“Corporate FM”

corporate fmKansas City Filmmaker Kevin McKinney originally released his movie “Corporate FM” in 2012, but unless you lived near a community that was screening the film or attended a film festival where it was being shown, you probably never saw it. Or even heard of it.

Amazon Prime

After re-editing the film in 2015 to reflect updates and changes in commercial radio since 2012, McKinney decided it was time to let more people access the information he covered in the film and just released it on Amazon Prime. (Here’s the LINK ) “Corporate FM” explores the consolidation of radio after the Telcom Act of 1996 and how big corporations with the help of Wall Street and private equity firms swallowed up the radio industry in America.

February 1996

I remember the day that President Bill Clinton signed the Telcom Act of 1996 into law. Clinton signs Telcom Act of 1996It was supposed to provide competition between the phone companies and the cable companies with the goal to increase services and reduce prices to the consumer.

Inserted into the bill at the 11th hour were two paragraphs that would change the radio industry forever.

In the film, Robert McChesney, Professor of Communication Studies, University of Illinois points out that commercial media lobbyists, without a single public hearing or any public debate, would insert these paragraphs and open up the consolidation floodgates for radio/TV. Politicians would later say they didn’t know what they were voting for. Even President Clinton would say that he didn’t know that those two paragraphs had been added before he signed the bill into law.

Cumulus and Clear Channel

As the McKinney film told the story of the rise of Cumulus and Clear Channel, it reminded me of my time with both of those companies.

In Waterloo, Iowa I was running the #1, #2 and #3 radio stations. When Cumulus took them over, John Dickey showed up at the stations and proceeded to tell all of us gathered in the station’s conference room what our new logos would look like, what our new jingle packages would sound like, who our new station voice guys would be, how our playlist would be compiled, who are new consultants were etc. To say we were all stunned would be an understatement.

Then later when I was working for Clear Channel (after the Bain/Lee takeover, but before it became iHeartMedia) in Sussex, New Jersey, we received a survey from corporate asking us how local decisions were made about branding, marketing, promotions, music and the like. I assume a similar survey was sent to every market cluster inside Clear Channel.

When the results were tabulated at HQ, we then received directives that no longer would those types of decisions be made on the local level. Local radio had changed.

Local Bands

Growing up, local radio was a way for local bands to get exposure and grow their audience. “Corporate FM” tells the story of how Jewel became a national artist being discovered by local radio and played on-the-air in San Diego.

In fact, it was seeing a drop in attendance at live shows that got McKinney to wondering what was happening, and giving birth to his movie about the consolidation/corporatization of the radio industry.

I know a local band here in Winchester, Virginia “Sons of Liberty.” They play all over the Shenandoah Valley and beyond. They have a CD that Rob McKenzie of Fireworks Magazine spoke glowingly about. Where you won’t hear the “Sons of Liberty” music is on the radio.

Oh, they’ve been heard on an FM radio station (98 Rock) out of Harrisonburg, Virginia on their Sunday night “Wet Paint” show that starts at 11pm. But as “Corporate FM” points out it takes repetition to have an audience become familiar with anything, and for someone to decide they like it, or don’t. Radio used to provide that type of exposure and then monitor audience reaction to see if the record was a hit or a miss. (Remember features like “Champ & Challenger?”)

Sneak Preview

ABC Radio Networks used to air a feature hosted by WABC’s Chuck Leonard called “Sneak Preview.” The network would call affiliates of the ABC Contemporary Radio Network to get their hottest new song and then play it to a nationwide audience. I remember being at WBEC in Pittsfield, Massachusetts when we told Chuck that our hottest new song was “Tracy by The Cufflinks.” He told us he had a terrible time trying to find a copy of the song in New York City.  But Chuck Leonard did find it and it played over the ABC network to a national audience. That was how radio made the hits.

Fifty to Six

“Corporate FM” tells how in the 80s ninety percent of mass media in America was owned and controlled by about fifty different companies, but after the Telcom Act of 1996 it was down to just six corporations.

