Where Is Radio's Captain Sully?

By Jerry Del Colliano

In a time of crisis, who would you want in command?

Mark Mays?

John Slogan Hogan?

Or Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, the heroic U.S. Airways pilot who safely landed his A-320 aircraft last week on the Hudson River in New York after a double bird strike crippled the plane's two engines.

Certainly you don't want Mays or Hogan flying an aircraft human beings are on.

And you don't want Captain Sully running the largest radio group in the world even if it is headed for a crash landing.

Or do you?

Yesterday when Clear Channel eliminated 9% of its work force across all its businesses but predominantly focused on radio, the sadness and anger was palpable.

But anger is not going to return 1,850 people fired in just one day -- or those who preceded them -- to the radio jobs they love.

Yesterday was truly a sad day at Clear Channel stations as the victims were rounded up in the morning for slaughter by noon. In the afternoon, meetings occurred where survivors were offered new Kool-Aid to drink.

Sales staffs were devastated.

Whatever downsizing of programming and talent hadn't been completed previously was done in one dramatic eight hour period.

The weasels at Clear Channel picked the historic inauguration of a new president to be the day they did their dirty work. I don't know if the longtime Republican Mays family picked Inauguration Day on purpose but at this point I wonder.

The Internet is full of accounts of what happened yesterday. But the most pressing question is what will happen going forward? What will radio's consolidation leader do next? What should other companies do in response?

And, who will be radio's Captain Sully?

Just one thing that is gnawing at me before we look ahead.

Did you see the way Mark Mays handled this massacre yesterday?

Perhaps you are not privy to his dreaded employee emails, but allow me to share the "best of" or should I say, the "worst of" Mark Mays as he spun 1,850 firings to the survivors.

Keep in mind when you fire one person, you really cut out the hearts of their associates.

Mark's comments are in italics.

"Today, we had the unpleasant task of bringing our Outdoor and Radio businesses’ staffing in line with these challenging economic conditions. In doing so, we enter 2009 as a solid company and in the most competitive position possible".

Unpleasant? He's kidding, right? What an insensitive way to put it. Who cares about how Mark Mays feels. And I don't know who he hangs around with but bringing staffing in line with challenging economic decisions doesn't impress me because Mays owns a monopoly. That's Park Place. Go. He even controls Jail and collects the $200. And he was the one who could not make his business competitive enough to avoid the bailout he sought and won from two cold hearted private equity firms.

"While a significant portion of these positions represent a realignment in our sales departments, the positions span all departments and represent approximately 9% of the total Clear Channel Communications workforce".

Somehow do you get the feeling that he's trying to sell people on the idea that the firings weren't as bad as they could have been because Clear Channel fired people in all departments? I wonder if he knows what it's like to be fired? I withdraw the question.

"Please know that these have been difficult decisions – yet necessary ones. We will miss those who are departing – even as we renew our shared commitment to success among all of us who will stay".

One paragraph of disingenuous sympathy. That's it. One.

"We need to remain highly entrepreneurial and innovative. We also need to remain focused and compassionate".

He's messing with us, right? Remain entrepreneurial and innovative? Feeding satellite programs to their many stations to save money was done by Randy Michaels, a predecessor who forgot more than Mark Mays knows about radio. And, did I see Mays use the word compassionate? He must be talking about his employees being compassionate toward Clear Channel. Yeah, that's it.

"Starting now, it is our ability to bring creative thinking to the current business climate - to focus on the benefits we deliver for customers - to show extreme focus and commitment – that will create results".

What gobbledygook. Wasn't this a memo for the survivors of his purge? Clear Channel delivers fewer benefits because of today's firings and the cutbacks that have made it less of a radio group.

John Slogan Hogan, the Less Is More President of Clear Channel Radio also wrote a memo to the staff, but there is nothing noteworthy in it so the less we say about it the more you'll understand.

These pretenders are not leaders.

They can't see the problems radio faces let alone solve them.

As one of my readers said "Reading the CC news I had this thought of a captain trying to make the emergency landing at Teterboro Airport by lightening the load tossing passengers out the door".

Captain Sully decided the plane was expendable and he with the passengers lived to fly again. But Clear Channel decided the people (their assets) were expendable and private equity lived to see another day.

As many of you know I have frequently warned about what culminated in radio's worst day ever so now I'm going to look ahead to the future and address some of these questions. Of course, I could be wrong. I'm betting that what you read here is pretty close to what you can expect in the future.

What will radio's consolidation leader do next?

1. More cutbacks at Clear Channel. Nine percent of the work force is just the beginning. Once these economies of scale are digested, then more savings will be applied. Today, Clear Channel saved an estimated $400 million in annual expenses. For private equity firms this type of thing is like crack cocaine.

