Radio Is In Play For Gordon Gekko

“The richest one percent of this country owns half our country's wealth, five trillion dollars.

One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do, stock and real estate speculation.

It's bullshit.

You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own.

We make the rules, pal”.
-- Gordon Gekko.

Over the weekend I re-watched Wall Street for a little escapism -- the Oliver Stone 80’s movie starring Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen.

This diatribe (above) by Douglas playing Gordon Gekko, the corrupt and heartless Wall Street speculator kind of reminded me of the radio industry.

So much for escaping the daily reminders of a radio industry destroyed at the hands of Wall Street greed.

But there it was.

On the screen.

Less than ten years after the movie debuted, radio consolidation began. What many thought was just a figment of Stone’s imagination actually predicted the mess that was to follow for the country and for the media industry.

Twenty-three years later, look what we're left with. Wall Street -- the movie -- saw it all coming.

You don't have to go any further than Gekko’s observations to see what greed has done.

“The richest one percent of this country owns half our country's wealth, five trillion dollars”.

True in the media business although the numbers are different. Lew Dickey, Sr. passed the empire along to his Ivy League sons without a radio pedigree. Lowry Mays handed his family a full-functioning radio company for them to ruin. Neither knew how to run a single radio station let alone the largest group in the world.

“One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do, stock and real estate speculation”.

Many of the hard working owners/entrepreneurs cashed out when the money got too crazy to turn down. Then there are the Mays. The Dickeys. The other well-healed investors who could sell their soul to Wall Street for high interest financing.

Let’s go back to “…idiot sons”

I'm just sayin'.

Gekko added,

“We make the rules, pal”.

Have you seen anything in the radio industry that contradicts Gordon Gekko here?

Clear Channel brags about an eight percent loss as compared to higher previous quarterly losses. All due to cost-cutting, career assassinations, repeater radio and selling ads with a smaller staff as if advertising was a simple commodity which, as a matter of it, it has become.

“…We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it”.

My God, Gekko is right!

Haven’t you wondered many times over how a robust industry like radio could be hijacked by a bunch of takeover artists who care not one iota for the employees, the listeners, the advertisers – anyone.

How did they do it?

Gekko talking to his protégée Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) offers up how they did it:

“Now you're not naive enough to think we're living in a democracy, are you buddy? It's the free market. And you're a part of it. You've got that killer instinct. Stick around pal, I've still got a lot to teach you”.

And that’s why you see mini-Gekkos slithering about the industry trying to be the Wall Street bad guy of their dreams. Radio has not only gone off the track, so has capitalism. The economy is in bad shape when you realize that not even the federal government can (or will) reign in the banks and Gekkos who put greed ahead of everything else.

But here is the essence of what’s wrong with the radio industry according to Gordon Gekko:

“It's a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn't lost or made, it's simply transferred from one perception to another”.

And it all begins to make sense.

1. Acquiring radio listeners is now irrelevant – People Meter metrics representing ears that hear a coded radio signal is enough because being number one is no longer a function of ratings (or of billing, for that matter). It is being the biggest, baddest equity owner in the sector.

2. Firing people is standard operating procedure even when these talented people win ratings that can be turned into revenue (see number one). As in the movie, Wall Street, where Gekko moved to buy Fox’s father’s airline and ruin it to get cost cuts. Sound familiar?

3. Bankruptcy is only a dirty word to the uninitiated. To equity holders it is sop. The beginning, not the end. Good can come from bankruptcy for greedy owners because it is the “nevermind” of financing. It locks in the same management (pre-packaged bankruptcy) and allows equity holders to rehire the culprits that are made in their image who have wrecked the business.

4. The commodity market is an invention of Wall Street so don’t be so surprised that turning radio commercials into pork bellies with Home Depot deciding what it will pay for these commodities isn’t exactly their game plan.

In a plea to the shareholders of a fictional corporation (Teldar Paper), Gekko, the takeover artist he is, inadvertently describes the radio industry precisely:

“I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.

Greed is right, greed works.

Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.

Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.

And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much”.

It hits all too close to home.

Wall Street II (the sequel) is due to be released by Stone with Douglas again in the starring role of Gordon Gekko in a post-Bernie Madoff world, but I’m not that anxious to see it.

I already know the ending.

Just look at radio.

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