“Most radio studios are completely empty after 7pm and for the entire weekend.

They set the phone lines to “busy” so callers will believe that someone is there.”

-Slide shown in film

Big N Rich

The popular country recording artists “Big N Rich” addressed the FCC in Memphis, Tennessee. They told the commissioners that one person in a corporate office today can dictate what 35, 55, or 100 stations play.

“Let’s say an artist puts out a song with a political viewpoint and that corporate person says I don’t believe in that position so we’re not going to play that record (Dixie Chicks?). One guy can affect what 30 million people get to hear.

That’s censorship.”

-John Rich

Fatherly Advice

Dick Fatherly says “the broadcasters have become the victims, and the winners are – who do you think? -Goldman Sachs.”

Josh Kosman, who wrote the book “The Buyout of America” put it this way: “Private equity took the radio business that was doing pretty well and gutted it.”

Josh has studied how private equity has impacted all industries in America. He used a simple example to explain the difference between you or I buying a house and a private equity firm buying a business doing a leverage buyout (LBO).

When we buy a house, we put down say 30% as a down payment and then take out a mortgage for the 70% balance.

When private equity buys a radio station, they make a small down payment and then the radio station they’re buying takes on the debt for the balance, leaving the radio station with crushing new debt.

The private equity companies then charge management and other fees, making back their down payment money, and a whole lot more. So, it’s zero risk to them.

It reminds me of the guys on the Atlantic City Boardwalk who used to entice you to let them guess your weight and if they got it wrong you won a prize. The only way those guys lost is if you didn’t pay them to guess your weight. For if they got your weight right, they gave you nothing and if they got your weight wrong, they gave you a prize that was valued less than what you paid them to play the game.

“Financial deals allow the corporate owners to keep their stations after bankruptcy.

This prevents local owners from reviving local radio.”

-Slide shown in the film

For those who hold out hope that if/when the big corporate entities fail, and it will return radio to local operators once more, that slide should send a chill down your spine.

America’s bankruptcy laws now favor the debtor in the corporate world.


This is probably a film that many will miss and that’s unfortunate. It’s only a little over an hour in length. It’s well worth your time.

For this is a film not just about what happened to the radio industry but what is happening to our way of life, in industry after industry. This modus operandi is being repeated today.

The people in the film offer their ideas for making radio great again.

I won’t spoil that for you, so you’ll have to watch the film.

Some of the statements made by various participants have since been proven wrong from the time the film was shot. Some of the statements are also inaccurate in terms of how today’s FCC license renewals can be challenged.

In all fairness, many people are still believing that the way it was, is the way it still is. Only it isn’t. Those laws have been changed by corporate lobbyists too.

I hope you will watch the film “Corporate FM” and then post your comments here on DickTaylorBlog dot com.

Note: Don’t have Amazon Prime, you can rent this movie for $2.99


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

63 responses to ““Corporate FM”

  1. Gene Kauffman

    Excellent column Dick. I’m an Amazon prime subscriber and will find the movie. I’m just happy I had many years local radio when it was live and local and truly served our communities.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank You Gene. I’d love to hear your thoughts after you’ve watched the movie. Please come back here and share them.


    • Dick, we’re friends and I have great respect for you and thoroughly enjoy your blogs . . .except this one. “Corporate FM” paints radio ownership in the 2000s with a vastly over-reaching negative “broad blush” that is completely unfair to the vast majority of local operators who are doing everything in their power to keep Radio local.

      And “Corporate FM’s” focus on folks who, unfortunately have been mistreated, leads viewers to believe that mistreatment of radio employees is “par” for the Radio industry.

      It isn’t. As a 45+ year Radio veteran, I have experienced the industry from a perspective that includes the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s. I’ve owned – and financed – radio station groups before and after the 1996 Telecom act. And I can attest that the Telecom Act did *not* ruin Radio . . .it saved it.

