Time to speak with one voice


"One Voice for Radio" is the new campaign to be formally introduced today by NAB and RAB, but we got a brief advance glimpse yesterday morning during the group head panel at the financing session. In his opening remarks, Bear Stearns analyst Victor Miller had noted that radio was the only industry he knew of that tended to fight its fights in public." According to Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan, "We need to change the perception of this industry. Panelists noted that the two satellite radio companies and their PR companies have been successful in making the public think they are a major force, even though they still have relatively few subscribers and continue to lose huge sums. "I don’t care if Mel [Karmazin] puts them together or not, it’s a dog," Smulyan said of the satellite radio business. But he and other group heads said that if regulators do accept the arguments that XM and Sirius compete with a broad range of audio services and allow them to merge, it makes it harder for the FCC to defend ownership limits on AM and FM stations.

The group heads disagreed on whether or not selling inventory via Google and eBay is a good idea. "Google, schmoogle," was the reaction from Saga CEO Ed Christian, but Emmis’ Smulyan said such new avenues were worth exploring, since Google has so many more advertisers than the radio industry. Cumulus Media CEO Lew Dickey took issue with the whole idea of selling off last minute inventory at lower rates because it is subject to "spoilage" if not sold. His analogy was the movie industry. Imagine what would happen if tickets for empty seats were sold at half price after the movie beings – it would destroy the whole structure of the movie business. But that’s what is happening with selling remnant inventory. "We as an industry have been taking the path of least resistance," he complained.

There are efforts, though, to deal with the underlying problem, a lack of demand for radio inventory. When Cherry Creek Radio CEO Joe Schwartz complained that if the radio industry leaders don’t go to the Detroit automakers and the big box stores and make their case, then radio will just have to settle for whatever they want to give the industry, Smulyan said the RAB has been reinvented and that is exactly what is now being done. Greater Media CEO Peter Smyth, who also chairs the RAB, said those efforts to get to the chief marketing officers of major advertisers should bear fruit in the next 12-18 months.