies -- that way the taxpayers make some money on this bailout should the stock prices ever rebound. Ready to give that up? And, since government now has a stake in your business, they get to appoint more minorities and women to run things. Gone are the days when only white men run big communications companies.

5. Congress will mandate that at least 20% of what each bailed out radio group spends annually must be spent on developing new media. This will be overseen by a non-partial watch dog -- say, Jerry Del Colliano who is a personal friend of Barack Obama who could be the next president. (Sorry, this Washington stuff got away from me for a moment). But you get the idea -- no more burying your head in terrestrial towers and transmitters. Uncle Sam doesn't want anything to do with a company so backward that it has no real investment in the digital future.

6. Stop with the HD radio stuff already. This is your government speaking. Want cash, stop wasting yours. Uncle Sam suggests donating all your HD radio equipment to China and pray that they try to use it. At least its early enough in their post industrial age development to make a difference there.

7. Each group CEO has to answer questions in front of both the House and Senate committees overseeing bailouts (obviously, I see this as a big government category going forward). That means even my old buddy Farid has to sit there and be held accountable to someone on a regular basis -- not just Wall Street analysts. May I ask the first question while failed Lehman CEO Richard Fuld, Jr. is still fresh in my mind? "Mr, Suleman, do you think you were overcompensated looking back on the decline in Citadel stock?" If he answers yes, cuff him and book him for murder one -- that is, of Citadel stock.

Obviously I could go on -- and my readers probably will, but the point is that if radio were to be bailed out (which it won't) from its own mismanagement (which it has) there would be some accountability demanded by Congress before they turned over the bucks (which they won't anyway -- so don't worry).

So, even though this pipe dream scenario will never come true, why not adopt these seven points in spirit anyway and start with radio boards of directors, local attorneys general (where applicable) and the federal government which nominally, anyway, oversees its licensees.

Wouldn't the radio industry be a better place with some accountability and oversight?

I did an interview with Marc Germain on his excellent Internet radio show last night on radio and the future. Click to hear it.

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