Your Radio Cutbacks At Work

Perhaps they do this in your state, but where I live they put these signs up adjacent to highway construction projects that say "Your Highway Taxes At Work".

In some states they even fill in a time line to let you know how everything is progressing.

I got to thinking that radio consolidators ought to adopt the same practice to let the whole world know how their many cutbacks and firings are affecting the radio industry.

Of course, they would never do that.

But I would.

So, here is some of the residue of the slicing and dicing that has thinned the ranks of talented radio people and introduced such economies of scales to an industry that has maxed out its credit and insists that these cutbacks will be just what is needed to make radio competitive again.

Clear Channel is telling us and Washington the cutbacks will mean more local radio -- with a straight face.

That "Repeater Radio" is actually considered local radio if you add some local public service spots.

That fewer salespeople will bring in more revenue when it is badly needed.

That they have this bridge in Brooklyn that you could have for -- okay, I made that one up. You get the point.

So, be the judge.

Here's what my "Repeater Reporters" (readers) tell me is happening out there in consolidation heaven.

Tornado Warning -- But No One Is Home

Paul Meacham was driving down the street in El Dorado, Arkansas on Saturday May 2nd at about 1:30 when he noticed a Walgreens sign was flashing "tornado warnings from 1pm to 7 pm tonight".

Meacham did what any red-blooded American would do in such a threatening situation -- he turned on his radio.

He tuned to five different radio stations and not one word about a tornado warning.

In fact it was even worse than that -- they all ran the morning's prerecorded partly cloudy skies. One even said "don't let the clouds in the sky dampen your Saturday -- get out and enjoy". That weather forecast was made in a voice tracking studio that wasn't under a severe weather threat, no doubt -- someplace else.

Obviously Meacham didn't call a Cumulus station because Lew Dickey would have had one of his salespeople playing receptionist while the Cumulus Five Day Corporate Furlough Plan that applies to everyone except the Dickeys was being instituted. And they didn't have any stations in that market, thank God.

If ever there were a reason to take this to Congress and demand help in preserving local broadcasting, you'd think this would be it.

But, I'll bet most radio operators don't know the name of their Congressmen in their coverage area and I'll raise that bet and say those elected representatives don't know the names of all the broadcasters in their district.

This has to change -- now.

As we saw a few days ago with NAB CEO David Rehr -- radio's chief lobbyist -- all politics is indeed local.

He's out and radio's in trouble.

John Hogan -- it's 1 pm to 7 pm -- do you know where your severe weather is from Central Command? Did you know you have stations in Texarkana?

Give us 22 Minutes and We'll Give You Some Infomercials

Turns out Arkansas listeners aren't the only ones getting shortchanged.

In Los Angeles, CBS Radio according to LA Times reporter James Rainey is doing lots of baseball and entertainment industry news on KFWB while KNX is emerging as the real news station in the market.

Their newsrooms are consolidated -- better to have reporters who write real news also write show biz puff pieces.

But, on the weekend from 6am Saturday to midnight Sunday -- KFWB programs all long-form infomercials all the time.

As Rainey says programs touting the wonders of fish oil and ways to clean up home mortgage problems.

PD Andy Ludlum is quoted as saying the weekend infomercial format was “a business decision on the most effective way to support the station.” Huh? I'll bet he didn't make that decision.

See how you can fire a few dozen reporters and run two all-news stations.

You can't.

News From Around the World -- Literally

Clear Channel really knew what it was doing when it decided to centralize its news operations.

While shortsighted decisions like this have been made for years, now it's proliferating.

Tom Taylor reports that "Cleveland’s WTAM (1100) will be the local newsroom for Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Akron and Youngstown (where WKBN news director John Nagy is out).

That certainly does give a new meaning to local news, wouldn't you say?

WLW, Cincinnati will feed "local" news to Nashville, Toledo, Boston and Memphis.

WTVN, Columbus will play "local" news station for the Ohio markets like Lima, Defiance, Marion, Ashland/Mansfield and Chillicothe.

"News Hubs" -- another John Hogan slogan --- will be created in Denver, Houston, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Clear Channel programmer Kris Olinger quoted by Taylor from the Denver Post makes it all as clear as mud:

"Basically, the way it’s going to work is that we’ll have an offering similar to what a network would have, and stations in those markets get to pick what they want. Some may not want anything, some will want news only in the afternoons -- but we will produce those newscasts and feed those to the stations."

Got that?

Not-Local news is a better slogan but this is what your radio cutback savings are getting you.

Can you stand more. I've got it.

Beam It Up To Dickey

One of my "Repeater Reporters" is outing Cumulus for its cockamamie plan to automate all their stations.

No time line yet -- some speculate it's still one or two years off.

Cumulus was "looking for markets to test functionality this past March. They said they developed it so they could use talent from other markets in places they are lacking in staff. A (co-worker) I know that has ties closer to the top says the intent is to eventually voice track from a single location but I can't confirm that...still only second hand. He says they are trying to keep it quiet so that on-air talent don't get wind of what they want to do".

This plan would be several years off as their roll out of Opx has slowed in conjunction with their financial woes. Some stations have been on the waiting list for two years for the Opx program according to this reader.

Right now everything is going web based. Streaming, billing, HR, and automation so they can control and operate things from Atlanta.

Hello, Congress! Wake up -- there's your small market local radio company hunkered down in Atlanta.

The Cumulus Cent Com is supposedly being developed in-house and they've made large strides this past year. HR, streaming and billing are already company wide. Automation has been alot slower to roll out.

Just you wait for that voice tracking.

Ratings On The Cheap

By now you know Clear Channel CEO John Slogan Hogan pulled his usual Arbitron renewal threat to get better rates, but this time he cut out a number of smaller markets while at the same time renewing in others.

Clear Channel waxed eloquent about Nielsen -- Arbitron's competitor -- and basically spewed the usual bullshit they throw to get what they want.

Who needs ratings anyway?

With cutbacks on-air, you think they care if Ryan Seacrest lays an egg in 99 markets outside of LA -- not when they're saving all those local salaries.

I'll show you the real ratings on our financial statement.

But the damage that is being missed here is that when the number one radio group says it can do without audience ratings under any circumstances, it is telling the advertising industry they can do without radio.

I haven't mentioned no local music.

Decimated sales staffs.

Overworked employees.

No Internet strategy.

No money for innovation.

But my fingers hurt and your eyes are getting tired.

When a highway is constructed, the taxpayer usually winds up with something to show for it albeit at an over budget price.

But in the case of the radio industry, what listeners, advertisers and employees have to show for the many years of budget cuts and employee firings is a mere shell of what the radio industry used to be.

You can sit there and piss and moan about it.

Or, you and 100 of your close friends can find the name of your Congressional representatives for all the districts that cover your market and tell them to save local radio.

The NAB is on their side.

Congress will be on your side because if the pillaging of local radio by consolidators and Wall Street is ever portrayed for what it really is -- a sham and a fraud -- consolidation's version of local radio will not be acceptable.

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