      Missing from “Corporate FM’s” analysis was the true cause of Radio’s problems: the rise of Walmart and other big-box retailers that closed down Main Street America. These retailers did *no* local advertising; instead, to the extent that they used Radio at all, they did so through network and and bartered buys that excluded Local radio.

      I watched this first-hand, as Walmart moved in to South Hill VA and the Main Street of South Hill closed down. The monthly revenue of my South Hill stations dropped from $40K+ per month to $15-$20K, yet I still had to make payroll. My choice: shut the stations down, or resort to retaining a live morning show and voice-tracking the rest of the day. I also stopped taking a paycheck: my staff gets paid, before me.

      I chose the latter. And I faced the same choice at all of my other locations across southern Virginia and northern North Carolina.

      I am still alive, thanks to AudioVault, voice-tracking and a ton of innovation. And I am optimistic about the future. Radio is alive and well. It is heard over air by over 90% of the population and is developing a streaming audience that will be helped tremendously by in-home speakers from Amazon and Google.

      Dick, in the interest of free speech, “Corporate FM” should get an audience. But, at the same time, the audience to this apocalyptic view of Radio should also be exposed to the great things that are happing in in our industry.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank You Tom for sharing your perspective (and challenges) about today’s radio.

        I appreciate your readership, friendship and for contributing to the discussion.


      • I agree with Tom. Big box stores were another factor in cuts. How many of the displaced people gave up supporting the local businesses that paid their salary, and now support businesses that do little or no advertising on radio.


      • When I worked at a “big box broadcaster” we aired 60-second ads for a “big box retailer” for $1-a-hollar as part of a group deal. Meanwhile, our local retailers were paying ~60-times that rate.

        I was told by my Regional VP to “take one for the team.”

        I knew we were in essence hastening the demise of our local retail base, the lifeblood of local radio.

        Liked by 1 person

      • John Davis

        Add to that list any number of chain stores/restaurants. Anything with a franchise doesn’t buy local radio, the franchisor buys national if they buy radio at all; the franchisee pays into the fund but doesn’t have any say in the buy. Consumers love the brands, so you’re not going to put that toothpaste back into the tube. It’s not as simple as rolling the ownership rules to pre-Telecomm act. The rest of American business changed as the years went by, too.

        Our task is to look forward and find ways to serve the public and turn a profit in the current age. While I miss the days of only having the AM down at the end of the hall, it wouldn’t make competing against digital any easier. Of course, not getting into debt up to your eyeballs is a good start, too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Radio is a cash flowing monster. Even today. But you’re so very right John, when you say “not getting into debt up to your eyeballs” is critical. Radio has always been about buying a station right at the outset. Those rules didn’t change because of the Telcom Act of 1996 or Wall Street money flowing into the industry.

        Thank you for sharing your thoughts and adding to the discussion.


  2. John Perry

    Great piece, Dick. I was not aware of the film, will definitely watch it. I’m still in the biz but only on weekends, a direct result of industry consolidation. I used to hold out hope for an eventual return to full time radio, but with the way things are now it seems highly unlikely…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes John, I hear you.

      I was aware of the film, but not living anywhere near Kansas City, had been unable to view it until it was released on Amazon.

      I hope you will stop back and share your thoughts after you view the film.


  3. The Good News: Radio changed in the ’60s. Allowable agility can turn radio over, whenever an owner says “Do It!”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brian Battles WS1O

    And even sadder, as stations fail or corporate behemoths file for bankruptcy, legendary stations are swallowed up by EMF (KLOVE) who bilk gullible donors out of money and operate tax free.


  5. Art Versnick

    just viewed the video, Dick. Sobering, for sure. I remember my last few months at IHeart, thinking that I became nothing more than a hall monitor making sure the employees showed up to work and not a market manager, coaching and making a difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow what a great blog Dick. One of the big things I miss about local radio was the ability to give exposure to new bands. New music Monday was one of our features which gave exposure to those local bands. Does anyone remember a band called Bon Jovi?

