Cumulus Fright-Sizes in San Francisco

I thought you’d be interested in just how far downsizing, or “right sizing” repeater radio has gone in one of the nation’s top media markets.

The three Cumulus stations there – in the company's largest market – are operating on fumes.

Few managers.

A reduced on-air staff.

And a sales staff that they cannot find enough people to join.

It all happened when Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey blew out the legendary radio general manager Tony Salvadore who forgot more than Lew knew about radio at the time.

Now, there is no market manager for the Cumulus San Francisco cluster.

That’s right --- none, like in zero.

There is one general sales manager for the group and he is Peter Schwartz. Schwartz has three “junior Schwartz’s” working under him.

There are two other Senior VP/Sales walking around.

Repeater reporters tell me that there are 25+ account execs trying to eek out a living on stingy Cumulus commission plans. Keep in mind, the major accounts had already been stripped away from account execs and handed over to what they term Key Account Managers.

I am told that when the cutbacks began, the sales people were shuttled onto their own floor to become force fed CSOS sales concepts. And, programming types were led to their cellblock – I mean, floor -- where they held together their three formats.

You guessed it.

One program director for three stations.

He is Lee Hammer, program director for sports KNBR.

No worries.

Hammer is also PD of two music stations 107.7 The Bone and KFOG. Who needs experience with music formats when you have voice tracking and a music director you can elevate to Assistant Program Director.

She would be Kelly Ransford who also, obviously, has to do an airshift.

This "stroke of genius" happened when Senior VP/Programming Jan Jeffries fired KFOG PD Dave Benson. Benson had been running the two music stations because ….

Well, you guessed it again …

Cumulus has laid off Larry Sharp, the other PD for The Bone.

Cumulus may be cutting back on necessary personnel but it has no shortage of friends of the family as Lew Dickey's Stanford college buddy Bill Hansen lurks in the station’s sub culture. Hansen apparently is no shrinking violet and has the necessary powers to end employee careers.

Hansen is also VP of Digital, Director of Digital, VP of Marketing – sounds like cutting back on business cards would help the bottom line, too.

The sports station has live, local programming basically during the week.

The music stations are live at times but voice tracked at other times.

One of the things that is quite interesting is that some employees suspect Cumulus motives in pedaling products – products they think the Dickey family might have a connection to.

In other words, they suspect the family is using their radio stations as a play toy for the Dickeys special interests.

One story, I am told, is about a business called Oil portraits.

An employee believes the Dickeys owned an interest in the company at one point and some stations were told to run spots directing listeners to their websites. One employee recalls the staff receiving a gift certificate for a discount off an oil painting as a Christmas gift. (Lew Dickey doesn't really talk to me although he admits to reading Inside Music Media so only his hairdresser knows for sure).

If Dickey owned it, he really added self-absorption to meaning of the adage, “in giving I receive”.

Among the other suspect businesses for which some stations were told to run spots are – tested in a few Cumulus markets and apparently abandoned although the site was live as recently as last night.
– don’t even ask.

And perhaps the most bizarre forced business-down-the-throats-of-local stations – for a special night’s sleep. Can you imagine Lew Dickey helping you get a good night's sleep?

One way or the other, employees question where the local revenue was for some of these business pursuits and what, if any, involvement the Dickeys had in them.

You’ve heard me talk about how the major consolidators are turning the radio industry into a commodity. We already have evidence that advertisers want to dictate very low rates in return for lots of exposure on stations of their choosing.

Soon, ratings will not be necessary. The client is already dictating the rate.

Then, and possibly in the case of Cumulus, spots for businesses are being aired that may not be credited to the local stations’ income. The question is: where is the revenue and who is benefiting from it?

Cumulus certainly has a right to run their stations any way they choose.

They are apparently having problems hiring salespeople at some stations and are running contests to lure them. Ironically, as I’ve written about previously, Cumulus is also asking their current employees who are by and large not wild about the company to refer employment leads.

What’s shaping up is a handful of groups approaching radio in different ways as new media growth continues to expand.

Cumulus, Citadel and Clear Channel seem to be buying into the commodity radio model. Cheap programming pawned off as local with very low costs and funded by advertisers who have a greater say in determining ad rates.

Then you have the Regents and other companies on the brink of bankruptcy who have all they can do to operate in the black after their debt is returned to lenders along with ownership of their companies.

But there are still companies like Cox, CBS, Bonneville, Journal and others who are attempting to run good radio properties albeit it with cutbacks and personnel cuts.

Finally, the local operator who never stopped running terrestrial radio like the local live business it is. They are in the best shape. They have a nice recovery coming as the economy picks up because there is a local business there, not a network of repeater transmitters and towers.

One can only hope that the non-commodity operators have enough innovation and investment capital to expand their new media/interactive platforms because that’s where the real growth is.

Or the local owner who may hire his or her son or daughter to innovate for the mom and pop.

But for Cumulus, the dysfunctional radio family that uses fear and firings to create the future, it's simply called Fright-sizing.

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