Saturday, December 27, 2008

When? Now?

I have attended past Radio Ink-sponsored events and there’s no doubt that Publisher Eric Rhoads and his staff know how to draw an influential, well-heeled crowd by putting on first class meetings.

So, when I saw this room full of dour-faced audio media exec’s on the cover - not a smile evident among them - with the headline stating that they were all being told something about a new era of radio operations beginning amidst the worst economy, judging by their apparent ages, that any of these guys (and that one woman) had ever experienced in their lives, I was excited to read that promised ‘Forecast ’09 Recap.’

After the ads for Google automation and Fox News Radio, I scanned the contents to see Bill Bennett’s countenance, and an interview with him that included only one radio-related issue, ‘the return of the Fairness Doctrine.’

Following an ad for a media finance banker, Rhoads terms 2009 ‘Radio’s Olympics’ and exhorts us to prepare mentally, “don’t worry, plan.’

Next, on the letters to the editor page, Jim Davis, CO/CFO of Black Crow Media Group calls it as I see it too:
“At every panel discussion, these same broadcasters continue to preach that wee need to train sellers better and raise our rates. Ironically, they don’t push that philosophy through their own organizations.”

Finally, between two more full page ads for talk radio vendors, a “Forecast ’09 Wrap Up,” stating “the mood was serious .. but far from grim.” The recap included a quote or two from each speaker.

Not a single word to explain who said something about a “Hands On Era.”

Three pages of smiling people holding court, holding drinks, holding one anther's backs, holding awards, followed by all the sales-oriented columnists (I love Dave Gifford’s ‘Best Targets For New Business” list!) and then a wonderful Ben Perez piece praising the great Bayliss Scholarship winners.

Overall, another good read, but other than the front page headline, not a single word of explanation of “The Hands-On Future Begins,” which clearly someone thought was so important that they put it on the cover.

Which leaves me only with a hope that some speaker broke it to this room full of serious-faced radio high rollers that in the wake of the personnel cuts they have been mandating at the local level due to the fact that their banks are no longer deficit financing anything that their hands are the only ones left to do the jobs of the folks who have been let go.

If any among them thinks they can go on the air and get better ratings than the people who have been cut, now’s the time to do it.

Their overwhelmed, multi-tasking programmers could use the help.

The ones who aren't capable of entertaining and maintaining an audience ought to hit the streets every day, making local, direct calls with their sales people.

Their Hands-On example would motivate us all.

Hopefully, someone at Forecast ’09 said something like that.

Too bad it didn't make the magazine. A lot of us who were too busy working that day to attend another industry seminar might have liked to read about it.

1 comment:

Eric Rhoads said...

Excellent criticism indeed. A tease without substance behind it, is, well... foolish indeed. We will be having an internal discussion about it.

Here is the rub. We hold this annual meeting with a no press promise in order to create open discussion and to gain insights, which typically are not spoken at a typical meeting. It works. Things are always said, which no one wants repeated. Of course the trick in this environment is to "cover" the meetings and allow the no press policy to be respected.? Therefore it becomes more of a photo recap I suppose.

The Hands On Era came from my call for more CEOs to assert more of a hands-on approach, to return to localism, to return to "hands on" in their communities with localism, a return to "hands on" by actually making sales calls and learning what sellers have to go through to bring in the top line revenues, and hands on to actually show up at a promotion or a remote and find out first hand why the lack of true localism is the Achilles heal of radio, and to return to "hands on" by allowing managers the autonomy to build great local businesses with manager hands on and to some extent corporate hands off. Clearly this is problematic.

There was discussion about the hands on need, localism, local programming but most of that came from smaller independent groups who are following these sound business practices and holding their own. It was very clear that where these elements are missing the stations are in trouble. Sadly we all know where this is taking the place the most... the same place the "soul" of radio has been cut out are the very groups where reinvestment, localism, talent, and promotion has been removed.

In survival mode all bets are off for the return to "What should be" because backs are against walls because of financial pressures. Therefore I suspect it will unfortunately continue to be double, and triple duty for programmers and the rest of the radio station as layoffs go deeper. This, sadly cuts relevant service to the local community, forces the best people to find other work, and does not offer much hope.

The good news I suppose, is that some of these conditions will pass with the economy and I suspect many a company will find themselves with new owners at new, more reasonable multiples of debt, and if we're lucky some board members who will no longer tolerate this radio malpractice.

One can always dream. Sadly when boards are dominated by strictly financial performance where the "meat" is substituted with "filler" I dare say we will probably repeat the same cycle with a new set of players following a series of bankruptcies and restructuring. But that's just one man's opinion. Don't shoot the messenger.
-Eric Rhoads
Radio Ink