    You know me and the market very well Dick, now I understand why everything was driven to the bottom line. I will definitely check out the movie. Keep blogging!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I purchased the film when it was released. It was flashy, loud, and angry. The production was excellent, but for the most part, It was a bunch of DJ’s, PD’s, and Operations Managers who couldn’t play radio the way they wanted to anymore. Yes radio grew up and became a business.

    There are 15,000+ radio stations in the US (you can adjust my numbers). In reality, the big guys own a small percentage of those. In my market, we have over 20 radio stations and with the exception of two stations (KLOVE) all our locally owned.

    Some sort of consolidation would of taken place. With new media choices and technology, stations would of gone bankrupt or dark quickly as new platforms and ad options were created.

    Automation: It has been around since the 70’s. A simple play out system was invented (PC computer). Radio took advantage of it (as with many other businesses that had new technology options).

    Playlists? Yes there was a specialty show or local hit here or there, but there was always a structured playlist if your station wanted to win.

    Live and local. If you mean DJ’s back selling and talking 8 times a hour, that was 1989. Times have changed. Commercials and useless DJ chatter irritates today’s listener. Keep breaks short. We still need need to work on trimming inventory.

    As I got older, I knew that my time was limited as a PD, OM or DJ. Some were lucky to continue in those capacities, but for most the moved on to management, sales, ownership, outside industries that served radio, or got out of the business it changed. I didn’t want to be Johnny Fever at 50 or 60 (however he was cool, but also broke).

    The change was going to happen, because the world was changing.

    There are 10,000+ other stations out there that are not owned by Iheart, Cumulus, and KLOVE. Those stations are staffed by individuals who decided not to dwell or blame the usual suspects. In my 30 years in radio, I never worked for any companies above, and they never had a impact on any of the stations or staff I worked with.

    Do we blame McDonald’s for putting all restaurants out of business?


    • Thank you for sharing your perspective Damon.


    • halloran

      interesting perspective there Damon, since Mcdonald’s themselves have put other food sellers out of business i have no idea what the comment even means.

      but as one of the people in the film, i can tell you that jacor/CC/iheart hasn’t put ALL other broadcasters out of business, what they have done is killed the essence of why people fell in love with radio in the first place.

      radio was making plenty of money before the TELECOM ACT.

      91X was killing it.
      i left with it with a massive share and it has yet to recover.

      the playlist was decided by us here in SD. eventually it all went thru san antonio. soon enough the greed will have taken the toll it was owed.

      and who loses out? they people of america.

      it’s sad you couldn’t have been a part of a really special station back in the day.



      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank You halloran for sharing your perspective.

        Your words, “what they have done is killed the essence of why people fell in love with radio in the first place,” sent a chill down my spine.

        Every radio station I was with made lots of money, cash flowing over 30%+. My property in Atlantic City was cash flowing over a million dollars a year back in the 90s before the Telcom Act of 1996.

        I’m sure many of us have similar stories all over America.


      • Brian Battles WS1O

        It’s safe to say that the whole consolidation and lifting of ownership limits was basically a money grab by the NAB and the big investors who wanted to jump in and buy a huge bunch of stations. Who can blame them? As they say, an FCC radio license is a license to print money!

        Remember, up to the mid-1980s (before the Reagan-era deregulation and subsequently during the Clinton administration), individual, independent stations did quite well. Every station I know of was owned by someone who lived in a big house on the fancy side of town, drove a Caddy or Lincoln, maybe even had an airplane, boat, or helicopter, hung out with the local politicians, and was a community bigwig. They paid the sales people big bucks (deservedly) to bring in those fat checks and paid the air staff peanuts because they were the trained chimps in t-shirts and jeans who were a necessary evil, basically nitwits clowning around on the air and playing annoying rock music for the dopey kids out there…and the advertisers wanted to sell those kids records, burgers, pimple cream, etc. Besides, the DJs got free albums, T-shirts and groupies, you didn’t have to offer much cash to get guys to swarm the station looking for a job!

