Repeater Radio Horror Stories

From day one of consolidation, radio groups became obsessed with the wrong thing -- saving money instead of making it.

Back then, group executives used to show me blueprints for local radio hubs that would allow all their newly acquired stations to operate under the same roof. Of course, this was false economy and an ego exercise for consolidators who eventually paid the price for taking their eyes off the prize.

Revenues began to decline. Listening fell off -- especially in the crucial next generation demographic and then lately the recession slammed the door.

In all that time, radio as an industry failed to come up with a plan for the digital future fully aware that the Internet was taking over everything. Whatever lip service a few groups might have given to Internet projects, it was never backed up by adequate funding in the budget.

Now, consolidators panicked over the dollar stocks that they have created, are in the final stages of doing what they do best -- taking their eyes off the goal. Translated, that means firing people.

I can't stop them -- and neither can you, but I can certainly bring light to how low they are stooping to get what they want.

People are not a consideration -- not careers, families or even loyalty, as you will see from the continuing saga of "Repeater Radio Horror Stories".

Oh, and to bring you all the color, intrigue and suspense -- a nationwide team of Repeater Reporters.

#1 Sorry About Your Kidneys, But You're Fired

After 30 years on KRNT-AM, Des Moines, Saga Communications decided to fire popular personality Steve Gibbons. I'm thinking -- his salary was too costly. How about you? Anyway, news accounts say he got off the air at 10 one morning and by 10:10 he was in his new bosses' office getting his ass fired. He was two years away from retirement.

Meanwhile, Jeff Delvaux, who had been working in the market for Saga for only two weeks, apparently got his marching orders from the Boss Kahuna -- CEO Ed Christian in Detroit.

For consolidated radio, just another slay in paradise, except for one thing.

Gibbons has been waiting for a kidney transplant for two years. He's on dialysis 12 hours a week just to stay alive. Dialysis, as some of you may know, puts a burden on one's strength making it tough to recover from these lifesaving sessions. And Gibbons has a long wait for a new kidney because he is a tough match for a transplant because his blood type is 0-negative.

On the way out the door, Gibbons showed the class he's always had by not blaming the station or even the new General Robot -- I mean, manager.

Look, I'm not trying to tell Saga how to run their company. I'm really not. If they want to replace an asset like Gibbons that badly to save a few coins, it's their station.

But what kind of a message is Ed Christian, the grumpy old CEO who seems to have forgotten what it's like to be compassionate, sending to other surviving Saga employees?

The guy's been working at the station for 30 frickin' years. How about one year of pay and plenty of notice?

Saga, known to be cheap, may not have been able to handle that -- so how about 30 days notice and some pay?

30 minutes notice -- instead of ten?

What price, loyalty?

Saga isn't the only radio company pouncing on loyal employees or people down on their luck. When I published Inside Radio at the outset of consolidation, I got calls from people all the time about the growing trend to dismiss employees to save money. How about a salesman with cancer -- fired. Sorry about your luck.

The odd thing is for 12 years of cutbacks, trimming the fat and firing radio is at an all-time low as both an industry and a valued public stock.

Certainly the radio industry can do better than this?

Desperation does bad things to powerful people in today's media business.

So, Eddie -- enjoy the savings. You may have gotten more than what you bargained for as Saga employees are sure to get the message.

#2 Today We Value You, Tomorrow You're Still Fired

A reader writes that at the time of the Clear Channel/Jacor merger he was in the room with a few of their execs and one of them said -- and here are the reader's words -- "if you are in this room you're here because we value you".

Then he left the room and his employee got cut loose a week later -- by phone!

Turns out those were the good old days compared to now.

In this era of Repeater Radio where the local towers are prostituted by one-size-fits-all national programming, consolidators don't even bother to bullshit their victims anymore.

That was so 90's.

Now, they make them wait. Torment them with pep talk emails and eventually do them in.

From another Repeater Reporter:

"Within the last two weeks, 3 sales reps at Citadel Albuquerque were fired - 2 of them were veterans. The whole promotions staff is gone as well. And last week at American General Media here in town (smaller radio group but equally stupid like the big guys) let go 10 staffers including some veteran air talent well-known in the market."

This is only one of the latest examples of radio's version of genocide -- mass extermination of their employee base.

#3 The News Watch Never Works

Yesterday I wrote that if another Fargo happened (I was corrected today, it was Minot) -- a toxic fume leak from a freight train derailment -- that radio would be off playing Ryan Seacrest reruns or something.

Well, funny about that...

