Thanksgiving With the Dickeys

If radio had human rights violations, the government would eventually be forced to investigate Clear Channel, Citadel and perhaps the worst offender of all, Cumulus.

These three radio consolidators – the largest in all of radio – share a common disrespect for their employees and a blatant disregard for their careers.

What’s worse is that these are the leaders – like them or not – from whom other smaller radio owners take their direction.

So if Cumulus cuts its way to “success”, then they will as well.

If voice tracking makes it possible for the three “C” consolidators to reduce on-air expenses, then the other smaller groups almost always follow suit.

That's how important these three companies are to the health and vitality of the radio industry.

In the past two years the ranks of the radio industry have been decreased by thousands and thousands of excellent, loyal and talented employees in management, sales, programming, on-air, engineering and in office support roles. It is obvious that the three “leaders” in radio are going to become the smallest big time operators out there by keeping this trend up.

A radio executive wrote to me yesterday and said, “One of the first things one learns in business is you can't shrink yourself to profitability”.

He knows that.

You know that.

I know that.

So what is their problem?

Another reader wrote what he thinks is the Cumulus mantra, "The floggings will continue until morale improves".

So, on the occasion of Thanksgiving, a traditional time for family, friends, turkey and being grateful, I thought it would be useful to see what Thanksgiving is or should be at the Dickey households – that of big brother Lew and little brother, John.

How can they even live with themselves especially this time of year after they’ve ruined careers, fired employees needlessly (and as an act of self-destruction)?

Families have been thrown into crisis and, even as I write this, Cumulus plans to keep cutting its ranks until one master control spews out national radio to local markets while inexperienced new salespeople chase phantom accounts to sell them increasingly cheap advertising.

I’ve often wondered how Clear Channel patriarch Lowry Mays can live with himself.

Good karma comes back as good and bad as bad. But this man more than any epitomizes the Evil Empire he created in his image. In my opinion, Mays sold his soul and will be remembered for that -- and probably not much more.

The other day when I heard of the death of programmer and air talent Dene Hallam or last December when we lost the programming icon Bill Drake, I remembered again how most radio people held them in high esteem. Even if you disagreed with their approach to radio you knew they loved the industry.

Thanksgiving is a scary time at the Dickey households because if they have no trouble enjoying their turkey then they truly have no feelings. When I ran into Lew last September in Philadelphia I got the feeling that the man I knew ten years ago had become bitter, haggard and frankly uncaring about people.

It’s my feeling.

I could be wrong.

But let me tell you why.

Dickey was dismissive every time I said you are being brutal to people. He didn’t deny it. Dickey countered with, “You’re killing me, Jerry” to which as I reported earlier I retorted, “No, you’re killing you – I’m just telling everybody”.

The idea of forcing salespeople to quit rather than pay them unemployment. The farce of telling the happy talk trade press that Cumulus is going to hire more salespeople when he neglects to add how many he is firing or forcing to quit.

Let me say this loud and clear.

Dickey, Fagreed Suleman of Citadel and Lee & Bain, equity owners of Clear Channel have the right to do any damn thing they want with their companies. I don’t have a say and you don’t. Their shareholders one day might have, had they spoken up. Now it’s too late.

But all three companies have been mean-spirited and overly hurtful in dealing with the human aspect of consolidation. Ironically enough, the pain that they are instilling on the folks who rely on them for a living are the only ones who can help them return to profitability.

You don’t cut your way to success.

You cut if you want to run – and that’s what they are going to do.

Run skeleton operations. Dodge the debt mistakes. Wait for the economy to get better and sell the shells to people who will make them rich all over again even at much lower multiples.

If Dickey has a wishbone this holiday and makes a wish for the future, it would be to get out of debt and see his company return to profitability. That wishbone isn’t going to break his way.

If Fagreed makes a wish at his turkey dinner it would be that lenders keep him around after the company files for a pre-packaged bankruptcy on or before January 15 – write that date down on your calendar because as sure as I’m typing this, Fagreed is going to make bankruptcy sound like a growth business when it is announced.

If John Slogan Hogan speaking with the ventriloquist voice of Lee & Bain could grab that turkey bone and yank on it, he would hope no one discovers that he doesn’t know what he is doing. He’s an Atlanta market manager at best and a yes man at worst.

If Mark Mays is enjoying his family this weekend and we sincerely hope he is, one would hope that he had an ounce of decency to remember the people who are in a bad hurt this holiday because of his decisions. Mays forgot that the right thing for his business was to do is to employ not destroy.

These culprits are not going into the radio hall of fame any time soon. They will be remembered for the turkeys they are – the ones who did in a good industry by trying to leverage lives for their own increased compensation.

What makes me proud as the Thanksgiving weekend comes upon us is that there is a lot to be thankful for even if you work for or were even fired from one of the major consolidators this past year.

Beyond unemployment or reemployment, we have the digital future which as it unfolds will present many new employment possibilities and entrepreneurial ideas of ex-consolidation workers. I promise to give you the down low on these opportunities over the year ahead. The path to new media is not clearly defined like leaving one station and taking a similar job across the street.

But we're at least there is a growth business ahead and radio people are the best qualified to be in it. Now we must concentrate on doing our homework and checking out challenges and opportunities. No looking back unless you want more heartbreak.

That radio people – even faced with the cruelties that we could have never predicted ten years ago – never turned on each other -- also makes me proud. In fact, I know of multiple cases in which employees were willing to take less to work or to keep associates from being fired.

Showing up and doing more work then they were compensated for – that makes me thankful to be in an industry of fine people who care about their audiences, their advertisers and their local communities even when the employers have forgotten.

Each year I am not grateful for having a multifaceted career in the radio industry in programming, on-the-air, as a publisher and now -- advisor to the digital future.

Unlike the consolidators and like you – it’s radio people that warm my heart.




Hard working.

And ...


This holiday season I’d challenge the major consolidators to look at the man in the mirror and ask if they have the qualities that their fired employees maintain through good times and bad.

There is another way to handle a recession, over leveraged debt and the attack of new media.

With a conscience.

A few of our radio leaders have lost their way and I, for one, hope that one of them will reflect on their unfortunate legacy.

That is my wish – with or without a wishbone.

To the great people of radio, don’t lose heart – 2010 may be a bad year for mean radio but it is going to be a new beginning for your careers, lives and families and we’ll talk about it here all year.

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