Charlie Cook On Air: Who Is Going To Own Radio?

Last month Clear Channel made more personnel cuts, this time going into bigger markets than in the past. The discussion that followed centered on whether radio companies really care about doing live and local programming any longer.

Let me say that Clear Channel should do whatever they believe works for them. They know what makes their company successful. They know what they need to do to deliver the kind of programming that will create revenue and ratings.

Last weekend someone asked me, “Who is going to own radio stations in five years?” The question came from this person’s belief that the Clear Channel model of eliminating personnel and operating stations with just a few live bodies in house (he was not suggesting the hallways are strewn with dead bodies, by the way) sends a message that the business is not profitable enough to be involved with.

I still have few miles left on this chassis and I hope to drive all the way to the end of the road as a radio person. So this worried me at first.

After I left my friend (making sure he paid for lunch, as he is no longer in radio or records and appears to have a more secure future than me), I started to really think about this. However I became less worried about the future if there would still be owners who:

  1. Believe in the responsibility to serve their local communities.
  2. Believe in presenting programming that gets results for their clients.
  3. Believe that running the local high school football games on Friday night is both a great programming tool and a revenue generator.
  4. Believe that engaging their listeners in contests and discussion throughout the day makes the station an important part of the audience’s day.
  5. Make sure local and national newscasts are more than just once per day part.
  6. Think weather forecasts are programming elements, not just sales features.
  7. Who feel like the people that work for them are not just line items but part of the family.
  8. Who still do public service programs, not because the government mandates it but because they know it’s right for the listener.
  9. Who are not in a race to own the most stations, but the best.
  10. Who believe that live and local morning shows are important.

Not all owners feel the same way about their properties. This does not make them bad guys or wrong. I really have no problem with businesses running their operations however they please. That is not what this article is about.

This is simply the answer to the question my friend posed. His question came from not thinking anyone would want to be in the radio business in five years. I think that, if the big guys decide to sell some of their properties in order to meet their financial goals, there will be people who believe in the tenets above and will be happy to be in the business.


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