(By Fred Jacobs)
As we watch the recent staffing cutbacks by both Clear Channel and Cumulus, it has to send out a message that in spite of all the rampant consolidation, something must have gone very wrong. This is evidenced by the seeming necessity to cut budgets and staff, the biggest activity these companies are initiating. And of course, it translates not to better, more innovative radio, but a loss of jobs that leads to something called more efficient operations.
And what message does it send to Wall Street or Main Street when they read these stories on Google News? That radio isn’t what it used to be. That radio is going through hard times. That radio has lost its fastball. That radio has become a second (or third) rate entertainment and information outlet.
But we know that’s not entirely true. There are some incredible radio stories – big and small – that are often overshadowed by the negative news, or worse, the bragging, bodacious, bloviated behavior that has sadly become part of the radio playbook.
Many of these positive stories have been covered in this blog and the radio trades. The incredible WTOP accomplishments – expanding their content to many different and exciting platforms beyond AM and FM. A regular guy DJ like WCSX’s Steve Kostan being inducted in the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. Preston & Steve’s “Camp Out For Hunger” campaign - just one of many incredible community efforts on MMR. We could make a long list of radio’s wonderful achievements and it would make up a week’s worth of blog posts.
Unfortunately to the outside world, a lot of this greatness is being overshadowed by the tired bragging and bombastic, outlandish claims made by some radio owners, managers, and programmers. That style may have been effective in the ‘80s when the WWF ruled, but today, it comes off as positively stupid and sophomoric. Like Donald Trump in business or Terrell Owens on the gridiron, these tactics are tired, lame, and only denigrate those who make them – as well as the rest of our business.
Case in point: the Randy Michaels’ Merlin Media assault on radio that we witnessed earlier this year. Week after week in the trades, those same tired taunting tactics were published with great glee and excitement.
- There was the “fresh” war of words that Merlin waged with CBS, culminating in this statement: “There are hundreds of other businesses in Chicago using the word “fresh” in their marketing. We don’t plan to be one of them. We hope this clears up any concern you may have about us using the name you don’t want anymore. We don’t want it either.”
- Or Walt Sabo’s comment when he got the Merlin COO job: “No other mass media company has our ability to innovate and then captivate a significant share of audience and revenue.”
- And finally, there was the message from Michaels to Mason and CBS in late September: “I think CBS has overreacted. I don’t think we are targeting them. When you look at WBBM or WCBS, the audience is incredibly old. My gosh, if you took The Bears out of WBBM, they don’t have many people under 60. I have no interest in the audience that listens to BBM. I think they will continue to listen to BBM.”
And not so many days later, Merlin scrapped their initial approaches in both Chicago and New York and now sound more like the traditional WBBM in format and style. True, FM News 101.1 is still more about the Kardashians than Afghanistan, but the big concession to the traditional CBS/Westinghouse all-news format has been made. Merlin would probably like a few thousand of those “old” WBBM partisans after all.
This isn’t to say that Merlin won’t eventually find some level of success with spoken word on FM, despite the fact that its initial format architecture was dumped.
But the problem is that their attempts to be innovative are secondary to the outrageous claims, the bragging, the tricks, the stealth tactics, the hype – because that’s also what agencies see and hear. And that’s the stuff that reinforces the notion that radio is a bunch of dated wind bags that make lots of noise but fall short on delivering a modern, innovative product.
As a radio executive client of ours said to me the other day when discussing Merlin’s still-births in New York and Chicago, “I have one bit of advice for these guys – SHUT UP.”
And in fact, isn’t that the point? Radio needs to stop boasting, bragging, and making bodacious claims. It needs to shut up and grow up.
Do it on the field. Do it during the games. Put it on the air. Create truly great brands that people care about, provide unparalleled service to our audiences and your communities, and get great ratings – and let those accomplishments speak for themselves.
Radio would do itself a favor by not making noise about what it’s going to do or its improved EBITDA, and focusing on providing great, unduplicated entertainment, information, and service that consumers care about.
Then maybe we’ll have something to brag about.