Cumulus Invents Hifiring

From the radio group that brought you sales meetings with spy cameras comes the latest innovation in Harvard educated CEO Lew Dickey's arsenal of weapons.

It is called Hifiring.

That's the art of hiring people at the very same time the company fires an equal or greater number of employees.

And Cumulus has a Chutzpah factor built in. You know shameless audacity.

You see, while Cumulus -- one of the three underperforming "leaders" of the radio industry -- is off firing more people than they are hiring to replace them, they are telling their friends in the happy talk press that "trust me" -- we're back to hiring again.

Hifiring is significant because -- all together now -- what the big three "C"s do, their underachieving imitators also do using the big boys as a screen for their actions. The big boys being Clear Channel, Citadel and Cumulus.

So let's see how it works so even if they get away with it, they won't get away with it in the arena of public opinion.

Remember CEO Lew Tricky Dickey's proclamation a few months back that Cumulus was going to hire 50 new sellers by the end of the year?

I do.

Bet you do, too.

Of course, the end of the year is upon us and I ask, "Lew, where are the 50 new sales jobs?"

He fed this tripe to the trade press -- friends of mine, good people who want the radio industry to do well even when its leaders seem not to want it. They just slobbered all over themselves taking Dickey at face value -- always dangerous.

At the time I complained that the P.T. Barnum of radio was playing a carnival barker by saying, "hurry, hurry, hurry -- now you see them, now you don't. Watch the world's greatest radio company make 250 sales jobs disappear right before your own eyes".

In other words, it was all an illusion.

Now you're probably saying, Jerry, give poor Lew a break, it's Christmas. And just when I was tempted, I see this in All Access -- "Cumulus Has Some Big On Air Openings".

Oh, boy -- here we go again.

Cumulus is Hifiring -- some of its markets barely have one live announcer left working in the cluster and now this hiring hype -- it's all good again.

Keep in mind that Dickey Do isn't the only CEO who does this -- his idol, John Slogan Hogan did a PR blitz to tell the world that Clear Channel was hiring 50 yield managers? You may recall Hogan worked his magic in the happy talk press as well and it came out sounding like Clear Channel was an employer again.

While some so-called "yield managers" were hired, not one of my many friends, sources or readers at Clear Channel can name 50. Hell, they can't name five.

So, where are they Mr. Hogan?

Were you out there Hifiring again -- axing qualified people and hiring only a few former hotel industry workers you said counted as 50 yield managers? Maybe these consolidators get so excited when they actually hire someone that they forget all the folks they put out of work and think a few hirings make up the difference.

Well, it doesn't.

This is the time of year when we don't want to forget our brethren -- the people who actually know how to program, sell and manage radio stations. They are wise enough to know that radio is local and to recognize that "Premium Choice" syndicated radio is really "Ground Round".

These are my friends and yours -- capable, loyal, proven winners who are on the sidelines because of the likes of Hogan and Dickey. I won't even start on Citadel CEO Farid Suleman, the overpaid and underachieving CEO who as of yesterday ran the stock price of his company down to one penny in advance of filing the prepackaged bankruptcy offering that will save his neck.

Who is saving the paychecks of thousands -- and I mean thousands -- of radio people who have been serially removed from the industry they love even as their bosses have run their corporate ships aground?

Hifiring is easy because it's an illusion.

And if the leading radio groups want to continue their two-year blitz to "right size" their stations, then it's up to them. By "right size" they mean capsize -- but I digress.

Even Beasley, a fairly good bunch of operators, that said they would have a PD running each station they own may not have lived up to their word. I don't know for sure, but a number of people are doing a head count and can't seem to square the performance with the promise.

When readers write to me to thank me for speaking up and out on these issues they often mention how depressing this industry has become. Believe me, I remind them that I'm just conveying what I see because if I had anything to do with it, I'd do it a completely different way.

In fact, just before the holiday I'm going to share with you a blueprint of how radio groups -- even consolidated ones -- could have made this business a vigorous one. It's a blueprint for those who want to avoid the mistakes that have taken their toll on radio.

The people who would resort to Hifiring will also be touting Bullspitting in the year ahead -- and what is Bullspitting, you ask?

The fine art of saying that radio will rebound in 2010 because of their frugal management during the recessionary year of 2009.

Under the fine print, you'll note that the comparable statistics they will be using to show "improvement" will be compared with the absolute worst months in the industry's history. You won't find them projecting growth because that would be called Pie-in-the-sky -- and that train left the station a long time ago.

So, if the industry's leaders are content with Hifiring its way into the headlines, so be it.

There are thousands like us out there who know better.

The circus that Fagreed Suleman, John Hogan and Lew Dickey have made out of a great local business and service should be called what it really is.

A high wire balancing act with no safety netting to prevent a fall.

And to all those who have been forced out of radio, are looking to find new work or putting up with moronic management to keep earning a paycheck, don't lose faith.

2010 will be a turning point for traditional media and for you.

I've been working on the curriculum for my January Media Solutions Lab and I know you'll be excited to see the many sales and programming content alternatives to traditional media come of age before your eyes.

Let consolidators continue to carry off the sham of Hifiring while you get busy rewiring your skills for era of new media that starts in earnest within the next 12 months.

And mark my words -- while some smaller well run radio groups and even small local stations will start to learn about what it will take -- the Hifirers will be high-fiving themselves for failing.

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