2. Citadel's Fagreed Suleman and the other clueless radio heads will step up their efforts to make large savings by more massive firings. Clear Channel just gave Fagreed the cover he needs. To borrow a line from "When Harry Met Sally" -- the greedy Clear Channel followers will now say, "I want what he's having".

3. Amazingly, the assault is now on to shrink sales departments across radio groups nationwide. If Clear Channel, the largest, can cut deeply enough into sales and survive, so can the others -- so they will think. In fact they need more salespeople, better-trained and on the street during a recession.

4. Few, if any, groups will hire the Clear Channel salespeople who were fired yesterday. Some will find work in radio. Many will not. Everyone let go yesterday should be employed at a radio station somewhere by Monday if declining radio revenue needs more billing. Wait until you see the billing with smaller sales staffs. Let's think -- will they say, blame the recession?

5. The Ryan Seacrestization of radio is underway and will transfer to other formats and all dayparts. Then infect other group owners. Local radio is a thing of the past.

6. A one or two person station will be increasingly prevalent in the future as PE firms decide to cut costs and damn the repercussions.

What should other companies do in response?

1. Hire Clear Channels salespeople right now. Have them take their personal relationships to your station and bring some Clear Channel money over in personal trade. Make them a good deal. Experienced salespeople can work for a fair commission as long as there is no fooling around with client lists and commission rates.

2. Go live and local 24/7 -- make a concerted effort to make sure your listeners can tell you are the ones broadcasting from the city, about the city, reflecting city news, tastes in music and sense of community. Then send Mark Mays and Slogan Hogan a thank you note. If you do this in a cursory way (as radio usually does), it won't matter to listeners. Make it meaningful and appealing and you've got a gift from the radio gods.

3. Blitz the Big Boys. Send your talent in after the other team's quarterback. Hit the competitor with things they cannot duplicate while they are broadcasting pap from Ryan Seacrest in LA et al. Put on a local contest. Pay down mortgages, car payments. Air contests that offer to make the rest of a winner's mortgage payments for the year in return for 10,000 documented converts to your station. I can show you how to document it. Then, send one of your newly hired Clear Channel salespeople out to make calls with the evidence of 10,000 more listeners. (Hey, you and I know enough program directors who could cut Clear Channel's guts out on the air with innovative programming elements to make them wish they never heard the name Seacrest).

ho will be radio's Captain Sully?

I've said this before -- it would only take one fresh face -- to turn a radio group into a content company which they should actually be.

Radio alone is not going to make a comeback -- most of us know this even if we hate to accept it.

Radio, podcasting, streaming, social networking and mobile audio and video content -- that's the "radio" company of the future.

The industry presently has no one available to navigate through uncertain waters and they will need their Captain Sully to save the people and save the medium.

Look at the bench.

Hogan and Mays -- come on!

Cox's Bob Neil -- smart, but thinks too small. Sometimes petty. Good guy but a throwback to 20 years ago.

Fagreed Suleman -- I describe him as "Mays on the second day". Mays burps and Fagreed -- well, you know. This is an accountant who hitched his fortune to Mel Karmazin and flying solo has been a disaster.

Mel Karmazin?
Now that I mentioned it, he's good, but Mel's a basic radio sales guy. He could help there. But remember, he's also the one who wouldn't let CBS stations stream their content because he didn't want to give away the intellectual property. Today, who wants the intellectual property?

Saga's Ed Christian -- Pre-historic but excellent at seeing the "small picture". However, radio needs a big picture person.

David Field -- again, based on what?

Dan Mason -- I think he could be an improvement over every radio president out there, but he'd have to be turned loose without interference. There is no doubt Mason is further ahead tracking new media than any other radio executive.

Randy Michaels -- He's got his faults. You've got yours and I've got mine, but I think it's fair to say Michaels could run Clear Channel radio a hell of a lot better than John Slogan Hogan. Weak spot: the Internet, mobile and social networking.

Add your own. You see the problem.

Now that we've seen the consolidator's game plan, it's time to strategize.

As I said yesterday in the most viewed piece I have written, there are three ways to fight evil empires (advertiser boycotts of stations that insist on piping in national programming to local stations, massive political assault on Congress and lobbying for the passage of the record industry's performance tax exemption especially for stations not programming 100% local content). Web viewers scroll down to see the full plan in "How To Fire Clear Channel".

The future is in new media. Time to migrate on over.

Clear Channel crashed an industry precisely because there was not one brave, competent, caring Captain Sully in sight.

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