Jim Walsh's Big Hairy Weblog Thingy

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sucking It All In

The posting of Ken Levine's comments on "Why Radio Sucks" brought some interesting responses.

Read Ken's original article here.

Here is one response, from broadcaster Steve Norris:

The recent changeover at KZLA in Los Angeles is just another indicator of the mentality of corporate radio. The guy who wrote the article said that the license of KZLA should be challenged. While I'm wirh him in spirit, I don't know how you'd bring that off. It isn't in the jurisdiction of the FCC to dictate programming. But that's okay. Whatever KZLA becomes will be of their own doing. The FCC couldn't hurt them any worse than they're going to hurt themselves.

It's the perfect recipe for failure. You've got the corporate empty suits who listen to the consultants who ask stupid questions and, well, it's garbage in, garbage out. So who cares if Los Angeles is the biggest country music sales market in America! Who cares if their audience was loyal! So who cares if they were making money! Let's kill the goose that lays the golden eggs and be rich beyond our wildest dreams!

It ain't gonna happen. Their recipe calls for a high profile jock in the morning. Well, Rick Dees is certainly that. I've known Rick for 35 years and I wish him well but one jock does not a station make. Robert W. Morgan found that out the hard way when he was lured away from KHJ in 1970 to go to Chicago and WIND. It was Morgan from 6-10 and then a bunch of trained chimps the rest of the day. WIND was in it right up until the beginning.

Okay, so what else is wrong with "MOVIN'93.9"?They're playing songs by the same artists you can get on 10-15 other stations in Los Angeles. And that doesn't include the Spanish language stations. If there's a crossover hit (and in L. A. that's VERY possible), then add five or six more stations playing that artist. I don't think too many Mexican stations or the CHRs (Top 40) or the ACs (Adult Contemporary) or the whatevers play a lot of Toby Keith. KZLA had a corner on that market. Okay, so they didn't burn up the world in the ratings. Could that be because maybe the Arbitron books were printed in ENGLISH? But a 2.0-2.5 in Los Angeles translates into some big bucks.

Emmis has come down with a major case of the Clear Channel flu. It happens anywhere you have public ownership of a broadcast-only company. (Clear Channel founder) Lowery Mays was an investment banker who took over (foreclosed) on a couple of stations in San Antonio and, for reasons unknown to many, they became successful. Thus, a robber baron was born.

You see, back in the '60's, if you owned a broadcast station, it was a license to print money. WSGN in Birmingham, for example, had incredible numbers. A 25 was considered a down book. Yet they turned a profit margin of 50-60%. And that was done with a full staff of jocks, a four-man news department, five full time engineers, and they did it with FOUR salespeople. Now, at the same time, if you ran a grocery store or a clothing store, your profit margin, if you were successful, would be about 5%. The average radio station profit margin was 15-20%.

Well, the robber barons, the barbarians, stormed the gates. Knowing as much about radio as they did particle physics or Einstein's Theory of Relativity, they paid outrageous prices to buy up these stations. Then, a thought struck them."Well, what do we do now?" So they brought in consultants and consultants are guys who know 99 different ways to have sex but don't know any girls. And, to pay for their mauraudings, the robber barons went public so they wouldn't have to spend any of their own money. Let the public pay and we'll have our nice little golden parachutes and everyone else be damned!

So stations started worshipping at the altar of the bottom line. And their cockeyed wisdom told them that if you cut expenses, profit would be that much greater.It didn't work out that way. Now, add to the mix Clear Channel's penchant for undercutting the competition on the rate card and the bottom line gets even smaller.

I remember when I was at KFYR, the logs were overloaded and we still weren't making budget. So you cut people in order to make budget. Has anybody ever told these mental dwarves that you make money by sticking to or increasing the rates?

Do you remember the days when big market radio was exciting to listen to? Since I've been here, I've been to Denver and San Francisco. From the quality of The radio, I thought I was still in Gillette, Wyoming. The talk stations were miserable. The music stations were even worse.

Did you ever ask yourself if you were a teenager today, would you fall in love with radio the way we all did when we were kids? I don't think I would. I don't know what I'd be but I don't think I'd be in radio. As for KZLA saying their first loyalty is to their advertisers, well MOVIN 93.9 won't be attracting business the way they think they will. Advertisers still work on response. Country music audiences are loyal. The handful of listeners MOVIN 93.9 will attract are fickle. You play a song they don't like and it's turn to another station or get out the i-Pods.

Goodbye, radio, it was nice knowing you.

Do I agree with Steve? Not necessarily. More on that later...