If there was one recurring theme at last week’s NAB Radio Show in Philadelphia, it was that radio leaders are well outside of the most attractive demos – and getting older. But consolidation and the current recession have made it difficult to hire and grow the leaders of tomorrow.
Regent Communications CEO Bill Stakelin raised the issue in the Radio Group Heads Super Session, putting himself among those radio executives who are getting “long in the tooth.”
The same concern was expressed over and over by speakers in the session called “Radio Stimulus Package.”
“We are fast becoming an industry of old men,” said Larry Rosin, President, Edison Media Research, excluding the only female and younger panelist, Heidi Raphael, Vice President Corporate Communications, Greater Media.
“We have to raise the quality of programming,” declared Bill Figenshu, President, Broadcast Operations and Development, Peak Broadcasting. He complained that program directors are currently managing too many stations, leaving them with little time for real innovation. He called for efforts to bring in more young people. “It’s time for radio to make stations we are proud of,” he said.
Raphael called on broadcasters to expand their outreach – not just going to colleges for recruiting, but also to high schools and junior high schools to get students interested in radio. “We need to be growing our talent now for the future,” she said.
“We have stopped investing in ourselves, so why do we expect anybody else to invest in radio, to use radio?” asked veteran morning host John DeBella, WMGK-FM Philadelphia. He suggested putting young staffers in charge of programming HD2 and HD3 channels, comparing it to the situation decades ago when young people were allowed to program the FM stations that no one cared about while the AM cash cows drove business. “Let’s build a farm team,” he declared.
“Stop nostalgically looking back at the good old days,” said Fred Jacobs, President, Jacobs Media. He lamented the lack of strategic thinking in radio and declared that programming for PPM, because it measures audience minute by minute, is killing innovation. “It’s personalities that people care about,” Jacobs noted. But who is developing the new personalities that radio needs for the future?
John Parikhal, CEO, Joint Communications Corp., had harsh words for the current leaders of the largest radio groups. “Stop lying to yourselves,” he said. Parikhal declared that the top people have made mistakes and that none of the new initiatives implemented in recent years have worked. “Kill all czars,” he proclaimed, because rule by czars – top-down management – always fails. Instead, innovation has to come from the lower ranks and move up in the organization.
RBR-TVBR observation: At some point the broadcasting industry (OK, this is a bigger problem in radio, but it also applies to TV) is going to have to spend some money and recruit some of the best and brightest of the new generation.
That is obviously hard to do in the current economic climate. With some of the biggest players dancing as fast as they can to avoid Chapter 11 (and certainly some will end up there), spending more money is not something being talked about at many radio groups.
At some point, someone is going to have to actually invest in the product being put out on radio stations or they will just watch the value of their properties decrease. The capital structure of the radio industry is a mess right now, but that mess will be cleaned up – one way or the other. Groups will find new investors or merger partners to de-leverage, convert debt to equity to de-leverage or head to bankruptcy court and emerge de-leveraged.
Once the balance sheets are back in line, the radio companies had better invest in new people and new ideas. Otherwise, they’ll be back starring at the same financial mess again.
If your company has already made the tough moves to clean up the balance sheet – or never got overleveraged in the first place – now is the time to become a new radio leader. Focus less on cash flow margins and more on growth. Go out and compete with the new media companies to hire innovative young talent. Give them some latitude to try new things on digital platforms – online, HD Radio, mobile, and whatever else you can find.
Nurture that new talent and position your company to be a media leader. You’re not going to get there by hanging out in the bar at NAB conventions reminiscing about the days when you almost got fired for what you put on the air on an FM station in the 1970s.
Bottom line: It is time not to rethink this Fall NAB event but time to pack the bags and move… Move the event with the Spring conference and deliver content sessions that are relevant to today’s media business. And not putting a half a dozen sessions in the same time slot. More is not better.
It is time to get the CEO’s off the stage and put them in the audience in learning sessions by having key panels with experts in the field of digital etc. By the way, we will not find these experts in the radio or television business as many or most are still in the analog business.
The challenge moving forward is to push the envelope with creative ideas working now. NAB as an association is not at total fault as their mission is lobbying not sales, programming, digital, etc. This is where the RAB and TVB have to kick in and again we as broadcasters have to reach across the aisle and work together.
Entering into 2010 now is the time to reinvent our radio and television medium. RBR-TVBR has a number of ideas if any member of the NAB board or RAB and TVB wish to listen as our job is to work with and help broadcasters daily as we too are broadcasters.
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