Repeater Radio

My old mentor, the radio program director Paul Drew, used to tell me about an idea he had where a campus would be built for a national radio company in Southern California -- he cited the weather and abundance of talent for his choice of the location (not in that order).

PD (as I called him) believed that great radio could be done in one location allowing for many economies of scale and yet providing customized local programming to individual stations in their markets.

I understand he took the idea to a couple of CEOs at the time -- back in the 1990s -- and received no traction for the concept.

Funny, isn't it?

Drew was light years ahead of the greedy owners and they were telling him how important it was to continue to do local radio.

That was then. This is now.

One of my readers emailed me that "almost all CC stations have satellite downlinks at their transmitter sites...installed in the past year, after the buyout. We are told these are 'backup' systems. They're designed to allow programming to be sent direct to transmitter".


In other words, forget my worries about Ryan Seacrest coast-to-coast. Now a major group could put him on the air directly -- without passing "Go" (as in "Go ask the general manager") -- and run it all from, say -- San Antonio or wherever.

Of course, you can see this coming.

While big companies like Citadel and Clear Channel are becoming distributors of only a handful of radio shows across their platforms, they are not above messing with the minds of their remaining employees.

Talk radio stations already turned over their local balls to syndicators and networks a long time ago. After all, who wants to hear a local show?

Excuse me?

Who wouldn't want to hear a local talk show. Lots of Philly listeners like to tune into the local attorney turned radio host on WPHT Michael Smerconish but in Philly where else? I don't have enough room to type all the local talk shows that were on the air and should be -- or the ones that have yet to be tried.

As a result, talk radio is stuffy, boring, old and tired. Otherwise, it's great, right?

No balls.

By the way, young people don't like old blowhards talking about politics or their bigoted ways. So even this strategy will dry up as each year goes by. Sorry, but you've got to have the next generation if you're going to be a growth industry. No getting around it.

Now the "CEOs-Who-Will-Not-Be-Denied" are hell bent to do the same thing to music radio.

They have this idea that Ryan Seacrest will work in just about any market. Hey, I don't buy it. LA -- yes. You're stretching beyond.

But they are not going to stop at Ryan Seacrest. These mad scientists will create a small stable of interchangeable, vanilla music shows that they can send up to the bird and down to the uplink and put it on the air at their whim. They're hell bent on making voice tracking look like the good old days.

The brilliance of this strategy is that it will sure as hell cut expenses.

Who don't know that -- to borrow a Philly phrase.

But it will also kill off audience because as radio becomes a "repeater" not a local station, there are fewer reasons for local listeners to become personally involved with the talent, the station, the advertisers -- you get the point.

But let's not stop there -- the crazed radio CEOs aren't going to.

Imagine a station with no manager.

Hell, we've practically got that now when one GM oversees three stations (as if that were really possible). Using my math, we have one-third of a manager at each station that opts for this approach.

So what's better than one-third?

How about zero -- none, nobody.

Just someone in the master control of their fantasy sending programs to this uplink and others to that -- no manager is necessary.

In fact, neither are people.

Mark Mays, the arrogant patrician that he is, had the unmitigated gall to send his employees an email this week saying that focus, resilience and determination will get the company through the recession that will also defeat their competitors. What an egotistic thing to say. Doesn't Mark Mays have anything to do over there?

Let me understand him.

We're firing you in record numbers. Doubling and tripling up on your workload. We're replacing your local talent. Dictating how each station will run from Central Command and you want to cheer me up?

Dr. Kevorkian could cheer Clear Channel employees up sooner than Mark Mays.

Because Clear Channel, Citadel and the other dying radio companies are already planning their exit strategies -- and they don't involve their employees.

It all reminds me of Bernie Madoff -- you know, the Ponzi scheme fraud who ripped off a lot of people -- millionaires and billionaires who should have known better. But they saw dollars not security.

What did Bernie Madoff do that is similar to what radio CEOs are doing to their people?

Before he screwed investors out of their money, he made them beg to get F@*Ked. Beg to be part of his investors group. He disarmed them by telling them to take their time and try it out with smaller sums of money thus creating a misleading atmosphere of safety and security.

This same mentality seems to be in the radio industry where another reader of mine pointed out yesterday that he used to work in a factory before his radio career. When he started -- well, let me let him say it:

"Radio was like a club or a team to most of the employees. From the small markets to the larger markets I was a part of, there was always that winning attitude and team work mentality. Today, coming to work at a radio station is so similar to those days I was at the factory. No one gives a damn anymore. Attitudes are in the toilet, the team has disbanded and we all hate our employer".

The entire demise of radio weirds a lot of us out.

It is totally dysfunctional -- devoid of honesty or candor.

Silent and shameful.

Over the holidays another reader thanked me for my insights but lamented how depressing it all was. I wrote back that the depressing part was done by the radio CEOs. I was sadly just calling them out for it.

What you are witnessing right now is full throttle ahead for the implementation of Repeater Radio -- local towers kidnapped by a shameless group of failures (hey, I'm just judging them by their stock price, now -- nothing else) who are just looking after number one.

If they wrote a book, they'd call it "Radio for Dummies" because their strategies are destined to fail and take down an entire industry only because their government allowed these clowns to monopolize all the best signals and markets in the first place.

I don't care if the Obama Administration shakes things up -- re-regulates or de-consolidates -- it's too late.

Repeater Radio is what you get when only a handful of people do all the thinking.

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