As I write this, the jury is still out as to what the future will hold for iHeart Media, though there is much speculation rampant on the internet, on radio Facebook pages and the like that a bankruptcy filing could come virtually anytime.
And frankly, I am disgusted at some of the comments I read from so called radio pros both in the business and retired pros who should know better.
Sure, there can be no argument now that “bigger” in radio is not necessarily “better”. That “economies of scale” are, largely, a fantasy of the bookkeepers. And don’t get me started on “less is more”.
Still, I refuse to laugh about this. It is no laughing matter. And honestly, there are too many radio people dancing on the company’s grave right now.
It’s unbecoming of professionals to be like this.
Too many people have lost jobs. Too many people have become victims of a R.I.F. (reduction in force), some just days before Christmas.
Even so, I am not holding my breath (as some are) that a potential Chapter 11 or Chapter 7 or whatever filing is going to mean the sale of 1,500 radio stations to local owners who will restore radio to the 1970’s with live jocks 24/7.
I don’t expect to see Bob Pittman in line at a food pantry anytime soon.
No. The people I am most concerned about…are the hardworking people inside these radio stations. (And don’t smirk and say, “There are none”.)
I know a number of them. Some are my friends and former colleagues. Some work at stations for whom I once worked. It simply cannot be easy to be working inside one of those businesses right now. Undoubtedly, some of them are going to work waiting for the shoe to drop and wondering if “I’ll be next.” Imagine what it’s like to work for a number of years without a raise. That’s what I’m told some of those folks have been dealing with.
But having once gone through a personal bankruptcy, I can tell you it’s not the end of the road. Sometimes, when a person or company emerges from a bankruptcy, it becomes better and stronger.
Perhaps some of these stations will get new owners who can spend some money on them. Perhaps those who remain in the fold will find themselves with investors with just enough wherewithal to give them a fighting chance and get the company some freedom from the Debt Devil.
I once worked for a company that owned about 6 stations at the time I worked for them that found itself 40 million in debt. And every available dime did NOT go into the legendary AM station I found myself on. No. Every available dime went down the hall to the FM CHR station, because that’s where the money was.
It was not a fun time. I was transferred to one of their stations in a bigger market…for the existing salary I was making in the smaller market. So little was I making that, when a new General Manager came in, despite the tough times, he gave me an instant $2,000 raise because I was working for about $15,000 LESS than the typical PM Drive person in that town. I got $5 grand more the next year, even though I was convinced the GM’s bosses were going to end his career if he wasn’t careful.
Then the station was sold…to a fairly big radio company at that time.
What a difference that made. In about 6 months or so, we had new offices on the tenth floor of one of the company’s skyscrapers. We had a new format…we had promotions money…all new equipment…and before long, we were #1.
So be careful what you wish for iHeart. You might just get it. And to all of their employees…keep the faith. Better days just may soon be ahead.
It's the end of the year. The big company that you work for is at the point in the year where they lay people off to save money. You're told that your position is eliminated, but through no fault of your own. The company then makes you aware of other opportunities within the company, but in another market. You have some hope, thinking that you may actually have beat the odds and are going to return to work immediately, but nothing ever happens moving forward.
Along the way, you meet with other broadcast group operators who seem interested and are very complimentary to you and your broadcast pedigree, but the actions they take are contradicting to the things that they say to you on the phone. By this point, you are really frustrated and not willing to get too close to anyone, because you realize that people don't always say what they mean.
We have all been down this road along our career. We have all worked for that larger company that refused to acknowledge your skillset for one reason or another. These companies use you for your knowledge, whether it be assiting with putting together a companywide country format, suggesting a companywide contest (which was stolen after suggesting it to an executive at the company.) For some, they deserve everything they get from the employer, due to their performance. Others, I have determined that THE RULES ARE DIFFERENT. Yes, I went there.
While ONE of the large companies does an exceptional job with promoting from within (iHeartMedia,)
another won't promote, and for reasons that may sicken you. In fact, when an opening occurs at a company, it is supposed to be posted and people are supposed to be interviewed for EEO purposes. Then, there is that ONE company that doesn't follow EEO procedures and hires people from outside without advertising the positions. That is a big NO NO as well, and those companies that participate in such behavior will have to eventually justify their decisions, especially when someone brings it to the attention of the FCC or the DOJ.