        Inevitably, Wall Street types wanted a hunk of all that free-flowing cash, so they linked arms with the NAB and paid big bucks to the politicians, crying “poor little stations will go dark, they can’t possibly make money and stay on the air, the public will lose out on the wonderful community service radio provides, oh the humanity!” And they claimed the only way radio could survive was by consolidation, so that one huge company could afford to keep all the unprofitable stations on the air, on the backs of the profitable stations those conglomerates owned. And it was an effective myth! The ownership limits were lifted, the behemoths bought as many stations as they could, fire most of the thousands of staffers and replaced them with “clusters” of voice-tracked computerized playlists, and instituted the one-DJ-all-markets model. Just think: paying one guy $20 for an hour of voice tracking to cover a whole afternoon or midday show for 200 stations is way cheaper than having 200 guys at $20 an hour apiece sit there live for 4 or 5 whole hours. And as long as you’re only going to play 20 or 30 songs over and over all day, a computer can do it just fine. And one Production Director can cut spots for the whole chain…and one traffic manager…one music director…one PD…etc. No more need for a local news department or public affairs, pish-posh! And now they don’t even need to have any office space in the city of license, how great is that? Away with all overhead! Service in the local public interest, convenience and necessity of overrated, anyway

        And the best part: If your business model fails, you pay your execs huge bonuses, go bankrupt, and get out of Dodge. Bonus: No management has to take any responsibility because, instead of admitting you have no idea how to run a business, be creative, take any risks and try to entertain listeners, you can just blame it on those damn millennials who have ruined everything by insisting on listening to music on the Internet (which is, of course, nothing at all like the kids who always used to listen to albums, cassettes and CDs in previous decades…that was different).

        Now get off my lawn!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you Brian for sharing your perspective.

        I would have to agree with you that I too, never worked for an owner who was a pauper.

        For the record, the New Jersey Broadcasters Association fought hard against the concept of consolidation of radio. I know, I was a member of the board of directors at that point in time.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Bob Wittnebel

    I watched the film a few days ago and it reminded me why I made the choice to leave the business in 1988. I felt sorry for the people I knew that were still in the business taking the hit from Corporate Radio. As a child of the 50’s and 60’s, I now appreciate the “Magic and Creativity” offered by radio back then. When I hear an aircheck from back in the day, I still smile and say “Gee wasn’t it great!” The banking industry needs to call in all their delinquent loans and give radio back to the local guy.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Michael Glaser

    Where can I get a little tower like that one? Love it !

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have not seen the film, but from this and some other commentary I’ve read, I’ll make some observations anyway.
    Free form progressive rock went away by the mid 70s, once it was discovered that even album rock listeners liked hearing the hits. Radio playing local acts was always somewhat of a myth. If you were in Detroit, yes, the Supremes would stop by the record hop at the high school and lipsynch their latest hit. That didn’t happen in most of the country, and if you look at playlists from the 60s and 70s from around the country, with a few exceptions, they were largely the same. Now here we are in the social media era, where we are all interconnected and not isolated in our enclaves, and a new song can be heard coast to coast in a few minutes. Does every market have a local band that’s playable on the air? A local Michael Buble? In the market I live in, it’s a News/Talk personality who’s also a musician and music producer who’s working with a “The Voice” winner, not the A/C station.
    A word about K-Love. It tends not to be part of my daily listening, but I know plenty of people who listen and love it. They aren’t “gullible”, they are willing to send donations to support a format they like. Church-going females are P1s and K-Love shares cume with secular A/C. If some rich Chicagoan had been willing to drop $21 million on 97.9 in Chicago to make it non-commercial rock, how many people who are complaining would donate?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank You Brad for sharing your experience.


    • Brian Battles WS1O

      I say we give it a try, I bet a lot of people would donate. A little 1000 watt FM in Hartford has been on the air since 1968 and collects about $120,000 a year in listener donations to keep it on the air. Another one in NJ gets around $250,000 a year in listener donations and has been on since around 1960. There are people who enjoy good radio and good music, and aren’t donating for religious reasons. Although, of course, that’s always a sure-fire way to haul in big bucks.


