Cost savings vs. Time Spent Listening (TSL). That's one of the big questions in radio.
Time Spent Listening is a marketable commodity. Companies such as Arbitron measure TSL, and radio stations use that measure to sell ads.
Layoffs directly impact the cost of doing business. Assigning broad ranges of responsibilities to a smaller crew cuts the payroll, and that's exactly what the radio networks are doing; I recently heard of a station manager in the Mid-West who now mows the grass at the station. But eliminating on-air personalities and content creators cannot help but result in a less attractive on-air product — and thus, lessened TSL to market to paying advertisers:
Clear Channel laid off hundreds of workers last week, further soiling the mega-corporation's reputation. Some have estimated this round of layoffs at "around 590 positions, or 3 percent of the staff."
This satirical audio track about the layoffs is going viral in the radio industry:
Christmas at Clear Channel
Yet the worst is yet to come. We are about to see a "mass reduction in work force the likes of which the radio industry has never seen. And that’s saying a lot for an industry that has seen nothing but reductions in work force since consolidation first began way back in 1996."
The backlash simmers...
Even gun-carrying beer guzzling right wing Texans are calling for a boycott of Clear Channel over the elimination of on-air talent — specifically "the most listened to radio show in the southern region of communist-occupied America":
Some are calling for an exposé by newly unemployed program directors of Clear Channel's creative variation of pay for play (payola):
Clear Channel is owned by Bain Capital, which made Mitt Romney filthy wealthy. Bain Capital's business model is squeezing corporations to extract wealth, loading them up on debt to maximize profits, and then moving on to the next victim.
But Clear Channel's governance is also at issue. Just a decade ago, the FCC insured that incidents such as Rush Limbaugh's Fluke tirade would be punished.
'Elliot in the Morning' hit with indecency fine
WASHINGTON (AP) March 12, 2004 — Federal regulators stepped up their campaign against indecency, proposing a $247,500 fine Friday against the nation's largest radio chain for a Washington-based show.
The Federal Communications Commission cited Clear Channel Communications' "Elliot in the Morning" show for nine alleged violations "that involved graphic and explicit sexual material, and were designed to pander to, titillate and shock listeners."
The FCC proposed the maximum fine of $27,500 per incident...
The fine comes amid heightened public and political pressure on broadcasters to clean up their programming. On Thursday, the House overwhelmingly passed legislation that would boost the maximum indecency fine to $500,000 per incident.
Last month, the FCC proposed a record $755,000 fine against Clear Channel for airing raunchy content on the "Bubba the Love Sponge" show in Florida. The disc jockey of that show was fired by Clear Channel, which did not contest the fine.
—USA Today: 'Elliot in the Morning' hit with indecency fine, March 12, 2004
The FCC looked the other way when Limbaugh let loose with his three day "slut", "prostitute", and "sex tape" barrage.
Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman
Four weeks after Limbaugh's outburst, Clear Channel's CEO still had not criticized the shock jock; rather, he called Limbaugh the king — not just of talk radio, but of radio itself. "Rush is the king,” CEO Bob Pittman said. “Rush is certainly the leader, and we’re delighted to have him.”
In April, radio analyst Holland Cooke predicted that "The Rush Limbaugh Show will never fully-recover from wounds self-inflicted this past month." [emphasis in the original]
He continued, this is "what happens when we relinquish control of programming... Many affiliates automate this show, and too many station managers don’t even listen. It’s 3 hours of plug-N-play, which, for 3 consecutive days, rained-down vile insults" on Sandra Fluke.
In May Cooke reported that, "figuring that the controversy has passed, many affiliate station managers are back to not-bothering-to-listen to Rush." (I wonder what they're thinking now?)
Dominic Dieter, the
Rape Away The Gay Guy
is called a "Limbaugh wannabe"
In late April, Clear Channel's Ohio-based shock jock Dominic Dieter told the father of a teenage girl who had kissed another girl
that he should "get one of your friends to screw your daughter straight." Dieter was suspended
. Why? Jerry Del Colliano offers this:
"Of course, Clear Channel suspended Dieter because, well -- he was not Rush Limbaugh."
Jerry DelColliano (insidemusicmedia.com), [also observed], "When Rush gets away with it, then wannabes like Dominic Dieter get revved up and out of control."
—Holland Cooke newsletter, June 2012
In fact, Clear Channel has disciplined a number of talk show hosts for one or two sentence slip-ups since the infamous Limbaugh tirade. Seems that three days of misogyny is just fine when it comes from the "titular head of the Republican Party
Clear Channel and the Republicans both bow to Rush, it seems. And Clear Channel would rather continue laying off workers than to make even a symbolic gesture of dismay over Limbaugh's continuing outrageous outbursts. And as Clear Channel passes along the four hundred million dollars they agreed to pay Limbaugh over his eight year contract, they need to cut corners elsewhere. So Clear Channel "is not done firing".
And Cumulus (the second largest radio network) will soon follow Clear Channel's example:
Holland Cooke has identified Rush as the 2012 Radio Disgrace of the Year. Limbaugh's Fluke tirade "validated Talk Radio’s unfortunate caricature; and added-insult-to-injury for Limbaugh affiliates already suffering ratings erosion, as PPM demonstrates that Rush was a diary act."
In other words, ditto heads and other conservative sympathizers among Arbitron's monitors may have embellished listening time for Rush (which, among other things, allowed Rush to claim twenty million listeners).
Rush may currently have immunity as far as Clear Channel and the FCC are concerned, but market forces are threatening to bring him down. Holland Cooke notes that since his Fluke tirade, (1) "ALL of radio suffered, as ad dollars fled"; (2) "Limbaugh’s escalating three-day 'slut'/'prostitute'/'sex video' assault [has] complicated sponsorships even for music stations"; and, (3) "Sports frightens national advertisers less than Talk (after Limbaugh’s Sandra Fluke episode)." Thus, we see radio stations switching to sports and other non-controversial formats in an effort to recapture some of the lost ad dollars. Rush may have a contract, but he won't escape ultimate responsibility for the damage he's inflicted.
2013 will rock Rush Limbaugh’s world
(when his biggest-affiliate contracts end). —Holland Cooke
Radio Survivor analyzes radio station format changes, here.
Finally, here's yet another reason the broadcast radio industry is under pressure. A very significant percentage of radio listening occurs during commutes or travel. When asked last week, "Will AM/FM radio always be available in-car?" a Ford executive responded, "Always is a long time." This brief but fascinating video illustrates yet another reason why radio industry executives should be worried:
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