I don't think there's anything I can say about the latest round of firings at Clear Channel, the biggest radio company in America, that hasn't already been said. Certainly the post on Richards on the Radio blog says it as well as can be said. (See the new link to the right.) Misquoting Stephen Sondheim is about the best I can do.
The most hilarity from all this comes from the press release jargon regarding CC's new position of VP/Talent Development.
DENNIS CLARK's new position as VP/Talent Development will oversee talent development, working directly with key personalities, while creating a company-wide strategy to develop future talent.
Ever notice how companies who just laid off dozens of talented people at the same time find a way to create a dubious VP position for someone who most likely isn't qualified to park cars, much less be a VP of my cat's litter boxes? He'll work directly with key personalities, which at this stage of Clear Channel's demise means lame contest ideas will be exchanged when the three of them bump into each other at the urinals. As for developing future talent, that's going to be quite a challenge considering the small market stations, once the training ground for future talent, have all been turned into thousand-watt i-Pods with a sales department by the very same Clear Channel genius. This means Mr. Clark will be spending most of his time trying to corral first round rejects from "X-Factor" and offering the morning show to former pro football and baseball players who flunked the audition for Fox Sports Cleveland. Wonder what New Talent and Marketing Strategy the press release scribes will concoct to cover Mr. Clark's firing in few months?
And another hundred people just got canned by CC.
There's evidence that radio is not dead. In fact, ad revenue has shown an increase in 2011. So why the blood bath? Because the rise in revenue still isn't enough to wipe out the debt of buying hundreds of under-performing radio stations back in early 21st century. The ratings and ad dollars might be higher than a few years ago when the perfect storm of piss poor copycat content, persistent brain drain within the industry, a pop music industry woefully unprepared to replace the sudden career malfunctions of Michael Jackson, Prince, Paula Abdul, and the polarization created by rap, and lest we forget the Internet waylaid radio. But in terms of profit margins and media clout, we're still a long long way below the days of Wolfman Jack. The media choices available these days have pretty much banished radio to in-car listening, and even there it's hard to compete with my entire collection of MP3 files in a flash drive smaller than a car key.
The battle cry for government intervention to save radio is understandable, but I'm not sure it's practical or even obtainable - our current congress will gridlock over ordering a pizza if it'll put more distance between them and Obama's approval rating. (Now there's a guy with bad ratings waiting for the format change.) If you truly believe in a free market, then you have to ask the question: has the consolidation of radio killed the medium, or rather is consolidation a symptom of a media savvy public turning away from an increasingly antiquated delivery system? If CC sold your local station back to Mom and Pop tomorrow, would you tune in? If Mom and Pop stay with another ten-in-a-row of Today's Best Country followed by a four minute commercial break filled with snake oil for get out of debt, we'll buy your gold, and "male enhancement" pills, I'd have to say hell no. And if you think a local owner can engineer an overnight revival of a full service local format with gifted talent and knowledgeable news people plus a a sales staff with a conscience... in this economy... and generate a return on investment for the backers within a reasonable time...
Well, I have to admire your optimism.
The one thing congress and the FCC can do that would, in my opinion, make a difference is abolish the outdated rule forbidding the co-ownership of radio stations, TV stations, and newspapers within a market. A local TV station has the ready resources and talent pool and credibility in the community to take a reasonable risk on a radio operation. Sales people could make it part of a total coverage package that would consist of a relatively small additional charge, but the payoff for the advertiser would be substantial given people would actually now be listening to the radio station. It wouldn't have to turn a profit in a year, but it just might. The co-ownership rule was a product of a different era when radio and TV played on a more even field, and the FCC was under pressure to create a more diverse radio landscape. Today, diversity is easily obtainable on the web, and medium with virtually no gatekeepers. The co-ownership law has no effect on Internet enterprises that might originate within a geographical region, and let's face it, a web site has more traction these days than the printed-on-paper newspaper, so if the FCC is truly worried about diversity in the media... well, we wouldn't have Clear Channel.
And another hundred people just got canned by CC.