      • Stations that target a specific audience, like public or Christian radio stations, would probably find listeners that would support it financially, because they can not get that type of programming from another source. It is all about finding a need and serving it.

        Thank You for contributing to the discussion Brian.


  11. Bob Nester

    The majority of stations in the USA are in small/medium markets unaffected by the presence of iHeart or Cumulus. There’s no reason that these stations cannot make a good living, showing a respectable profit if they just pay attention to their community and run a good business with regular rate increases, rate integrity and excellent service by the sales staff. Hundreds and hundreds are doing just that, today.
    Anyone who works as an employee runs the risk of new owners coming in and making changes such as firing Dick Taylor. They bought the business and are taking the debt and the risks. If Dick Taylor and all the others bumped by iHeart and Cumulus wanted complete job security, they would have bought their own small maket station, which is what many of us did-and did just fine.
    The thought of finding a college job and throw rocks at the radio business, telling it how to run itself never occurred to me.


    • WOW, I sense some anger issues Bob.

      If telling the story of my personal experiences is “throwing rocks,” then so be it.

      For the record, I was never fired by Cumulus. I left for a much better opportunity with a local owner back East closer to family.

      With Clear Channel, after Bain/Lee, it was virtually non-stop downsizing. ($20 Billion worth of debt for a single owner, in an industry that only grosses around $17 Billion, will cause that.)

      In my college teaching job, I turned on students to the wonderful opportunities in radio sales — an area that is vitally needed in our industry.

      I don’t get the sense that you’ve even watched the film before commenting, based on your remarks.

      I encourage you to do that.


  12. Pingback: Dick Taylor: Corporate FM – Newsletter

  13. With the recent trade press the film has received, I decided to watch it. They got a lot of things right; particularly the financial back story. Some things seemed overstated to me as well. I agree with Brad Lovett and Damon Collins on a number of points.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. “The Telecommunications Act of 1996 destroyed radio,” Oedipus says. “Corporations were now allowed to own multiple stations in the same market and across the country. Stations were no longer programmed locally, but from company headquarters. WBCN suffered the same fate with the homogenization of radio, eliminating talented individuals for bland generic middle managers and staff members with no input into the direction of the station.”

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Art Versnick

    This is all just arithmetic. Most of those stations/clusters are probably making more money now (BCF) than ever before, since they are now “mean and lean,” but no amount of that cash can satisfy the debt incurred to acquire them. The IHeart cluster I was a market manager had 52 people on staff for six radio stations and a general programming/farm network. Today that cluster is five radio stations. They spun off the network and one FM with a staff of maybe 12-14 people. You can’t tell me that they aren’t cash flowing percentage wise more than even when I was there. It just isn’t enough to safisfy the obligation.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Dennis

    I’m an old radio guy from the 80s and got out when I saw how the industry was being ruined. No local DJs, no local news, automation of every damn thing except local sports. Today it is not a hot job like it once was. Maybe I’m just nostalgic but I miss the days of locally produced programs.


  17. Thanks for the heads up on this, Dick.
    Watched this afternoon and the film was, frankly, better than I expected.
    I grew up as a 1950s – 60s baby boomer who idolized my local radio “stars” and fantasized about working in the business. I did get my 3rd Phone sometime in the late 60s, but didn’t really start a professional broadcast career for another 10 or 15 years.
    Which means I spent most of the ’80s into the early ’90s working in small to medium markets, then dropped out to “pursue more lucrative opportunities,” listening and watching with dismay the collapse of a once-great industry.
    Got a chance to jump back in about a decade ago, working as local host/anchor for Morning Edition and All Things Considered at our town’s NPR affiliate. It was wonderful for grandpa to get back in front of a live mic again; I’d forgotten how much I loved it.
    But when the station went dark a couple years back I knew my run was over.
    Based on some of the comments here, and in a Facebook group that pointed me here, I expected a bit of a whiny bitch session with old radio folks talking about how the beancounters ruined things for all of us (not that I don’t believe that’s true, mind you).
    This hour held so much more, though. Made the case elegantly for radio as a community resource, both in the shared experience of so many folks listening to the same thing at the same time, and in the ways in which, in our finest moments, we provided public service — whether than meant disseminating emergency information in a disaster, or sparking the listeners to come together to help “one of our own.”
    We didn’t even think about it. Just came with the gig, like concert tickets and the annual Christmas Tree tradeout coupons.
    I miss it. But I think our collective culture misses it more, without really even fully understanding what they miss.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank You AC for all you shared.