How does this story spin positive? Everyone has had one issue during their career. Perhaps you are the reason that you experience the things you do, but I would venture to say that is only the case about 35% of the time. Some may want to review the things that have happened in their career to make sure that there isn't anything keeping them from getting that dream job. As for those who really work hard and are underpaid and under appreciated, your opportunity to shine will come and it will be AMAZING! Keep your head held high and always reach as high as you can. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't be a part of keeping radio alive!
What Sprite is to Coke, what the Big Mac is to McDonalds can be what a good talent can be to a great media outlet. What separates the good radio stations from the best is Brand Building, not just the Brand of the station itself but all of the people who work there as brands inside of the brand. Who are they? Where do they hang out? What does this person contribute to the overall movement, and most importantly is this person even interesting, or are they just another voice on the radio? Great examples of stations that executed this formula well are KHRK- Memphis, WZMX Hartford, and WHTZ- New York. The people who listen to those stations religiously not only feel like they are a part of something huge, but they feel as though the can genuinely relate to the people who are the brand ambassadors. Twenty years ago it was only the morning show that mattered, but now we finally have research telling us that there are listeners who may like your product (music & contest) but not be a fan of your Kim & Zack in the morning. Who do these casual listeners have that they can champion and can relate too? What reason are you giving them to invest more time? If the answer is music and contesting you are in huge trouble.
Great Examples of Personal Brands:
The examples above are people who understand and are in line with the brand they represent, and they also know that it is ok to be an average, relatable person outside of work and have a good time. In my time as a programmer looking at social media accounts, I see mostly photos of jocks with celebrities, or some pets or at a station event, and all of those things are fine if your audience is only other radio people and you are ok with that. What about the real people? What about the listeners, where are the photos of you at your favorite local spot? Where are your friends? How do I know that you care about my community? A lot of the things I mentioned are blogs within themselves, and I will touch on them at a later date.
Here is a KISS 108 super talent with an up and coming singer, you may or may not know of https://www.instagram.com/p/BY_zDsBlZ7a/?taken-by=mikeyvonair and here is Mikey at work. https://www.instagram.com/p/BeRLjv-FVov/?taken-by=mikeyvonair. What separates him from other radio talents, photos like this..https://www.instagram.com/p/Bc3aJ14FQUZ/?taken-by=mikeyvonair where you can see his love for Boston Sports and the love for his very close-knit family https://www.instagram.com/p/Bb2jEMjFq_2/?taken-by=mikeyvonair and this establishment where he is enjoying some Pho, https://www.instagram.com/p/BOxkjWDglCz/?taken-by=mikeyvonair this is not an endorsement or a place where he is doing an event, it's just him enjoying life and being well balanced. Not only would I know he is invested in this city, but I also know of places that he hangs out that I might as well, so we will have similar stories. The days of hiding in the studio and not dealing with people are over, for our business to survive, we need to remember that our radio stations are 360-degree infotainment outlets that set up great narratives and have great interactive storytellers.
In the next blog, I will share a personal story of what happens when Brand Building strategies are not properly implemented.
**Kwame Dankwa is a 12-year radio veteran with stops in Hartford Ct, Rutland VT Boston MA, and Seattle Washington.
He is currently Program Director of CHR WRTS Erie PA (Star 104). Follow him @TheKwameShow on Instagram and Twitter.**
Things are pretty serious at every radio broadcast company across the country. Entercom has gobbled up the CBS stations via a Reverse Morris Trust transaction, which was a great deal for the Sumner Redstone and his family, and a HUGE deal for Entercom, as the acquisition makes them the second largest radio broadcast owner, behind iHeartMedia.
iHeart has made some moves that would make the naked eye believe that they are planning a trip to bankruptcy court, as soon as mid-year. Cumulus is already going through bankruptcy proceedings, something that CEO Mary Berner has been through before when she was the CEO of Reader's Digest.
Here are the facts. Cumulus will re-emerge from bankruptcy. iHeart may never see bankruptcy, because they have enough assets to fill the gaps where needed. Beasley is in an excellent cash flow positions, mainly due to smart investments. Entercom is in a great situation, which they were before the acquisitions, but the earnings from the acquisitions made the books look even better. Don't let Entercom buying CBS fool you.
Radio is about to experience a seismic shift, where larger companies will begin spinning off their radio stations, mostly in smaller markets. iHeart could start doing this any day now. After Cumulus emerges from bankruptcy, you can expect them to do the same with underperforming properties. This will open the door for some smaller operations to form, kind of like things were back in the 70's and 80's.
Late last week, Tegna announced its entry into the radio and television world in the San Diego area. They have also vowed to keep the TV and radio stations together. This is the type of operation that will materialize eventually across the country, as the larger companies start selling their stations.
