As the year ends, let’s connect the dots. The corporate conglomeration formula has been simple: 1/ Work with NAB to persuade Congress and FCC that consolidation of 80-90 stations and staffs must happen in order for radio to remain viable (note – do it just as inexpensive PC-based automation is proliferating); 2/ Obtain shareholder money at ballooned price during economic boom based on ultimately false premises of increased clout and negotiating power with major advertisers, and economies of scale; 3/ Install PC automation with cloned formats and fire local staffs to increase net (note: save even more by buying an automation supplier); 4/ Install dumbed down brand imaging nationwide so remaining listeners have a better chance of recalling on Thursday what they had on for background noise last Monday (note: no straight segues please, and sweepers should be standardized with animal or other simple name, followed by explosion, then deep, phased, or telephone voice giving dial position); 5/ Strategy has limited life when basic product sucks, so stock declines precipitously and investors lose out, so; 6/ Buy back the stock for 35 cents on the dollar and "go private."
Of course conglomerator-dominated large market radio sales are slipping relative to other media. Consolidation may have benefited folks like the Mayses and Coxes, but it has made our medium less important in people’s daily lives. Creativity, the life blood of great radio, is anathema to conglomerators. The American public loses, because interesting, quirky, compelling, unique local formats have all but disappeared. The corporate mission is not to operate great radio stations, it’s to minimize shareholder risk and grow 10% a year. Not gonna happen any more. The "value-added" came from cutting costs, not creating great radio. Naturally large market sales are down even as ours are up in the smaller markets. But we are all now threatened by the FCC with the onerous burden of excruciatingly documenting the localism we never lost.
While I’m grousing about the state of our beloved industry, what is this disingenuous comparison of HDTV to IBOC, branded as "HD radio"? To the public, HDTV is "must have"; it is truly spectacular! By comparison, IBOC is one hand clapping for what is now being characterized as a bit of a scam (invested in by many of those same conglomerators) to pick the pockets of smaller broadcasters by encouraging them to purportedly "jump on the digital bandwagon." And we all know now that it often ruins adjacent channel listening on AM and FM. So the public is supposed to buy a radio that very few in-store salespeople have even heard of (because it has no consumer appeal) in order to get back some of the content choices lost to adjacent channel interference, from the interfering station’s secondary or tertiary stream. Is that some kind of a joke? Since the public tells us they hear no difference, perhaps the value will come from obliterating adjacent channel competitors.
Let’s hope the leaders in our industry wake up to reality in 2008. Let’s hope they permit the business-slash-art-form to bloom as a creative medium once again, as we do in our smaller markets.
WCLX, WMEX, WQQQ, WRIP