A Radio Station That Signs Jocks To Contracts

Okay, I can't take it any more.

Another one of my favorites (and his audience's) John Lander is cleaned out of Boston by CBS because of economic constraints. I hope CBS is planning to sell its entire operation soon because it's pretty well gutted now.

I'm in sore need of some good, upbeat news right now. So many firings. So much talent on the street. It's hard to take.

Believe me, I know my limitations. I can't make Sam Zell continue to make severance payments to his discharged workers when he no longer has to under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Randy and the Rainbows could be in trouble -- the Rainbows being the Jacor folks hired away from Clear Channel to be in the newspaper business (if you believe that).

I can't stop CBS from firing talent and management and then doubling up on duties or broadcasting without jocks to save money.

I can't make Fagreed and Judy understand that before you ask your surviving employees to make more sacrifices, you might have to make one, too. Hell, even the Big Three auto CEOs were forced to actually take an alien form of transportation -- that is, ride in a car -- when they went to Washington to beg for a bailout.

There's no shortage of bad news out there in the music and media business -- and I'm not making it -- just sayin'.

But there is something I'd like to share with you that lifts the spirit and gives hope that if the radio industry -- especially the big group CEOs -- were replaced by executives who know what some smaller operators know that things could be a little more promising.

I know that not all small operators are good operators so let's get that out of the way. But many are. And they are lost in the awful headlines created by today's big group radio mismanagement.

In Phoenix there is a station that actually does well -- how's number one 18-34 sound -- with a sub-par tower location and it competes with all the usual suspects like CBS and Clear Channel.

It's Power 98.3 (KKFR) owned by Riviera Broadcast Group. Tim Pohlman (ex-CBS/LA Market Manager) and Chris Maguire are the partners with an outside equity group that had the good judgment to fund these guys. The very able Bruce St. James is the PD. The group also owns KEDJ (The Edge) in Phoenix and two stations in Las Vegas (KOAS and KVGS).

Let's focus on Power 98.3. Their talent is important to them and they show it. That's why Power 98.3 locks them in and keeps them on the air. What a unique concept these days.

Allow me to break it down:

1. All of Power 98.3's jock are under contract. Take that, Fagreed (even though he's under contract thus telling us who Fagreed thinks is really important at Citadel).

2. While Power 98.3's management has let some contracts expire, most get renewed and all of them are in place before they expire -- very humane for the jocks and their families as well.

3. Power's longest contract is two years for the morning show (someone gets it!). The other jocks are given security for one year and the station's listeners benefit from having djs they like to listen to. Need evidence? Power 98.3's target 18-34 ratings are impressive. Number four in morning drive. Second midday. Afternoons and nights are number one. Solid performances. What came first, the great ratings or great jocks. Or as John Hogan might say, "get me Ryan Seacrest on the phone". Oops.

4. Pay raises are dealt with at the time of negotiation but have not proven to be problematic. Sit down for this one -- and don't blame me if you hurt yourself because I can't afford insurance for my readers getting hurt by something I write -- they open their books to the jocks. You read that right. Power 98.3 opens their books to the jocks. God, that sounds so good I want to type it again. Can you imagine Lew Dickey or David Field saying, "hey, come in dude -- let me show you some numbers". Not. But being honest about the station's finances helps to win a fair employment agreement. In fact, I'll bet 75% of the morning teams for major consolidators would have taken a pay cut if their bosses a) wanted to keep them and b) were willing to actually show them the losses they were experiencing. In every case -- at least for Power 98.3 -- their talent understands the reality of the world around them. Done deal.

5. Each side can get out of the contract but not for phony reasons such as the new Lee & Bain Clear Channel contract that was offered on a take it or leave it basis to designated employees recently. Some took it. I admire others for walking. Basically the Clear Channel contract was not a contract at all -- except from Clear Channel's perspective. But isn't that how radio has been run since consolidation in 1996 -- from Clear Channel's perspective. Power 98.3 does it a better way. If talent wants to leave, they get a bon voyage party not a screw you and security will see you to the door (or "you'll never work again"). But the Power jocks can't work in the same market for a limited (and legal) agreed upon period of time. Power rarely fires people for cause. If the station thinks it's time for a change (are you still sitting?), they create a soft landing and give them time to find a new job -- and, make it their idea to leave. (Can you imagine Fagreed making you think it was your idea to leave?). Maybe Power 98.3's talent is the reason they beat the market without a 100,000 watt stick.

6. Talent's response, as you might guess, is as positive as working for Fagreed is negative. They are happy to go to work and to have some security in an uncertain world and a troubled radio industry. I can confirm because I have a home in this market and I think they sound great. Any connection with stable and familiar local talent? You be the judge.

A small company can get to know its talent and vice versa. Or as they used to say in the Drake era, the boss knows the boss jocks.

Look, I'm not saying Power 98.3's owners are rolling in dough during these tough times. But Power is certainly solvent and in better shape than most stations in the market. Hey, radio may not ever make it back from the depths of consolidation hell.

But they also own a brand.

And their PD is embracing new media -- gobbling up as much as he can to understand where his listeners may migrate and follow them with social networking.

You might be wondering whether the architect of Power 98.3's jock contracts is under contract himself?

The answer is no.

Bruce St. James hasn't had one for eight years and he doesn't want one so (don't get up) the owners gave him some very meaningful perks that should keep him there.

The Power 98.3 ownership group makes me proud to be a radio guy at a time when the big group "mismanagers", frankly, embarrass me. They should embarrass themselves, but most of them have no shame.

Tomorrow, there will no doubt be another bonehead in the corporate suite trying to slice and dice a good business to fit into their panicked view of what radio is -- numbers, plain and simple. I'd like to see Filmhouse make a "for radio only" movie called "Honey, I Shrunk the Industry" because that's what moronic policies like abusing, discharging and not valuing talent lead to. It's not all about cost cutting, after all.

But for today -- for this brief moment -- I hope you feel as I do that the formula is quite simple and equitable -- if consolidators actually cared about the business they've run into the ground.

Local talent -- treated fairly and valued -- overcome poor signals, limited bankrolls and bad economies.

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