      What I’ve witnessed since posting this article, are those people who responded without taking the time to view the film. As a result, they ass-u-me-d what the movie was about without actually knowing.

      What you wrote reminded me of the old Joni Mitchell song (Big Yellow Taxi) I remember playing as a DJ, “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

      I really do think that our collective culture doesn’t fully understand a time in our history when our local newspaper, radio station or TV station were vehicles for a community to gather, collectively read-hear-see the same thing at the same time and then come together for the good of all.


  18. I’ve shown this film to the students in the broadcasting courses I teach since it came out. And it’s really challenging to prepare students for an industry when jobs are being outsourced to singers, comedians, actors and others. Students tell me daily “I don’t listen to radio anymore they play the same 40 songs over and over and everyone is same Power This, Hot That, Blazing This, Street That. Local radio’s most important element the local talents are no longer considered valuable. The worst day ever happened in broadcasting was February 8, 1996 when president Bill Clinton signed the 1996 Telecom Act into law. It led to an immediate frenzy of buying and selling radio properties the result, “Too Few Own Too Many”. It is sickening that the very arguments used for deregulation “we’re not making money” and we could be better owning more stations producing better quality radio was just a lie. Radio has failed its listeners because radio failed to find a balance between making money and serving in the public interest. The film points out how LOCAL radio when run locally builds synergy in the LOCAL community. The JOCKS are not the PROBLEM it was the CORPORATE business ideologies that KILLED local radio. Radio has done a poor job of seeding its own future. Sure technology has changed the game but radio should have NEVER given up its place as being the “MOST PERSONAL” of all mediums.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Why do so many of us think that the changes in the radio industry happen in a vacuum? The same forces that changed our business have changed the communities around us.
    I’m a small market guy. Most of my experience is in small markets in the Midwest and MidSouth. Look at how those communities have changed in the past 40-50 years……
    Submitted for your approval- Trenton, Missouri.
    A town of about 6500. County population: 10-12k
    The closest metro: Kansas City 100 miles away. Nielsen TV ‘white space’.
    In 1973, when I went to work at KTTN (AM-1600 500 watt daytimer) Trenton sported 3-locally owned banks, 3-saving & loans (remember those?) 4-women’s clothing stores, 3-mens clothing stores, 3-shoe stores 5-drug stores 3-grocery stores (one chain store, but advertised daily), and dozens and dozens of other locally owned businesses. In the winter, when our broadcast day ended at 445pm, we struggled to squeeze in all the spots before sign off.
    Fast forward to the 21st century. The clothing stores, shoe stores, drug stores etc. etc. have all gone.
    And guess what? WalMart never came to town. The closest Walmart is 25 miles away at Chillicothe. So, even without the big box store, local business died anyway. It wasn’t Walmart or Amazon, it was demographics that killed the small town local businesses.
    KTTN has survived by building two FM’s, expanding their reach and super serving the local area. But, they struggle every day to maintain that level of service. Kudos to my old friend John Anthony for keeping it local.
    In some ways, the change to online purchasing has allowed people to stay in small towns, and obtain merchandise no longer available locally.
    These things don’t happen in a vacuum. It’s easy to blame private equity firms or ‘those damn corporations’. But, historians will look back to our time and see a seismic shift in demographics (and technology) that precipitated such huge changes in our communities and businesses.

