Pressure On Radio to Rehire Live/Local Talent

So now we learn that Ryan Seacrest may be leaving Clear Channel.

Industry reports say Seacrest earns $15 million a year from his radio show and syndication but he’ll be just fine, thank you, if all he has left is his Comcast work, American Idol, endorsements and perhaps replacing Larry King on CNN.

This may be a Seacrest negotiating ploy -- or not.

Ryan Seacrest is a smart guy who studied under the master, Dick Clark.

Clark, a Philadelphia TV booth announcer, got his break when the local show American Bandstand lost its host, Bob Horn, to a sex controversy involving a teenage girl. The rest was a meteoric career for Clark who was in the right place at the right time.

He was also the right man.

Clark, like his student Seacrest, went on to build an empire with television game shows, New Year’s Eve countdowns, awards shows, radio syndication and on and on.

These two talents are national in scope and driven by their television work.

Let's not forget that Clear Channel, on the other hand, used Seacrest’s LA-based show to fire tons of radio personalities in the name of saving money. I mentioned at the time that this tactic would not work – the part about audience ratings. It sure as hell worked for Cheap Channel as they fired people left and right and cut costs.

The excellent radio operator Lincoln Financial had an unusual lap in judgment when it turned to Seacrest syndication to fill an air slot in Atlanta. Seacrest did alright but now Lincoln Financial is returning to all live talent by adding – Chase Daniels and Heather Branch -- (all right!).

Now Lincoln Financial is all live and all local – see why they are so good?

Clear Channel will have no problem replacing something – anything – from outer space to fill all those local station lineup holes that would be created should Seacrest leave. I am assuming rehiring live, local talent is still not an option for Clear Channel.

Then, look to Radio One-and-Done in Washington.

Just last week they decimated their airstaff at WMMJ “Majic 102.3” after the station’s local, live air staff turned in one of the best rating performances in a long time.

Thanks PPM.

No, thanks live and local airstaff.

I wrote a piece on this abortive Radio One move recently -- Stupid (and Smart) Radio Tricks and don’t you know that presto-chango, Radio-One miraculously posted an employment listing on its website for – you guessed it – a live jock for DC.

What happened to their “all music all the time” strategy announced only days earlier?

Better yet, why isn’t Radio One rehiring the talent that got them the ratings that went to their heads?

In my piece, I warned that PPM success does not mean stations are attracting true listeners – just drive-by audience that may inadvertently pick up an encoded signal on their meters. And making programming decisions made on this faulty data is even more dangerous.

The Radio One employment ad is hilarious and lists these qualifications:

“Associate's degree (A. A.) or equivalent from two-year college or technical school. Must have at least 2 years on-air experience for all other on-air positions. An equivalent combination of education and experience is desirable”.


If your heart is strong, read the rest of the description (corrected from the previous edition to reflect three openings at WMMJ).

They can't be serious, right?

My sense is that you’ll see a number of radio groups begin to start filling time slots with local and live programming.

This does not mean that they will hire the best talent.

Maybe only the cheapest at first.

Even as I write this, radio groups are continuing to rid their stations of talented employees – sad to say. But there is some hope.

You might be interested to know that there is one other wrinkle in the best laid plans of mice and radio CEOs.

More people are voluntarily quitting their jobs than ever before.

A recent Wall Street Journal article said:

“In February, the number of employees voluntarily quitting surpassed the number being fired or discharged for the first time since October 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Before February, the BLS had recorded more layoffs than resignations for 15 straight months, the first such streak since the bureau started tracking the data a decade ago. Since the BLS began tracking the data, the average number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs per month has been about 2.7 million. But since October 2008, the average number dropped to as low as 1.72 million. In March, it was about 1.87 million”.

So there you have it.

Those sluggish radio groups are beginning to wake up and realize that if they want to preserve their franchises they will likely need real live and real local personalities to do it – as in the past.

They will first continue to unload expensive talent and look to hire on the cheap.

Eventually, they will see that their employees are now quitting – voluntarily – in the midst of the worst recession of our lives.

I have heard that Cumulus has even offered big cash bonuses to more than one air talent to stay at the notoriously employee-unfriendly company. And that’s Cumulus, one of the cheapest operators in radio.

What to make of it all?

It boils down to this.

Radio without personalities is just an iPod with the radio station’s playlist on it.

If radio is to regain its edge, it will need to let an iPod be an iPod and radio be live and local.

Don't worry. Radio CEOs will eventually learn.

The hard way.

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