Let's end with a final thought. Radio Is Alive! We are breathing, but from time to time, we need the paddles. That said, there isn't one of us that could imagine doing anything else in our entire lives.
You hear it all the time…how streaming services are killing over the air radio. How young people supposedly don’t listen (despite the fact that CHR stations and others targeting young millennials still seem to be doing fine in the ratings).
Well, now comes Nielsen Audio…and a new study last week with the following headline:
“As the audio landscape evolves, broadcast radio remains the king”.
This bad news for Pandora, You Tube and every guy with an independent internet radio station comes from Nielsen’s second-quarter 2017 Comparable Metrics Report…which says broadcast radio is till the top way to reach consumers across ALL media platforms.
Again…93 percent of Americans tune into AM/FM radio…more than those who watch television OR use smartphones, tablets or computers. This, even as streaming audio offers the consumer even more ways to listen across many of those same devices, according to Nielsen.
Over the air radio continues to reach more people weekly than any other medium...228.5 million adults age 18 and over. That compares to:
216 million watching TV
204 million for app and web use on a smartphone
127 million watching video on a smartphone
In addition, broadcast radio’s weekly 228.5 million also outpaces all other audio sources:
67.6 million listening to streaming audio
35.9 million listening to satellite radio
20.7 million listening to podcasts.
Americans use over the air radio an average of five days a week, compared with three days a week for streaming on smartphones and tablets…and two days a week listening to streaming on a PC or laptop.
Nielsen goes onto say that by understanding the reach and frequency of each form of audio, the time spent summed can be calculated. So, how does that stack up?
When comparing gross minutes, the total time spend summed for all users age 18 and older…radio outpaces streaming audio 14 to 1 in an average week.
Read that again…14 to 1.
Add the total minutes for AM/FM Radio and Streaming audio and you get more than 202 billion minutes per week…with 93 percent of the listening going to over the air broadcast…and 7 percent to the streamers.
Hey advertisers…want to know why you get sometimes dubious results from those You Tube ads?
Some of my best friends in the business have been the engineers in a radio station.
Not just because they’re a boss’s confidant. Not just because they save your rear end when you key the microphone and nothing comes from it.
But, because they’re probably among the smartest people in the building.
I learned a lot from one of my best friends who was a radio engineer his whole life.
I met him at something called the “Broadcast Workshop” in my hometown years ago. It actually was a non-commercial 10 watt FM station and it operated with a completely volunteer staff. But, it was there so people could learn how to do radio. The studios (and his living quarters) were literally in the basement of the station building.
He and his partner paid its bills by running religious programming during the day…with a litany of ministers coming by to preach live, or dropping off their radio sermons on tape.
At night, though. The station cooked with a format that could best be described as a “Funky Top 40”. Today, it would probably be called a “Churban”.
But this was around 1977…disco was hot, my hometown of Dayton, Ohio was quickly becoming a funk capital, as we were home to the Ohio Players, and Lakeside. Funkadelic was right up the road in Detroit and Bootsy Collins was doing his thing in Cincinnati just to our south.
That’s when I learned from my friend the beauty of audio processing on a radio station. You see, I never have had what was known as the “radio voice”. Mine is somewhat higher pitched and, though I’m now 61, on the air you would swear I’m no older than 40 or so.
My engineer friend had this 10 watt wonder processed to the max. I swear DJ’s could be sucked right in the microphone with no problems.
But, on that little station, I sounded like I belonged on CKLW.
I learned about AM broadcasting from him, too. When he took me to one of his client stations to do a proof of performance. This little AM’s format was hillbilly gospel. And my engineer friend sure didn’t want to do a “proof” playing that stuff. No bottom end.
So, that night, I went with him with a full orange crate full of albums from my collection at home. We took the station off the air at midnight. Gave the audience about 20 minutes to go away. Then, we cranked it back up. I cued up Michael Jackson’s then new hit, “Billie Jean” and did my best imitation of a top 40 jock.
About three songs in, the phone line rings. I answer the phone…on the other end of the line is a cab driver…in New York City, no less! Wanting to know if we were a new station in Gotham.
You see, my engineer friend neglected until later to tell me he cranked us up to a full tilt boogie daytime 5,000 watts and had us going non directional. (After midnight is the “experimental” time, you know!)
Sorry if I stepped on your audience a bit that night, WABC.
So now, I am hard at work building a home studio in an unused bedroom in my home. I have a used Autogram 8 channel audio console that worked pretty good…for about 15 minutes. That’s when a capacitor or resistor in the power supply went “poof”…and a little bit smoke came from it.
