Saturday, December 17, 2011


Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman seems to be at every broadcast meeting and in every trade publication putting a positive spin on the wrenching changes affecting local radio service as the era of consolidation which started 15 years ago with high price mergers and acquisitions has culminated in massive junk bond debt.
Pittman showed a chart with competing media revenue adjusted for usage, in an ideal world. Newspapers would get much less of the advertising pie, TV stations would get somewhat less, and radio's take would mushroom from about $15 billion to $38.1 billion. Pittman says it's crucial for radio to "make new revenue to the radio sector our priority." And he has this advice, as a former radio programmer and executive now returned to the business: "Don't badmouth your own industry."

I admire Bob for taking on the immense task before him and hope he's successful, for the same reason I hope that Europe is able to find a way through the Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Italy (etc, etc) financial mess.

If they can't fix the real problem, we're all going to see it at our local bank branch and in our retirement accounts.

So, the hyperbole spinning reductions in force not being about cutbacks, but about reinventing radio's local relevancy reminds me of 1998 when Randy Michaels was trying to motivate the Clear Channel of that time and, just like Pittman is today, the rest of the industry as well.

I'm not sure the downsized folks bought it then and today people like me who lived through that history now hope that Pittman, as with Cumulus' executives see things as they really are, not like they wish they would be.

They are managing toxic assets.

The problem is excessive debt and there's not enough revenue in new media to solve it in the time frame available.

While it's very nice to hear Pittman's optimistic speeches about radio's value (and I agree with him that we need to be positive about the efficiency and effectiveness of radio) the cuts that he's been forced by reality to implement throughout his company are rippling through our entire industry and are equally essential.

Saving an upside-down business in a low-growth economy requires brutal honesty and hard choices.

It's about survival.

Leadership means telling harsh truths, whether in business or politics.

I hope we're all ready for it.

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