From another reader transformed into a Repeater Reporter:

"I work for Lancaster School District in the Antelope Valley area North of Los Angeles (think Edwards Air Force Base). At our monthly District Office meeting last week, our superintendent shared about his experiences trying to notify the public regarding the two days we were shut down in December due to snow. He said he spent four hours trying to contact a live person at the four local (so-called) radio stations. All he got was a recording, and he never did get a hold of a live person. He was successful in contacting someone at our local cable company news outlet (Time Warner has a local channel dedicated to local news and information which is actually quite good). Fortunately, our district has contracted out a phone contact system which called all the households in our district and notified parents/guardians that there would not be any school the next day".

All I'm going to say is that if you really want to stop these consolidators, all you have to do is contact your Congressman. The Obama FCC is shaping up to be a re-regulation commission. The politics are right for change and the last thing elected officials want is to lose their vehicle for cheap election attack ads -- local radio.

I'll even go to Washington and offer some compelling testimony.

#4 It's 12 o'clock, Do You Know Where Your Cluster Is?

From another one of my Repeater Reporters:

"In L.A. there is one cluster manager, Greg Ashlock, for all of the 8 CC stations. Ashlock is also listed as the GM for 7 of the stations. None of the stations have a GM or station manager. Web pages are filled with errors…no one checks as no one knows who is in charge. Sales are terrible as is morale. But they have been drinking the corporate Kool-Aid. Mark Mays letter was an abomination. By the way KOST, which is one of the top stations in L.A., has had no GSM for two months. KIIS, which is the No. 1 station, has not had a LSM for a couple of months. Corporate will not allow new management hires. The music director of KIIS is now the interim cluster program director for the cluster since the departure of Michael Martin, who was no great loss. And so it goes".

So, you don't think Repeater Radio is coming to our industry, do ya? It's already here. More is on the way -- possibly within the week.

#5 All For One And One On All (Stations)

Clear Channel has been working on this Repeater Radio concept for sometime. Let me direct you to a reader Down Under:

"Take a look at the model used in New Zealand. The Radio Network (partially owned by CC) has seven or eight formats that are distributed nationally from Auckland. There are about 250 radio stations in the entire country. But remember the population is about 3.5 or 4 million. Many of these stations are in very small towns. The local station sometimes has a morning show, but the rest of the day they take the network stream. There are local sales people but that's about it. They then send copy needs to Auckland where a team of writers creates and produces the commercials. Their programming is actually fairly good. But you get the exact same program throughout the country".

#6 More Clients Means Less Sales

National billing is down everywhere. Local is way down -- off 40% in LA, I'm told.

Yet Clear Channel's Katz rep firm has now become the only national radio rep in the industry. In other words, it's a monopoly in the rep business and they can do anything they want.

So what does Katz do?

Fire 122 people.

Then Clear Channel initiates one of its favorite tactics -- to reorganize -- for the umpteenth time.

What clients should be asking (as if they have any say in this), "If you add representation of hundreds of new stations, how do you handle all the new relationships and selling with fewer people?"

Less (actually, fewer) sales people is more revenue, dummy. Don't you know that by now?

There is a revenue component here that gets lost in all the content assassination that's been going on. Radio was sold on the cheap for decades. Now, with consolidators getting ready to -- forgive me for using the word -- consolidate their sales efforts, cheap works for them.

No pay. No benefits. Fewer salespeople than ever. Hell, one group already told their full-time salespeople they will get no paid vacation. You see where this is heading?

The industry has refused to keep its pants up on rates.

Thinks an RAB convention is adequate sales training.

That local client relationships are not worth investing in.

My point: can you see what's going to happen here to complement the Repeater Radio concept of cheap content?

Solo Selling.

Google-type, bid, buy, we create at CentCom and you pay through Pay Pal.


Radio is still a relationship business -- on-the-air and on the streets with local advertisers.

Any attempt to make radio work like Google will continue to drive advertisers away. And isn't that the big story today?

Radio advertisers have turned away from terrestrial radio and they did so even before the economic downturn came.

So, as we wait for the big boys to stick it to their employees through the next level of firings, keep in mind that the reason radio is dying prematurely -- and failing to get a leg up on the digital future -- is because its leaders have learned to count backwards.

Less money spent on product and sales.

Meanwhile, as Clear Channel's loyal and patient workforce waits for the bloodletting, rumors are popping up all throughout the chain. There's no way to know for sure if they are true -- we'll soon find out, but just having them out there shows how worried Clear Channel people are about their futures.

The latest rumor says that Clear Channel people will be given a number. Boy, do I hope this turns out to be more paranoia than fact. As one of my readers points out, "Everyone is assuming this number represents the results of the new unexplained and undefined metric being applied to various job functions. No one I talk to expects any explanation of the new metric nor any debate, they're just expecting a 'number'".

Question: does John Slogan Hogan get a number?

In fact, it will be Clear Channel's number that is up -- the victim of Repeater Radio and Solo Selling.

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