Radio's Stupid Consolidation Tricks

What do you get when you fire most of your local employees, revert to using voice tracking or cheap outside programming, manage from corporate headquarters, spy on stations and treat engineers like they are not necessary?

No local radio -- or as I like to call it -- Nocal radio.

You could call it Knuckleradio because you'd have to be a knucklehead to do what radio CEOs are doing in the name of economies of scale.

Or Lowcal Radio -- because the costs for running consolidated stations are increasingly low.

Whatever you decide to call it, consolidators are busy at work carrying out their plans to reduce expenses even if it hurts their product and industry.

The three largest groups -- Clear Channel, Cumulus and Citadel -- are leading the way (if you could actually use the term "leading" to describe this self-immolation). Believe me, the other small groups are falling all over themselves to adopt the same destructive and shortsighted policies as you will see.

Here are a few self-destructive examples:

1. Playing offensive videos at "sales meetings".
Turns out one of my Repeater Reporters got wind of an Atlanta GM's attempt at motivating his sales department. The GM reportedly played Alec Baldwin's rant from Glengarry Glen Ross, the 1992 movie about the behind the scenes operation of a real estate office. The clip, as submitted by my reader, is full of insults and obscene language -- some directed at the alternative life style of other employees with children. Give a listen, but you've been warned. Some motivation, eh?

2. Raising ad rates by 20% to cover losses.

Recession? What recession? One consolidator ordered a 20% rate increase effective immediately ostensibly to cover his company's losses. Salespeople on the street are cringing as their prospects are hurting so much many are already skipping radio advertising at existing rates. Talk about being disconnected from your advertisers. Now is the time to cut rates -- not during economic booms. Radio, which had decades to raise its rates, stuck to low ball pricing and now you dance with the one that brought you (low ad rates) -- to quote Shania Twain.

3. Clear Channel's goal: no one in the building on weekends.
I know what you're going to say, there's already no one in their buildings during the week. One CC reader tells me this has been the company's apparent goal for years now and he can prove it. This Repeater Reporter attended a Prophet System training session in Denver a few years back. Here's how he quoted the trainer: "...yes, that's our goal; no one in the building on the weekends." When this concerned radio exec asked what would happen if the station went off the air, he recalls the trainer as saying, "He replied that Prophet had the capability to page the engineer or PD in that situation. He also said that hopefully station personnel would monitor local newscasts for news events that took place and send someone in if any unforeseen events occurred". There's more listeners, TSL and audience interaction on the weekends -- guess Clear Channel doesn't want it.

4. Father's Day Weather -- one day late.
Another disgusted radio exec says that on Father's Day -- well, let's let him tell it, "Clear Channel's high-rated WSRZ-FM, Sarasota, FL, 60s-70s hits, was plugging along, no back announcing, no local content, totally on automatic, when every hour, the recorded weather talked about the expected high tomorrow- FATHER'S DAY !! Seems someone forgot to update the weather. Another fine example of serving the community's needs". No harm done. No one got killed by a tornado this time -- just voice tracking egg on your face.

5. Michael Jackson coverage -- with no overtime.
This has probably happened at a lot of stations in the aftermath of the death of Michael Jackson. As one radio exec put it, "No one else was in the building when the MJ story broke. I put it on all stations (in the cluster) and then pieced together some tribute sets. Got a call reminding me..."No Overtime." (Did get a thanks from the PD who was on the way to the station.). This is not the way to do it.

6. Some Mom and Pop stations want to be Cumulus.
Another eyewitness account from a longtime radio vet who was fired from his consolidated radio job and wound up at a mom and pop operation. His comments remind us why once the genie is out of the bottle, you can't stuff it back in again: "...your article on tracking hit home...even with this local owner...we have a bare bones staff, everything is voicetrax even the morning shows!!...I took (a few) days off last week and had to track my shows while was gone... plus I put in all spots, write, produce etc".

7. "We're live today and you're lucky" on-air attitude.
One veteran broadcaster said, "I heard a personality on the air at a Radio One station on Friday last week who is usually voice tracked. She was on the air playing Michael Jackson songs back-to-back, and said during one of her breaks, 'Call me in the studio today, I’m actually here taking your phone calls and playing DJ today!' Nice sentiment, but she said it as though it was supposed to be a bonus for the audience... Almost as if to say, 'Don’t call me any other day, because I have much more important things to do'.”

8. Less station identification even in non-PPM markets.
An insider from Vegas said, " recent weeks, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. The voice-tracks are totally generic. There’s no mention of the station by the announcers, just a lot of 'that was… this is ' and 'hey, did you know Lonestar was coming out with a new CD?' One can only assume that they’re now having jocks do generic voice-tracks that run on multiple stations, eliminating the need to cut custom tracks for each station. Other than the occasional imaging stuff, the station itself is never mentioned. Plus, there’s no weather, no local happenings, no local comments about artists appearing locally… nothing. That's you're new local radio for you.

Seth Godin, the marketing guru, recently did a blog post on the demise of the sewing machine business and the once mighty Singer Corporation.

I got the feeling Godin was also talking about the radio industry in a way.

But I was convinced he was when he added, "The best marketing strategy is to destroy your industry before your competition does".

I guess radio CEOs are taking him literally.

For those of you who would prefer to get Jerry's daily posts by email for free, please click here. IMPORTANT: Service cannot start until you verify an email from "Feedburner" immediately after you sign up (You may have to check your filtered mail or enter as a recognized name in your address book).

Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.