Clear Channel’s Free Voice Tracking

Voice tracking came into radio’s unpopular culture as a mainstream item during the days of Randy Michaels.

Today, even good radio groups employ the tactic to save money (unfortunately).

No voice tracking is as good as live talent even if voice tracking has been taken to a new level.

You see, you can fool all of the listeners with voice tracking, some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the listeners all of the time.

Now, there is growing evidence that your leader in self-destructive radio strategies, Clear Channel, is forcing their employees to do voice tracking for free – as an add-on to the air jobs they apparently should be lucky to have.

One victim puts it like this:

“My letter of intent said "voice tracking one additional market with no additional compensation."

That’s great, but I am told that some people who agreed to do free voice tracking have been forced to do up to two additional on-air or online stations under the Positions/Duties part of their agreements.

It’s not unusual that what Clear Channel intended to agree on can also change in the contract and this happened on other issues as well including scope of duties.

Another Clear Channel employee’s contract, I am told, stated "with no additional compensation" in the voice tracking clause.

Additionally, in some cases, Clear Channel has the chutzpah to ask union workers to do voice tracking for free.

Since when has voice tracking become the wink and nod of radio in order to keep your job?

Since now at Clear Channel.

And I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about it at the other consolidators as well because today’s radio CEOs want stations that cost them next to nothing to run which means talent is paid next to nothing to help run them.

What’s up with talent unions anyway? This is a clear violation.

Apparently free voice tracking is not an isolated incident at the Evil Empire. Just a few days ago I heard from yet another Clear Channel talent that free voice tracking is expected from them.

Expected – like in, you pay the employer as if they were a Schylock, a moneylender in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, who lends money to Antonio but demands in return a pound of Antonio's own flesh should the debt not be repaid on time.

In this case, it’s not Antonio’s flesh, it’s paying a pound of your flesh to San Antonio!

In the past (when they actually paid people to do all voice tracking), I’ve also had readers report that this seamy practice has been taken to new levels including kickbacks at the market level.

That’s right – the manager got you a voice tracking gig and you split the money with the manager (I’m not making this up).

I’m not sure that President Hogan knows – or even cares.

Even when talent pays kickbacks (as odious as it is), at least they get something in their pockets for the effort.

Today, getting paid in radio is looked at as an entitlement – in other words, employees think they have a right to be paid for everything they do and increasingly radio companies think these same employees have the right to be paid less.

One of the things that is fast becoming evident with the recent class action lawsuit filed by Cumulus employees for employment violations is that other companies may also be operating illegally with regard to pay, compensation and expense reimbursement.

Or as I call it, “The Revenge of the Victims”.

I have made the acquaintance of some radio employees who now keep detailed records of when they work, when they are asked to work for free or overtime, their expenses and whether they are paid or not and other routine issues that most radio people never really dealt with when they expected their employers to be honorable.

Class action suits in the past have had a bad name.

But Robert Ottinger, the lead lawyer in the Cumulus class action suit. thinks his case is different.

It’s smaller and focused on individual sales people in California (first) where they claim they were not paid for their expenses by Cumulus under state law. They also think they have a claim to possible overtime reimbursement.

In some class action suits the lawyers get all the money and corporations often have to pay dearly to settle them.

But Ottinger believes that each person in California who worked for Cumulus and has a claim under law should recover part of their lost expenses and possibly unpaid overtime.

What we do know is that the Cumulus class action suit is not likely to be the last.

That increasingly, individuals are coming forward filing suits against operators who may have violated their rights, the state laws or their contracts.

Some of the cases I have heard of are pretty interesting and bizarre. I will, of course, share them with you going forward.

What you’re likely to see, however, as employees begin to document everything they are asked or forced to do is a change of employment policies.

This is going to be the biggest stealth operation their employees have ever seen. Whereas consolidators like to spin everything they do – even when they fire people – they are likely to be mum on fixing their broken employment polices.

You’ll see more time clocks.

It will be harder for them to ask employees to do more than they were hired to do because if you take away an employee’s own non-compensated private time and have to pay them to do more that’s what is called overtime.

You’re also likely to see a quicker switch to more Repeater Radio, national or regional programming that is piped in with no expense to any station but the originating outlet.

Recently a pair of Clear Channel program directors were replaced (rhythmic CHR KMEL PD Stacy Cunningham and Talk KKGN-AM PD John Scott.

So now the Assistant PD and Music Director become the PD of three stations.

As one reader said, “How the f#$k can you effectively program three radio stations anywhere, particularly in San Francisco?!”

Previously I have written about how consolidators are transitioning to a commodity-based radio model.

Cheap programming on their network of stations and cheap prices (dictated by big national advertisers) with little in operating expenses.

While they are enjoying their new profit margins, it appears the radio people they fired or forced to take on the workload of the fired will be suing their asses off.

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