Our C.E. told me what to look for inside. He told me to check the tops of the capacitors to see if any were bulged, indicating they had popped. And told me to look for burned resistors. He said they’re blue in color. I told him, I think I found one, but it was brown, not blue.
Says the Chief…”It probably was blue…before it fried.” Yeah, that make sense.
So, now they’re going to work with me to help get the power supply working so I can finish the home studio.
Hanging around the engineers, for me, will likely be a good thing. After all, in addition to my “day job” in commercial radio, I am now the President of a company supplying programming for an LPFM station. Eventually that little 100 watt transmitter is going to have a problem. By that time, maybe I’ll be able to fix it.
Where’s that pocket protector when you need it?
Someone asked me my thoughts on the entertainment industry and equal pay. In response to that, I mentioned that every market is different and not all media (Radio, Web, Tv Movies) is created equal. Once you get to a Major Market situation, as a man or woman, you need to make sure you have an Agent or an Entertainment Lawyer. To go even further I would argue that in a medium or small market situation if you have a colleague that you can trust, have them go over your deal with you.
You need that person who is outside of your hopes and dreams to look over your contract and make sure you can get the things you need and deserve. Think about how many times in your life you have been offered something you thought you wanted and jumped only to find out it was not what it seemed, or you have hoped for? That is the equivalent of eating gas station fried chicken; it seems like a good idea at the time. This also includes protecting your reputation and brand as well. You always have to remember the company that wants to hire you may like you and your work, but at the end of the day they have to look out for their interest, so should you. Protect yourself and your brand at all cost.
Kwame Dankwa is a 12-year radio veteran with stops in Hartford Ct, Rutland VT Boston MA, and Seattle Washington.
He is currently Program Director of CHR WRTS Erie PA (Star 104). Follow him @TheKwameShow on Instagram and Twitter.
I went to an awards meeting with lots of people who are noteworthy for their contributions in broadcasting. A few of them clustered for a conversation afterward and they were waxing poetic that they could no longer hear stations they listened to in a previous time. "Guys," I said, "the internet? I was listening to Radio Luxembourg this morning and it sounded spectacular." In a sense, there are two topics here. The first is that we have the luxury of listening online to radio stations that have virtually no power alongside those that are traditional powerhouses. The second one is that AM Radio isn't programmed the way it once was, so you can never go back to those times many people of a certain age identify with and the great personalities that broadcast on those legendary airwaves. Or, can you? The internet has, in effect, leveled the playing field with the main difference being the money to back it for promoting their brands.
Recently, another lamentation that legendary station KQV, on the air since 1922, went dark on New Year's Eve, something that should never have happened. The bright side is that it was sold to Broadcast Communications, Inc., less than two weeks ago on January 30, 2017. Guess what? The station is off the air but their website is active. The station was sold to them for less than the cost of a BMW. There isn't a tremendous amount of information on it but, from what I've read, it doesn't look good as they will move their site and reduce nighttime power from 5kw to a mere 75 watts, downgrading the frequency to a Class D license. There's a time limit, which I'm sure Broadcast Communications, Inc. will meet. They must resume broadcasting within a year or the license goes kaput. Even if they're on the air for one day, the clock is reset.
But, let's think outside of the box and into the future.
I mentioned a few days ago that KABC AM in Los Angeles is in the basement. I would have said "toilet" but that would mean it was actually going somewhere. KABC AM has had some bad breaks and a station that was once a flagship is now in Davy Jones' locker, ratings-wise. There are over 40 stations in the L.A. area that best them. There are lots of things that led to KABC's poor showing in the market and they are not alone.
One of the best run radio stations that I work with is WIKY FM in Evansville. Sure, they have the advantage of being on FM but that alone will not get a winner in the ratings game. They are solidly at the top of the heap and I am proud to be their image voice. The reason WIKY FM has consistently been Number 1 in the market has a lot to do with the fact that they are a Full-Service radio station. Many stations that play music aren't. WIKY has news and information, they are involved in the community and the air personalities participate.
I have often said that being on the radio is a lot like being a politician. Everyone who listens is someone who could potentially "vote" for your station, someone who helps spread the word about your programs and personalities. Have you ever gone to a concert and come out of it a bigger fan than when you arrived? Same thing.
