If you’re in radio, you know that this industry has been going through very rough times lately. And, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that Clear Channel purchased almost half of the radio stations, from a total of 14,000 in the U.S., in a frenzy in the 1990’s. They then homogenized radio to make most of their stations sound cookie-cutter and we saw the first wave of talent go by the wayside. Today, Clear Channel announced yet more layoffs and what they call “restructuring”. It’s duly noted that they’re doing this on a day most all of the media attention will be on the inauguration of our new president. The official press release from their CEO states about 9 percent, or just over 1,800 people, were given pink slips. In Clear Channel’s case, it isn’t the economy’s fault that this is happening. They set the table perfectly for complete collapse and failure. And most other corporate radio groups are going through similar, though not as deep, cutbacks. Many of these stations were purchased by CC with huge debt. It certainly isn’t a buyer’s market today…..profit margins were slim in the good years. A corporate group here in our hometown, our competition, is moving to a smaller building from a location they’ve been in for well over 10 years, apparently to cut costs. They took the “local” out of local radio. Soon, you’ll see one programmer for each “region” and puppets will add the music they are told to add at the local level. Personality radio will be replaced by disc jockeys reading cue cards….if there are disc jockeys at all. Corporate radio groups have made it difficult for stations like ours- independent and locally owned- because to make payroll at the end of each month, they have “fire sales” and go off the deep end, slashing their prices by more than half. We think our product speaks for itself. We do a great job for our clients and serve them well. We own our building….our overhead is much less than what most stations across the country have each month. We didn’t get to this point by selling 5 stations for the price of one or having on-air radio auctions. We got here by smart, fundamental business practices and what some would consider “old school” radio…..with local personalities talking about local events. We encourage our employees to spend money when they can with our advertisers. I’m lucky as are others in this building…..anybody that is working for an independent group such as ours (not a chain of stations region-wide or nationwide) that we are in a position to weather the storm that is certain to brew economically in 2009.
It’s also time for locally owned stations and groups to shine. See, the “centralized” programming of radio stations is now only going to become more apparent than ever. Any local control any Clear Channel PD may have had is most likely not going to be there anymore. And don’t fool yourself. Several trades now say Citadel is next with the chopping block.
Today, hundreds of people who have done nothing but radio as a career will be out on the streets, wondering what to do next, because of greed and poor planning. In the end, the on-air product for many radio stations will suffer. Radio, as we’ve come to know if for as long as I’ve been in the industry, is dead Not completely, but major changes will be apparent soon for a listener. I’m not saying we’re immune….everybody, including myself is expendable…..but so far, we’re far away from life support machines.