What The Dickeys Could Have Done Differently At Cumulus


The radio industry is chatting over an appearance Thursday at The Conclave in Minneapolis by former Cumulus Media CEO Lew Dickey Jr. and his brother, ex-Cumulus executive John Dickey.

The Dickeys had some interesting things to say about how, in retrospect, they would have done things a bit differently at a company now led by Mary Berner that went through a Chapter 11 restructuring following their respective exits.

As reported by Streamline Publishing’s Radio Ink, Lew Dickey admitted that forcing down rules from the Cumulus C-Suite was a mistake.

“We could have, should have, changed course,” he said. “It’s difficult to have a centralized strategy. It should have been fully distributed. We should have pushed all the power back out to the markets with some basic guidelines. In context, I was sitting in living rooms with Octogenarians buying radio stations. These were unsophisticated operations running out of a checkbook so you needed to have best practices. As we grew and grew, in retrospect, it was a sub-optimal approach.”

John Dickey served as Cumulus’ programming chief. He said to Conclave attendees, “Nobody’s looking over your shoulder telling you what to do. It was kind of like sandlot football. You’re making up plays as you go. In the course of doing that, you get some things right and you make mistakes. Going forward the industry has learned from some of the things that we’ve done.”

He added that what’s inevitable going forward is that the radio business is in slow decline. Further, John Dickey believes the train has forever left the station with respect to programming.

“Programming will forever be less localized and more centralized — not because there are not talented people but because of technology,” he said. “Because of the necessity of taking cost out of the business and the ability to deliver content through the cloud in a way that’s going to be so overwhelmingly positive for an investor that those decisions will be made for you. And, you will see that in reverse in sales. Some of the mistakes we made…we tried to centralize sales, create standards, and hold sales teams accountable. I think you’re going to see more sales teams less centralized. You’re going to see more self-serve platforms. You’re going to need to figure out how to compete against Facebook, Amazon, and Google on attribution and geo-targeting.”

John Dickey also believes inventory, already too high on most radio stations, needs to go up in local markets — by four times.

However, he clarified his statement by saying it needs to increase through geo-targeting and zoning broadcast signals — a technology that has not yet proven to be successfully impleented.

“Reduce the price and get more value back to the small business,” he said. “Let them use radio the right way.”

Meanwhile, Lew Dickey said there’s no longer an appetite to invest in radio because it’s not a growth business. Rather, he believes, it’s a better debt story than it is an equity story. He also said radio does not have a mobile strategy today.

Watch the stream of the Dickeys interview from The Conclave HERE.