The internet can help convey what was once called "stationality," the overall feel and identity of a radio station. The internet, whether we like it or not, is the future for radio. AM Radio, for instance, sounds no different than the best FM, when it's done correctly. Thousands of stations stream their signals online. Many make money from non-traditional revenue... and the good ones, like WIKY, make a connection with their local audience.
But back to KABC AM and foundering AM in general. I don't want this to sound like a slam on them. They just are glaring example of a solution begging to happen. Whether it does or not depends on a number of factors. I am sure that those who work for KABC work incredibly hard to do the best job they can. With a .4 on the Nielsen numbers, why not go bold, do something daring on underperforming AM's and get back to Full Service. Play music, especially for an older demo, and offer news, sports, weather and information. Public Service announcements, once rigorously enforced, are all but gone since the FCC relaxed those requirements. Get personalities who like to go out and meet people. And most of all, promote the pure, clean audio on the internet. I don't feel at the moment that aspect is being promoted by AM Radio very well. But, as I said, like it or not, the internet is the future of audio programming and AM Radio must evolve to take better advantage of the technology and promote it more thoroughly.
Jeff Davis is a well-known image voice for Radio and Television and is based in Hollywood, California.
You walk into work. Your GM and Human Resources are waiting for you at your office door. They say, "please come with us." You know that something isn't right, but you aren't sure what that something is, so you follow the General Manager and the Human Resources Manager to their office or the conference room, where you learn that you have been mentioned in a sexual misconduct investigation. What do you do?
This has happened to many notable people all around the world, both inside and outside of broadcasting. Some of the latest include Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Walk, Bill Cosby, Tavis Smiley, James Levine, Russell Simmons, Al Franken, Dustin Hoffman, Steven Segal, and Kevin Spacey, to name several. Some of these accusations happened, but some of them may not have. Even though our law says innocent until proven guilty, we are presumed guilty until proven innocent, an error in the foundation of our legal system. Then, directly in the broadcast world, we have an accusation by Taylor Swift that Jackson (David Mueller) sqeezed her bottom at a concert that his Denver radio station was involved with. Did that really happen? While not one of us will truly ever know if this actually happened, we prematurely convicted David Mueller, way before his civil proceeding ever happened. David sat out for FIVE YEARS over this incident, and just recently got the opportunity to open the microphone again in Mississippi.
What is life like after the accusation occurs? What can you do to prove your innocence? If you are responsible, what do you do to accept what is being presented without accepting responsibility? KNOW YOUR RIGHTS. If you are approached in a situation where you know the accusations are not true, immediately request the presewnce of your legal representation or union representative. Try to identify the issues that led up to the incident. Could this have been avoided? Was the situation too playful? Remember, it is ALWAYS best to never have a romantic relationship within the walls of your employer. Be very thorough on your account of the activities that led up to this misconduct inquiry. While I don't want to dive too much further into this, if you are truly NOT GUILTY, you can overcome the accusations and go back to work. The question still remains, "How do you recover in a situation where you were falsely accused?)
False accusation is never pleasant. You have worked your entire adult life to build a favorable reputation for the talent that you provide on the radio and at community events. Then the accusation. You can overcome these types of situations, usally by being able to prove that the situation you were accused of was false. Spend time at your desk with a pen and paper, which will give you some time to recall the actions that led up to the misconduct claim. Sometimes when people review the things that have happened, they may remember something that could have ben a simple misunderstanding, which does happen from time to time. Any findings should be share with your counsel and union representative. Finally, do not admit guilt if you know you are NOT GUILTY (not a safehaven for those that truly committed a sexual misconduct offense.)
We will never know what truly happened between Dave Mueller and Taylor Swift. We will never know what happened with Matt Lauer. Charlie Walk is now claiming that he was set up (I like Charlie, by the way.) We may never know the answers to these misconduct inquiries, but, on the off chance that Charlie Walk DID get set up, someone destroyed parts of his career that he will never be able to fully regain. That is why it is really important to be able to defend the claim if it happens to you.
In closing, while this story focuses on how to proceed after the miscondsuct accusation, we DO NOT IN ANY WAY condone sexual misconduct in any workplace, and the many women within and outside of our industry have done an amazing job by coming out and exposing those who have inappropriately accosted them in any form.
Welcome to Radio Is Alive! Formerly Radio Isn't Dead, Radio Is Alive is a place that you can come to share your experiences in broadcasting, unfiltered, along with a place tlo learn from other people's experiences. We will feature Airchecks, have the Daily Dose of Weird News, and a feature writer every week day. We invite you to register at www.radioisalive.com. Thank you, and starting Monday, February 12, 2018, Radio Is Alive will breathe!