Life After Cumulus (At Saga)

Lew Dickey may be amping up the pain machine at Cumulus for his employees, but Ed Christian’s Saga Communications is hiring his market managers and engineers.

What’s more, Saga loves ex-Cumulus managers because they are good and their enthusiasm for proving that Dickey discarded them prematurely is a great motivator.

And, believe it or not – Saga would probably like to hire more of the troops that the Dickey boys don’t want. But, Saga does not recruit. They apparently accept and appreciate inquiries into their management positions.

Dickey has turned to outside-the-industry, non-experienced managers from companies like Cintas Uniform Company. God knows why Dickey is obsessed with Cintas.

This is an uplifting story in an industry that could use a few uplifting stories right now.

Saga hired Michael O’Shea, an old friend, who worked for Cumulus in Eugene, OR and now works in Bellingham running KGMI, KISM, KAFE and KBAI.

Bob Bollack a great performer from Cumulus Ann Arbor (former Clear Channel hand) went to work for Saga as market manager of Ashevlle, NC at WISE, WOXL and WTMT. My opinion: Bollack was a hard guy to hire and Super Lew made it possible for Saga to get him. In other words, Cumulus didn’t value the talent and he got away.

Jim Principee worked in not one but two Cumulus markets – they transferred him – but Saga got him for Charlottesville, VA now running WINA, WWWV, WQMZ and WCNR.

Diane Hubbel was PD of KABC and KDKA and then GM in Santa Rosa for Maverick. Cumulus recruited Diane for its Savannah cluster. In spite of the pros and cons that were bandied about in the industry regarding making a career move with Cumulus, she took the job. Presto, Saga got her for WNOR and WAFX in Norfolk.

All four managers are exceeding expectations from what I hear.

They could have been working for Cumulus right now doing the same good job, but they left for Saga.

Saga also picked up a few chief engineers from Cumulus' shortsightedness in the technical area. It’s hard to find good engineers today. They’ve been fired and relegated to other industries.

Cumulus worked their engineers hard and even some present Cumulus employees think engineering is another weak spot for the company.

Lew Dickey is Harvard and Stanford trained.

His view of radio is all about theory. I once told him face-to-face that a little Dale Carnegie would go a long way with his people. In a multi-month online survey I did on my website last year, Cumulus was voted the worst radio group. (Bonneville was chosen the best).

Dickey’s experience is light. In my view, he’s all business theory, very little practical management.

In this day and age you cannot lead a company to great financial success when your talented people want to leave the company.

Cumulus is run like Central Command.

Sales meetings by Skype from Atlanta – Big Brother-type atmosphere.

Sales strategy comes from Atlanta.

Programming comes from Atlanta.

All thinking comes from Atlanta.

Some managers – in my opinion – are hostages at their own Cumulus stations forced to do everything in lock step with CentCom.

That’s why I have been saying that 2010 will be the year that under appeciated radio managers and talent will get their revenge. Not in the sense that they will try to sue Cumulus – although there are several legal initiatives under way.

But in the sense that Cumulus will start hurting from the brain drain that it did not need to initiate.

There is reason why Cumulus could not have kept its team together during the awful financial year of 2009.

I know that Cox has hired some Cumulus people including Kristin Okesson in Connecticut. Cumulus thinks that it is a better use of their money to try to make Okesson pay for leaving them (and their reportedly ambiguous contract) than trying to keep an excellent manager happy.

This is not limited to Cumulus, of course. All the major consolidators have been firing talented people because to them financial savings matter more than a strong operation.

I’ve mentioned this before but I know of talent (they can’t reveal who they are contractually) being paid huge six figure sums not to work for major consolidators. That is, they get their paychecks to not do their number one radio shows. If this makes sense to you, it sure doesn’t to me.

A needed tax write-down – maybe.

Insanity – definitely.

So wherever you are a manager, if you want a job with Saga, I’ll send your resume along in confidence. No guarantees. Saga (and for that matter Cox) are not poachers. But I know good managerial talent is still appreciated.

If you are happy where you are, I am very happy for you – and I mean that.

But we are entering an age where the mistakes of radio consolidators have now come due.

Finally, there are good radio companies that want you again.

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