How To Fire Clear Channel

By Jerry Del Colliano

(Shown with family at Sunday's Eagles game)

Today is Invasion of the Body Snatchers day at Clear Channel stations across the country.

Just as in the 1978 remake of the science fiction movie, Clear Channel employees across the nation are screaming, "They're here already! You're next!"

As of late yesterday, Clear Channel employees were telling me of the staff meetings that were being scheduled for today -- during the distraction to the news cycle of a presidential inauguration. The meetings are probably for those who survived the cuts - the cuts could come earlier in the day and they could use the staff meeting to announce the changes for the surviving employees.

Today was supposed to be the day private equity groups Lee Capital Partners and Bain Media were directing their management clones to implement a massive personnel cutback that would help contribute to a $400 million annual savings for the troubled radio group.

That's 7% of its staff -- the latest 7%.

There have been many others over the past 12 years and there will likely be plenty more in the future as this group of crazy PE executives actually thinks they can run a radio company with no experience in this declining medium.

The major cutbacks will be in programming and sales and what is termed "non-essential" workers -- if that isn't a misnomer for you.

Ryan Seacrest and baby Ryans will feed programs by satellite to what used to be local radio stations in many formats and for use in different dayparts. This effectively neuters local entertainment. Boy, would I like to be Clear Channel's local competitors right now, what an opportunity to clean their clocks. But they are just as bad and will likely follow suit in lock step with their American "idle" -- Clear Channel. (I use the term "idle" because it represents putting so many people out of work).

Most of the job cuts will come from sales.

Stations are expecting the newer, less experienced sales people to be fired, but it may be the other way around. Clear Channel could save a lot more money by firing its top performers and giving the accounts to the sales manager. Doesn't make sense to you, but it looks awfully tempting to PE outfits that are looking for the most savings possible.

Before long we'll know all the ugly stories.

But my focus today is what you can do after the Empire Strikes Back.

A host of employees were unceremoniously fired before Christmas -- many shown to the door and not thanked for their service to the Mays family, a group of selfish characters who will gain early entry into the Radio Hall of Shame for single-handedly ruining a perfectly good industry.

By the way, KGO, San Francisco GM Mickey Luckoff knows how to lay people off humanely. When he was forced by his boss Fagreed Suleman to let his assistant of 37 years go, he wrote a beautiful letter to staff, thanked her for her service, reassured everyone that her departure had nothing to do with her performance and said if able he would hire her back again. How classy is that? Read Luckoff's letter for yourself here. You won't see too many of these.

For some, leaving Clear Channel, Citadel or the many other radio groups that are cutting themselves to death is tantamount to relief. They will be happy to find something else to do or retire.

But for those who have outrage or who want to fight back, at least three ways.

1. Organize local advertiser boycotts.

When Bubba "The Original" Love Sponge got into trouble in South Florida on a Clear Channel station for castrating a pig as part of his radio show and putting pictures on the Internet, PETA,
People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals, brought the Evil Empire to their knees.

I love this group. I got to know some of the people and you don't mess with them because they don't just piss and moan about inequity. They piss all over the perpetrator's business to get what they want.

PETA went to advertisers and got one local or national advertiser after another to pull their ads off Bubba's station. They constructed a website to keep track of who was in and who was out. The pressure was immense and Clear Channel's station felt it on their bottom line which is why PETA got what they wanted.

Bubba went on to continue his career but eventually wound up in the Siberia of satellite radio where next to nobody every heard from him again.

This is a strategy for people who want to take back local radio.

What better way than to show this private equity group the power of local -- by pressuring local advertisers to pull their ads off the air until their stations return to hiring local personalities. And add in news and community involvement.

List the advertisers who agree to "Help Save Local Radio Jobs" on the site. Of course, this advice is not just aimed at Clear Channel, but all radio consolidators who think they can wantonly fire people, remove local programming and think they can gain the support of local advertisers in the community.

By the way, McDonald's is a local advertiser -- they have local stores that can see picket lines standing out front.

As I said, this is not for everyone, but if you're a fighter then I thought you'd like to know how PETA got revenge.

2. Lobby Congress

In this day of the Internet, mobile phones and social networks, you can bombard your local Congressman's office with registered voters who are madder than hell and won't take it anymore.

As I have said previously, no one has more to lose by local radio's decline than elected officials -- especially in the House of Representatives. After all, where will they run their election attack ads for a fraction of the already low, low price of a radio commercial?

But they an organized effort to bring pressure.

Important local leaders can join and help lobby Congress. Like, union officials.

A web presence can narrate the effort for all to see.

The talking points are: local radio is good for America and good for employment. At a time of economic uncertainty, eliminating local radio jobs and outsourcing them to Ryan Seacrest's studio in LA is detrimental to the purpose of radio and terms of their FCC license.

Lobby the Obama Administration for re-regulation that would force PE owners and consolidators to sell their stations to small groups of people of various interests, and origins. This is a government that could rethink consolidation.

It's like blitzing the Clear Channel offense with a crushing defense.

Because in the end, the only way Clear Channel and its brethren can get away with this violation of the public trust is because nobody has been home.

The FCC was looking the other way on purpose.

Oversight was out and look what crept back in without some reasonable oversight.

3. Work with the record industry to repeal radio's Performance Tax Exemption.

This is a sore point for radio because when it was local, it deserved to have an exemption from the dreaded music performance tax. After all, local stations in every region of the country were allowing consumers to discover music programmed by local djs.

If choice is limited to what Ryan Seacrest and his handful of national jocks want to play, how can the radio industry fight and win a battle with the record labels to save the performance exemption?

The labels may win anyway.

Previously I have supported radio's efforts to keep the exemption, but now that the industry is moving away from local radio, it may be time to rethink the strategy.

The NAB has dropped the ball. They are not what they once were and there are stories of its decline that parallel the decline of their constituents. But that one -- and the sorry state of the RAB -- is for another day.

No choice.

No local radio.

No exemption from the music performance tax.

You can see the approaches reported here are hardball for those who like to play hardball. After all, that's what the big consolidators are doing.

The radio industry is losing another asset today in the senseless firing of personnel by Clear Channel.

Radio has been reduced to a memory of what it used to be and what will never be again. This group of consolidators, aided by the federal government at the time, ran roughshod over the industry and they did it because they believed no one could stop them.

Today, they did it again.

If you want to change it -- it will take strategy, toughness and political clout. It's probably too late as the next generation has left the building and saving radio has little appeal to them. You might just he playing for pride.

The bloodletting is not over.

There are stations now that barely have a handful of employees. And it will get worse.

For years people have said to me, what you're predicting is so negative -- so depressing.

do you believe it?

There is a way to fire Clear Channel and their consolidation buddies. They obviously don't care about people and their families, lives or careers.

But the one thing they do care about is revenue.

Some 90% of radio's income is derived from local advertisers.

Clear Channel has become a national programming company pioneering Repeater Radio.

Local ad dollars.

No local stations.

Sounds like an opportunity to fire Clear Channel as a local radio operator.

On a personal note I want to extend my best wishes to the talented radio managers, programmers, GSMs, salespeople, essential staff, whatever news people are left, engineers and other professionals who have lost or will lose their jobs.

I will deliver that special strategy on how to get the leg up on your next job based on what I used to teach my young USC students. It has a great batting average. Once the Nightmare on Elm Street across the U.S.A. subsides a bit, I'll offer it for you here.

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