If Radio Presidents Were Elected by Employees

I got to thinking the other day that if radio presidents were elected by their own employees rather than anointed, you would see change and reform like you've never seen before.

I know what you're thinking.

Radio presidents (often also known as CEOs) are elected.

Yes, by their boards of directors -- a sorry conglomeration of special interest members who have so much integrity that they keep rubber stamping the regimes of chief officers who steadily deliver share prices below -- one dollar.

That's not what I had in mind.

What would happen if radio CEOs were elected by their employees?

I'm just kidding here -- I think.

For sure, you'd see an end to the firings and if they had to fire more people, radio presidents would do what politicians do -- make the unpopular move in the middle of their term. Of course in radio, firing people is relatively easy since there are no consequences for the firer.

I thought it would be fun (if not helpful) to see if we can project what this industry would be like if the slash and burn strategy for running a radio group was tempered a bit by the possible consequence of the president losing his or her own job in a popular vote.

So let me be Karl Rove and Paul Begala all rolled up into one. Here's advice to the candidates. I'm assuming with big salaries and lots of benefits at stake -- all of the present suspects will be running for reelection at their radio groups.

Bring Unemployment Down to Under 50%

I know I'm asking a lot, but you've got to keep in mind that if you want your employees to elect you as president of your company, you'll have to feel their pain. And to borrow a phrase from one of the presidential candidates, "they're angry". That's because cutbacks in the name of economies of scale have been going on continuously since 1996. All that's happened is lots of talented people have been dismissed and lots more will likely get the gate before the holidays (hey, last week was bad enough). And if you find it hard to believe that unemployment could rise to 50% in radio, take a look at any program lineup and see how few local shows are being funded. The number one issue in this election for president of your radio group -- bring unemployment down to below 6%.

Spread the Wealth Around

To borrow a phrase from the presidential campaign, tax the wealthiest five percent. At Citadel that might mean that the board of directors will no longer approve of the company paying tax on Farid Suleman's $11 million annual salary. At other companies it could be across the board pay increases. Hey, with so few live bodies left in place at the nation's radio stations raises for everyone wouldn't be that expensive.

Put An End to Outsourcing

Forget Bangalore, put a stop to Ryan Seacrest and others like him. I mean the final straw was putting Seacrest syndication on a small local market station recently that couldn't afford being live in that time period. The market was -- friggin' New York City!! Under my plan, Seacrest only gets one vote. But if John Hogan got a hold of this idea, he'll give "super voting power" so one can represent, say, 100 people. His argument might be -- well, Seacrest should represent 100 voters because that's how many live jocks he's replaced.

Talk to All Our Enemies

I think you'll see some radio presidents, concerned about whether they could get reelected by their own employees, propose negotiating with their enemy -- without first forcing the enemy to agree with them. That enemy would be their own program directors, general managers and sales managers. Under the current system, the Axis of Evil for a lot of group presidents exists in these three job descriptions. Under a radio president who fears for his or her reelection, they might begin a dialogue with everyone who holds these positions not just the one or two yes men who have sold their souls "to the company store".

The Spin Stops Here

With direct accountability to their employees, you'd be less likely to hear pep talks like radio is going through a tough time and things will get better. Bet you'd get more votes if you said, "radio is in critical condition and some of the things we've done have hurt the industry". Then ask for help and start a two-way dialogue. Much more believable. Oh, and if you think these pie-in-the-sky comments when radio stocks are selling for less than a dollar are for Wall Street's ears -- forget about it. Wall Street bailed out on radio a long time ago. Didn't anyone notice?

End the War

Few, if any, current radio presidents could survive a vote by their own employees based on the war that is going on between Main Street and Wall Street. It's one thing for a radio president to suck up to an investment banker when he is paying for an expensive dinner at Il Mulino in New York but it's another thing to turn a blind eye to local radio, local advertisers, local talent and listeners. It is the only way for radio to remain a cash flow machine for the next few years. Run on that platform. Declare victory on Wall Street and retreat to local radio on Main Street. And yes, I would set timetables and benchmarks. How about yesterday?

Bailout Wall Street

Just as Congress funneled lots of money into rescuing the nation's banks and mortgage lenders, radio will have to bail out its investment banks. My plan to do this -- double your stock to, say, $2 a share. Then maybe $3. A windfall, even -- as Yogi Bear would say. Hey, don't knock the bear. He survived. Bear Stearns did not.

Don't Hang Around with Terrorists

If in the past you hung around with sleazy, unethical characters (or as I would call them financial terrorists), you'll need a game plan to withstand attack ads from competitors who would like to have your job. It may come back to burn you later with your employees when they are deciding whether to vote for you or the person who could really do a great job running the radio group -- say, a local manager who actually knows about programming, sales and management because they're doing it successfully.

Regain Our Position in the Media World

Ever since 2002 the radio industry has been on a decline. The rest of the media world no longer respects us because we make unilateral decisions that are not in the best interests of the entertainment industry. To be elected president of radio should your employees get to vote, you're probably going to have to bite the bullet and get into new media. After all, the rest of the world has passed you by. There is a thing called the Internet and it isn't just for posting a website with your djs pictures (should you happen to have a picture of Ryan Seacrest). Some hard choices will have to be made. You'll have to decide whether to spend on guns or butter. Better yet, Guns 'n Roses. Guns and something, anyway. You can't win the support of your employees unless you can acknowledge that we need to join the race to make money on the Internet.

McCain wants reform.

Obama wants change.

I just want rebirth for a dying industry in digital media.

Is there a radio person out there who has the vision to see the digital future, the grace and confidence to be a steward to the once mighty local radio cash flow machine and the compassion to understand that local radio is not an option, it is a fundamental right for listeners in towns and hamlets everywhere?

If so, keep your mouth shut, go out and win support from your people for your plan and then lead this industry into the future.

Wait. Wait. I've been dreaming again. Those pills my program director friends have been giving me are causing hallucinations. For a moment, I thought I almost saw a vision of the once shining radio industry on a hill.

I will throw my support behind the independent in the race -- that manager who is already running a successful station. I hope you win because if you lose, your ass is so fired.

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