Group heads slam the FCC


Clear Channel CEO Mark Mays expressed outrage at the FCC for failing to mandate HD Radio inclusion in satellite radio receivers as a condition of the recently approved Sirius XM merger. “Unless we’re in the box at the factory level, AM could become extinct,” worried CBS Radio CEO Dan Mason. Group heads on the Dickstein Shapiro panel insisted that radio is still doing fine with listeners, but new, creative ideas are needed to boost revenues.

“I don’t know how they allowed XM and Sirius to merge into a monopoly,” Mays said of the FCC. “They clearly didn’t have the backbone right now to do the right thing,” he complained – and that right thing would have been to make all digital radio receivers be capable of receiving both HD Radio and satellite radio. But the decision to accept the argument that the satellite radio companies didn’t just compete with each other, but a wide range of audio services, gives AM and FM radio an argument for the long term that it does likewise. In Mays’ view, there is no reason why a single owner shouldn’t be able to acquire every AM and FM station in a city such as Austin and then “really sell radio.”

“We need some structural relief,” said Cumulus Media CEO Lew Dickey. But given the current anti-consolidation mode on Capitol Hill, no one was predicting that further deregulation will come anytime soon.

With so much talk about digital initiatives for radio on the Internet and via cell phones, and the RAB reporting double-digit revenue gains for non-spot revenues as spot sales decline, the group heads split by market size on the importance of new media offerings to their businesses.

“I don’t think we can make enough in digital to make up what we’re losing in radio,” said Joe Schwartz, CEO of Cherry Creek Radio. He warned against losing focus on radio’s core business and said his small market sales teams have plenty to do selling radio without having to deal with online ad sales as well.

The view was quite different for big market owners, with Mays saying digital is a major opportunity in large markets. Digital opportunities won’t ever replace radio, said Mason, but he is also gung ho on developing those new revenue streams. Saga Communications CEO Ed Christian noted the difference in how new media is playing out in various markets. His large market stations are indeed working to develop those digital opportunities, but the potential payoff just isn’t there for Saga’s smaller markets.