Cumulus Is the New Clear Channel

Don't worry, Clear Channel is still the "Evil Empire".

But Cumulus under the leadership of the Dickey boys is more like the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the fictional Marvel Comics super villain team devoted to mutant superiority over normal humans.

Of course I am poking fun at the Dickey brothers because as they have been tightening the noose on their talented and able Cumulus employees, they have also been tightening the noose on themselves.

It is unthinkable that a radio group could spy on employees using cameras installed at their stations, punish salespeople who can't meet corporate goals in a brutal recession and continue to pay the founding brothers excessive compensation without much corporate oversight.

And to coincide with this harsh approach to operating a radio company, the Dickey boys led by CEO Lew Tricky Dickey have driven the stock price down to about two quarters, run amuck of their loan covenants and have failed to prove old Lew Dickey, Sr was right in installing his carefully educated sons to run one of the biggest radio groups.

We're doing a Best Group/Worst Group poll on my website between now and the end of the year. Early voting has started (you'll find the poll in the right hand column if you're interested). Look at it and you'll see my point about how people feel about Cumulus being the new Clear Channel. But you don't need a poll to tell you Lew Tricky Dickey's apparent draconian methods in dealing with employees is coming home to roost.

We're all entitled to an opinion and this is a free country -- so while Cumulus employees must swallow their tongues to keep their jobs, others can call it like it is -- which is -- a travesty.

An unnecessary travesty.

Back when Clear Channel was dubbed the Evil Empire, the largest radio group was suing people left and right, bullying everyone in sight and using its heft and power to gain what should have amounted to unfair advantage or as I call it -- a monopoly.

But absolute power absolutely corrupted at least their power and Clear Channel eventually imploded. Today they fight to avoid bankruptcy.

There are a lot of Clear Channel wannabes including Citadel which is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy with Clear Channel.

Eric Boehlert, the talented reporter and writer slapped the term "Evil Empire" on Clear Channel and I assume he came up with the description because Clear Channel was and is mean.

That's why I say Cumulus is the new Clear Channel.

Their employees think the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are evil and hardly a day goes by without more corroborating evidence:

1. One reader reveals, "I personally witnessed employees performing a morning ritual of facing west toward the corporate office and flipping them off to start their days. That’s a team building activity that pulled people together in their misery. Every decision was based on How would Clear Channel do it? And as we all know that does not lead to good decision making".

2. An ex-Cumulus employee writes, "In order to avoid cuts, all non-sales staffers are required to make over an hour worth of calls each day to set up appointments for the sales department..who are also making their own calls. That's wasted time that keeps programming and promotions staff from programming and marketing the stations".

3. Employees make fun of the camera that the Dickeys have creepily placed in the meeting rooms where corporate conducts their spy-in-the-sky sales meetings from Atlanta -- meetings in which some attendees have reported punitive tactics disguised as Cumulus sales "motivation".

4. The pressure is apparently being applied so tight that one Cumulus employee blames what he alleges as the recent death rumor of a Missouri employee on it. While we have no way to corroborate the accusations at the very least this is representative of what some Cumulus employees think: "An unreported story is the business manager in Missouri who was allegedly so upset and stressed out by the verbal beatings they get on their weekly beating conference calls, so upset and stressed by deadlines that are shortened, staff eliminated, computer programs that don't do as promised, and reports that were do (sic) yesterday, that she quietly left the office a few weeks ago. Drove to her house, parked the car in the garage, closed the garage, while the car was still running, and ended her life. She didn't believe she had the choice to quit, she had bills to pay, and clearly she felt death was a better answer than another day at Cumulus. Tragic". Again, that's one person's account but when it launches talk -- right or wrong -- that the stress is so great that employees can't take it any more -- that's a problem for the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

So, the point -- Cumulus is apparently stepping on the throats of its employees and answering discontent with harsher measures (monitoring emails, blocking some email communication, threatening to take accounts away from salespeople who don't meet goals, etc).

It's even worse than that -- and I'll pass the latest abuses along to you in a future piece. You see, they can block their employees email, but they let their fingers do the talking from their unmonitored personal accounts when it comes to unhappy Cumulus employees looking to out the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

But I've got what I think is a great answer.

And, ironically, it comes out of the mouth of Chief Other Brother John Dickey.

Other Brother was quoted in the trades recently on the topic of ratings -- and there it was in all its eloquence -- John Dickey's answer to all Cumulus employee problems:

"Cumulus COO John Dickey says tumultuous debate over ratings the last two years has led him to believe there should be a single point person to represent radio owners to research companies. He says an ombudsman could "keep everybody honest and make recommendations."

That's such a great idea for ratings, John, why not appoint an ombudsman to oversee management-employee relations since the board of directors is apparently not interested in this topic?

An ombudsman is "an official appointed to investigate individuals' complaints against maladministration, especially that of public authorities".

And it would keep everybody honest and make recommendations just as John Dickey wants the ratings ombudsman to do for the industry.

If it's good enough to keep Arbitron honest, why shouldn't it be good enough to keep Cumulus honest?

None of us can know if there are human rights abuses in China -- I mean, Atlanta -- without an ombudsman.

Let's take an idea from John Dickey and run with it or maybe we'll just watch John Dickey run away from it.

Look, our great industry is being reduced to one big sweat shop by failed radio consolidators.

Let's at least speak out for them and hope sooner or later all of us can either help misguided radio CEOs find their way again or at least let me "keep everybody honest and make recommendations."

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