Radio's Black Friday

Friday did not just end a bad week for the stock market, it was also the beginning of the end for what's left of the radio industry.

The final round of personnel cuts is coming to a radio group near you between now and the end of the year.

CBS decided to go first.

LARadio broke the news Friday that a massacre occurred at CBS in Los Angeles when KNX and KFWB fired 2o staffers for an estimated one million annual cost savings. We've seen a lot of cost cutting in radio almost since consolidation started back in 1996 -- remember the mantra -- economies of scale.

Now it's panic firing.

Revenues are down due to the failing economy and an antiquated industry that hasn't kept up its content, competition or audience.

Imagine the sense of firing 20 content providers from two news and talk properties when radio is becoming more unlistenable by the day.

How does this make these stations better? Next time there is an earthquake or a wildfire in SoCal, how does this cutback make the product better?

How do they become more local -- the only mission that radio can achieve for any chance of survival?

How does watering down the content excellence help CBS expand its brand to the Internet and mobile space.

It doesn't and they don't care. The end has come because there won't be many left to fire in 2009. I'm told the LA firings are just the beginning in that cluster. More station personnel reportedly have been designated although they have not yet been notified.

If you're working at all-news WINS and WCBS-AM, New York and KYW in Philadelphia right now -- don't make any long-term plans. And in radio long-term plans used to be gauged from ratings book to book. Now they are measured by mistake to mistake by radio CEOs.

This is radio's long goodbye. The once healthy 170 pound athlete -- now a 90 pound weakling.

I don't believe for one minute that most of radio's CEOs want it to be this way. They don't want to fire anyone. I believe this. But the disease is too advanced. Things are too out of control. They are fighting for their own lives.

More than one reader has bravely and candidly let me know in the past few months that they don't want to fire qualified people. What they fear is that if they don't execute corporate orders, they will be next.

I often write about the generational media aspects of radio's decline. How an industry that used to connect with all generations by instinct lost its way. The decline was gradual starting in the late Eighties, but it was exacerbated by the deregulated world of consolidation and then the arrogance of thinking the Internet wouldn't hurt them.

Radio had a chance to become part of the digital age by adapting to the new world media order and by creating new content for delivery to devices other than analog receivers.

But not with economies of scale. That's defense -- not offensive.

Now, with radio groups posting stock prices under $1 and an economy so bad that breaking even seems so out of reach, radio groups are going to reap what they have sown.

I repeat -- what kind of idiotic decision is it that cuts 20 reporters from two news/talk operations in America's second largest city? I get the savings part. I really do. But moves like this do not improve the station, the product nor will it improve the ratings.

And ironically, it will not improve the CBS bottom line either. You'll see.

None of this makes sense.

Now it's on us.

And if you think I'm picking on CBS or Roy Laughlin, the one who triggered this round of cuts, you'd be wrong. I like Roy a lot and think he is an excellent manager. But they're all doing it. And as I have been saying it's going to get uglier in the run up to the Christmas holidays.

More stations -- more firings.

More local radio becoming cheap radio -- vanilla -- less local.

I can name 100 people (maybe more) who could fix KNX and KFWB but not without spending money on content. Some already work for CBS.

I can personally name ten ways CBS should expand its "news" brand from terrestrial to Internet and mobile media. Ask a young person "what means all-news in LA" and don't expect them to say KFWB. CBS should be investing money in the brand not necessarily the terrestrial station.

But then again, CBS is a seller in a lot of smaller markets along with a lot of other group owners. Unfortunately for them there are few buyers -- especially at good multiples.

Perhaps you can see why I have so little faith in the ability of radio CEOs to compete in a digital world. You can blame the Internet all you want. Damn those kids who walk around with iPods and steal music. Curse cellphones.

Radio is on more than a system wide Atkins Diet. It's having bypass surgery to remove as many expenses as corporate needs to explain another quarter of losses.

The industry that coined the phrase "less is more" is really hell bent to deliver on their promise.

Less resources, fewer people -- more failure.

It's over. Get the lights.

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