Stupid Consolidation Tricks

In spite of the fact that radio consolidators think voice tracked programming is just as good as local programming, you still can't fool a listener.

Oh, well -- maybe some listeners don't know or don't care about the local jock. That's unfortunate. It's in radio's interest that they should.

But the future of Repeater Radio is going to be built around the grandiose ideas of underachievers like Clear Channel's John Slogan Hogan and his proposition that local radio is so -- Nineties.

We already know what happened five years ago in Minot, North Dakota when the toxic spill from a railroad car derailment occurred and no one was at any local radio stations because all the local stations were owned by the consolidator Clear Channel.

Thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals were released into the air but the hits just kept on coming. One person died and hundreds were treated for immediate health problems. Clear Channel never aired one warning for local residents.

When consolidators talk about their role in local markets, they always argue that radio is the one source to turn to in an emergency or crisis. Except, when Clear Channel is doing voice tracking.

With Repeater Radio coming to a town and city near you, it is critical to understand the importance of local radio to available radio listeners.

Of course, anyone younger has the advantage of not relying on radio for anything.

Not music.

Not news.

Not staying connected.

Got a crisis? Go to your cell phone and find out what you need to know.

In this way, radio is really working overtime to make itself even more irrelevant to the public. And it doesn't have to just be a train wreck (I'm referring to the toxic spill not Clear Channel now).

Just this winter in Philadelphia, Clear Channel's WISX (My 106.1) was doing a pre-blizzard out-of-market weather forecast that said "cloudy tonight and snow showers tomorrow".

As the comedian Don Knotts once said in a TV skit , "the wind is coming from the window" so all a local operation would have to do is look outside or go outside. In reality, the Philadelphia area was under a National Weather Service Winter Storm Watch. Overnight, that Watch was upgraded to a Winter Storm Warning. The National Weather Service was calling for 8 - 12 inches of snow while Repeater Radio was calling for snow showers.


Not unless weather forecasts are of no use to the audience. But if they are, this foreign forecast was dead wrong. Hell, if Clear Channel wanted to voice track a weather forecast, how about the 70 and sunny we had in Scottsdale. That would at least be fantasy instead an embarrassment.

You know, that great radio pioneer John Slogan Hogan coined the term JFDI (Just F#@king Do It) when he spoke to a managers meeting in San Antonio. Yes, a very classy guy. I guess Hogan's warning applies to cutting costs -- not weather forecasts and train wrecks.

Voice tracking will be the death of local radio.

One of my readers reported that last year, an Entercom station fired a mid-day announcer and replaced him with -- you'd better sit down -- a voice mail box!

They played promos asking listeners to phone in and vote for the songs they wanted to hear. Can you imagine if this had worked?

Radio consolidators don't get that the game is over for them. And those of us who know radio can do better are in denial that this is the end. It's too sad and unnecessary to accept. Nevertheless these sellouts are killing a great industry.

As any of us know who had to do an ascertainment for license renewal, it is a bitch. A paperwork nightmare that took our attention away from programming.

However, lately, I've been thinking how nice it would be to require consolidators to have to ascertain community needs and assess why they deserve to win license renewal.

In the era of consolidation, license renewal is a foregone conclusion.

It shouldn't be.

Making a broadcaster fight to keep their radio license that they hold in the public trust would solve a lot of mismanagement problems and cockamamie ideas to save money.

Stay with me here.

Can you imagine if we had a real FCC and Clear Channel had to justify serving the community needs in Minot during the toxic train spill? How do you make a case for license renewal when you're never home in Minot? How is that serving the community?

Three to five-year renewals.

Let others try and compete (sorry to use a work like compete as it relates to radio, forgive me).

Let the best owner get the license. I know a lot of broadcasters -- present and former -- who could transform some of these embarrassing stations into great radio.

And it doesn't have to be all about news events or weather. How do you serve the public interest when the only interest that matters is Lee & Bain -- because they own the company?

Yes, you could solve stupid consolidation tricks by requiring each owner to prove how they served the public interest, convenience and necessity and what they plan to do if they are granted a renewal.

You'll see a lot more local employees.

You'll see voice tracking held to a minimum.

You'll see local focus instead of national Repeater Radio.

Had the FCC done its job, consolidation might have worked. Just as in the overall economic downturn, radio needed oversight as the financing and banking industry did (and hell, radio relied on the financing and banking industry to grow).

Greed helped drive American businesses down even as oversight was eliminated. Now we hear talk of watchdogs to watch watchdogs when all we need is for someone to justify a company's reason for being -- and monitor the way they do business.

Enforce the current laws.

When I taught at USC my students were amazed that I cared about radio. They don't.

Technology has given some 80 million young consumers many new options for news, entertainment and social connection. And frankly, they are in better shape than most radio listeners.

But consolidators have done more to drive the next generation away because they apparently never read their fiduciary responsibilities as licensees of the public trust.

Serve the local market.

Young people have moved beyond radio.

Available and loyal radio listeners are now being shortchanged by cheap programming tactics.

There's no one left to hurt but the remaining radio employees and the consolidators themselves who continue not to get it.

That's why their stock is worth pennies.

Why ten years of cost cutting has never worked.

And why they will keep taking their excessive compensation and benefits as long as they can get away with it.

If you want to save radio, go to your Congressional representative and ask -- no, beg -- for enforcement of local radio licenses.

This is not re-regulation. It is what should have been done all along when federal regulators decided to get into bed with consolidators instead.

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