How I Would Make Radio a Growth Industry Again

There is a dichotomy between what the radio industry thinks a program director’s job is going to be in the future and what it will really be.

For example, to radio CEOs anxious to keep cutting costs you see two paths:

One, using a program director to oversee the content of more than one (often three or more) radio stations.

Of course, this is absurd.

One good program director on one good radio station is worth millions of dollars to its owners. But in the world of cutbacks, unpayable debt and shrinking revenue, that’s apparently good enough for the equity holders.

Then you have operators such as Clear Channel, Cumulus or Citadel who send programming through the pipeline to owned radio stations to amortize the cost of the original show. You see Citadel trying to do this with none other than Donny Osmond, for God’s sakes.

There are too many examples of Repeater Radio. You get the point. Who needs a PD when all she or he is going to do is act as a traffic cop directing the network content to an awaiting empty signal?

It doesn’t matter to them that the show will be a failure. They think they win when they pay less and if you buy into their new model for radio – repeater signals, networks if you will, and low cost ads with little or no expenses, you’ve got a new definition of success.

Let’s put these losing concepts behind us.

I thought you’d be interested this morning in where I think radio programming is really going.

Within years, the program director will not be a person who is responsible for overseeing stations but for combining and growing content on the terrestrial signal, Internet and mobile space. That's how to take terrestrial radio and turn it into a growth business.

Most programmers are not equipped to do this currently, but they are very talented and could learn quickly.

The radio station of the future is not really a radio station in the traditional sense.

It’s a concept.

If all-news is the brand – it will be expressed over the free air, over the Internet in streams, through podcasts, mobile apps and content that can be accessed by cell phones or WiFi equipped cars.

But not as the same content.

The station of the future will not even remotely look like a radio station does today -- even in a physical sense.

Smart new programmers will knock down walls and put everyone together in a large central space. They will have to acquire brainstorming skills and human relations abilities to unlock the potential of others. After all, they could be managing 100 podcasts, 25 streams, three terrestrial signals, video streams, mobile apps, publishing ventures – all based on the brand that they own – this is my example, that would be all-news.

The one question I get the most from radio people given my love of the industry and passion for new media is … “what would you do it you ran Clear Channel?”

I’d make John Hogan voice track ten stations for free.


Just Kidding!

Here’s how I would run Clear Channel:

1. Rebuild the physical station and put everyone together in one space (Mayor Bloomberg does that in New York and did that when he ran his Bloomberg financal media empire).

2. Merge all operations – terrestrial, Internet, mobile, apps, publishing and streaming and have all the people interact with each other. CBS is doing this in New York and elsewhere by merging their TV and radio news brands. This gives CBS a head start. Other groups without video, for example, will have to find partners.

3. Sales and marketing should be housed prominently in this same space and they should be the best trained new age sellers and problem solvers anywhere.

4. Build a network of full-time and virtual employees. Pay benefits and rewards. Build a people friendly atmosphere. Build pride.

Now a few strategic projects.

1. Enhance the terrestrial air product. No matter how good it is, make it irresistibly better. Rehire your talent. Recall them. There are a lot of smart researchers and consultants out there and there are young people who have no experience but a lot of imagination. Have them play together.

2. Build 100 new podcasts in the first year. Short-form. Some paid podcasts, some ad supported. All built around a desired consumer (note I did not say demographic). Eliminate P-1 from your lexicon. These podcasts will be audio or video and will not be a regurgitation of what I have on the air.

3. Build three to five new streams a year – and remember, I don’t like the royalty laws any more than you do, but factor it in for now. These streams do not have to relate directly to the on-air product. Some will be in the same genre. Some will not. I’m building a profit center here.

4. Start a few publishing ventures built for – the iPad (I’m telling you, don’t believe the naysayers on iPad, it is the future delivery system you want to create custom products for).

You’re probably tried of me outlining my plan here, so let me just say this … I’m proposing all this for every local market.

I’m targeting annual revenue five to ten times higher than the best year a terrestrial station ever had alone in the “good old days”.

I’m talking a company that plays fair – I’ve got a few creative ideas for compensating people that can help you get started and make them damn happy to be working with you.

One of my killer apps is event-based podcasting – a way to make your nut and huge profit in one day. The other 364 days, entertain and inform your fans because they are the ones who are going to give you this big pay off.

Perhaps you can see why I am so excited about the future.

Not radio as a business with these boneheads who have sold out the heart and soul of what we do as radio people.

But imagine – the vision I’ve begun to describe is so full of growth, so revenue rich, so much fun that it would be the proper legacy for the industry we love and call radio.

Radio becomes the catalyst for new media.

Not the plaything of Wall Street or the family heirloom passed down to incompetents.

Of course, I wouldn’t run Clear Channel or 99% of the other radio companies out there.

And I’m a lousy employee – I, like you, need appreciation and I’d never get it from them.

I need inspiration and they are the last people to inspire me.

Plus budget commitments.

Control that only the late Al Haig could appreciate.

And the ability to hire and nurture a staff.

My long time friend John Parikhal, a brilliant guy to say the least, has said for ages that the problem with the radio industry is that it cannot attract the talent level that it needs to compete and he's talking about management here.

As always, Parikhal is correct.

Look at Dickey, Hogan and Suleman and ask yourself, “would you buy a used radio industry from these characters?”

And I might add, “would you follow these three blind mice into the digital future?”

Thus, my frustration.

They’ve locked out the very talent who can refresh terrestrial radio and build the digital future around radio brands, fans, and advertisers.

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