Clear Channel's New Game Plan

The original say one thing and do exactly the opposite is being implemented with a passion at Clear Channel.

Publicly, President John Slogan Hogan is saying the company is all about local radio while he spearheads its replacement with nationally syndicated Repeater Radio.

Publicly, Hogan says local management gets to opt in to Repeater Radio ("Premium Choice") but there is no evidence these decisions are being made locally.

Publicly, Clear Channel has made a holy war out of promoting its "Less Is More" concept of fewer commercials, more music and better rates while secretly mandating its FM stations carry up to a whopping 22 commercials an hour in two -- count them -- two commercial breaks.

Hogan's Hypocrites are now some mid-level managers who are fighting to keep their jobs even as they lose their credibility and honor.

Here's an inside look at what Clear Channel is really doing -- forget the posturing.

• Up to 11 Commercials in a Row -- Twice an Hour

Every one of Hogan's FM music stations -- in every format -- has now been instructed to play up to 22 commercials per hour -- at least for those who are able to sell them out.

That's 11 spots in a row!

Twice an hour.


Three breaks are not an option in spite of the fact that Hogan would have you believe local managers have the final say. If they do, it's amazing how coincidental it is that all of them are following Hogan's orders.

What is worse is that the maximum number of minutes of spots per hour actually hits as many as 13 depending on the daypart and whether it's a standard week or what they call a "high" week.

And, that doesn't even count traffic reports, sponsor billboards, sponsored weather reports and billboards, or those HD Radio Alliance commercials -- all not counted as sales inventory.

Thus, the true back-to-back unit count gets up to 13 or 14.

From the man whose tenure is marked by one thing -- "Less Is More", Hogan has now abandoned it after all the hype and PR.

Now Hogan has managed to punish the Clear Channel music radio listener by giving them up to 9 minutes of unremitting, attached-on-both-sides, poorly written, shoddily produced commercials in a row for every 20 minutes of music they hear. Plus add-ons as previously mentioned.

Less music and more commercials = Less is More.

Now I get it!

• Lose Listeners But Keep the Commercial Loads High

While some rock and CHR listeners know how to navigate commercials -- they disappear during the two lengthy commercial breaks and don't return until the commercials are finished -- some stations are showing listener erosion. Some have actually held their ratings, but erosion is evident.

One top 25 market Clear Channel AC station reports share and cume down 20% in the last nine months since mandatory implementation of the 2-break clock killed their balanced hour built on three equidistant spot breaks of 3 or 4 minutes each -- and following the original Less Is More mandate of never exceeding 10 minutes per hour.

Now, if the in-car listener chooses to switch to another station when commercials begin on a Clear Channel FM music station, the commercials won’t even be half done by the time the song on the competing station ends.

• Screw the Advertiser

Remember all that hype about how Less Is More is good for the advertisers and their agencies in making media buying decisions?

Well, you can bet Clear Channel is as quiet as a church mouse on the changes Hogan is forcing across the system.

If the radio industry ever wonders why advertisers are questioning the effectiveness of radio spots or challenging the cost per unit like never before, maybe it's because radio companies like Clear Channel are throwing their spots into an unlistenable black hole that no listener can endure -- no matter how much they might like the station or the commercial.

Clear Channel, acting unilaterally, has decided to create the world's biggest spot sets loaded with commercials, traffic, PSAs (remember, public service announcements are now the replacement for local content) and promos.

I've said it before and I guess I'll have to say it again -- Bill Drake had it right when radio was being drowned in clutter back in the 1960s. One commercial minute per set. Jingle. Song and four music sweeps covering the quarter hours.

Young people I have worked with in academia tell me they would like one commercial and then back to music -- if the commercials weren't so bad.

And, don't take my word for it. Ask a genius commercial creative talent (and programmer) like the legendary Chuck Blore why anyone would pay money for a radio spot when even the station carrying them hides them into an 11 spot stop set.

Look, I'm not being naive here and neither are you.

Everybody knows listeners tend to leave when commercials come on.

But Clear Channel has now made that departure virtually mandatory with up to 22 commercials plus station clutter.

That's not defensible.

Not acceptable.

Not even good business.

• Making Way for Cheap Spots

Westwood One, Premiere, and Dial Global are sending more cheap commercials through the national radio system and there is evidence that some stations are actually building permanent places into their hours to run them.

For example, El Dorado's KQSR, Yuma has created a fixed position for this penny ante inventory as part of an existing stop set -- and get this -- it is in addition to the regular spot load.

Clear Channel is not exactly holding up its responsibility as industry leader for keeping their pants up on rates.

Dump it in, mix it up, risk losing listeners and take whatever you can get for it.

• No Local Music Scheduling

How are these liars getting away with calling Premium Choice local radio?

And it's not Premium Choice.

It's more like Ground Chuck.

Or at the very least, Hamburger Helper.

Perhaps you saw what R&R did late last week.

Some 17 Clear Channel stations were removed from the R&R reporting panel because they are not picking their own music -- it is being selected nationally. No local music scheduling. And this trend is going to grow as part of the Clear Channel effort to eradicate local music.

• Repeater Radio Without Local Mentions

At least with voice tracking, you got local mentions and shot-in-the-dark weather forecasts (on second thought, no thanks for that).

Clear Channel's new "Ground Chuck" Repeater Radio features a stable of national formats that San Antonio decides where to run.

There are no call letters done by the jock. Only on locally-inserted sweepers, jingles and promos.

The "Ground Chuck" jocks might say "check out our website" but not say what it is.

There is no local programming on most of these Repeater Radio stations except for commercial spots -- and all together now -- you don't need a PD to run a Repeater Radio station. All it takes is any IT guy or production person at best -- if that!

That's why Clear Channel is firing capable PDs left and right, many of whom are responsible for more than one station, because they are no longer needed.

It's one thing if Clear Channel would admit to what it is doing which is making network affiliates out of its local stations.

And quite another as they misleadingly portray their strategy as being local radio.

The only thing local about it is the public service spots that often end with "Clear Channel Cares About the Community". Nice local touch.

Clear Channel.

Big conglomerate that has just compromised your favorite station cares about where you live.

Beyond the hypocrisy and misguided strategic moves, Clear Channel by implementing Repeater Radio across its chain is doing as much to prematurely kill off the radio industry as it is in killing off its own stations.

These people are downright dangerous and I thought you'd like to know that what they say publicly and what they are trying to pawn off on the public, the FCC and Congress are two separate things.

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