    Liked by 1 person

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  21. Scott Cason

    Had a chance to watch the movie over a slow Easter weekend. First, I never realized how connected at the hip the music business and radio was. But it makes sense. The music business USED to have free promotion of their product and radio USED to have free programming in exchange. Of course, that’s no longer the case.

    What struck me is, there still ARE Mom-and-pop radio stations out there doing radio the way it should be done. I own a small FM in south eastern Indiana. We still play local music, we still connect with our listeners and we still serve the communities in our listening area. WE make the programming decisions, not someone in Atlanta or San Antonio. If there’s an overturned tractor blocking traffic, we let everyone know.

    I also work with the Kentucky Broadcasters Association. Get outside of Louisville, Lexington and northern Kentucky, and there are Mom-n-Pop radio stations all over the place. Small operators that still hold the charge to serve the public as their mission statement. That includes nights and weekends. That’s why radio will never die. Sure, in the larger markets it’s bland and boring and most listeners have now tuned out, but in the smaller, micro-markets….where listeners call with concern when the station goes off the air….that’s where radio still lives and thrives.

    Another thing I found amusing, the talent they interviewed. All of them were down on corporate radio. That’s understandable. But as I recall, when every one of them were given a chance to get away from it, they all went back to work for Corporate Radio. If they want to get away from the blandness and get back to doing radio the way they say they want to, gotta give up those big dreams cause it’ ain’t there anymore. Plenty of small radio stations would love to have the talent what was shown in the movie. You can be a big fish in a little pond, or a little, expendable, fish in a big pond.

    Overall, interesting movie. They left out one leg of the radio station. Engineering. I’m in my early 50s, been an engineer all my life. There’s nobody coming behind me to take care of this equipment when I’m gone. Owners/managers think they can hire “some IT guy” to take care of everything, and at the studio they pretty much can. But there’s some equipment at the base of their tower that IT guys don’t understand. Who’s gonna take care of the link between the station and the listeners when engineers like me are gone? And if you are a directional AM station, you are already in trouble in that regards. There’s one AM directional guy I know here in Louisville, and he’s in his 70s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Scott, Thank YOU for all your shared.

      I did a research project with the KBA back in 2014 to learn what were the future jobs in radio for my students at WKU’s School of Broadcasting and Journalism.

      It broke down into three areas: #1 Sales, #2 Engineering and #3 digital content creators.

      I taught the ONLY broadcast sales classes. We offered no classes in broadcast engineering and were working to create the third thing.

      The other reality was that clusters maybe needed a single person for #3 and a single person for #2 but needed a lot of people for #1.

      Anyone who’s been in the radio business knows, that if you don’t have a great product, selling becomes a real challenge.

      Randy Michaels said, give me a great sales staff with mediocre programming and I will lose you money, but give me great programming with a mediocre sales staff and I will make you money.

      Broadcast engineering is a critical need for the future of over-the-air broadcasters. It appears that most who understand RF can make a ton more in mobile technology industry than broadcast.

      As I just wrote in my latest column in RADIO WORLD, broadcasting needs to start recruiting high school students for all employment opportunities.


  22. Scott Cason

    “It appears that most who understand RF can make a ton more in mobile technology industry than broadcast.”

    and they don’t have to be on call 24/7, have a family life and get a little respect.

    And yes, depending on the size of the market, you might be able to get away with one engineer…until he gets burned out and climbs to the top of the tower naked screaming obsenities.

    As a contractor for the last 15 years, what I’m finding is that most owners don’t want to pay for experience. They want a quick band aid that they will have to come back and fix six months later with another band aid. I’ve walked into stations with several layers of band aids that in the end cost about 5 times more than it would have had they called me, or some other experienced engineer, first.

    You can have the greatest talent, and a product that everyone is clamoring for and sales out the wazoo. However when the radio goes silent, and there’s nobody around to fix the silence, what do you really have? and yes, without the outstanding product first, it becomes a moot point as well. Does anyone really want to listen to 24 hours of polka music and omm-pah bands?

    FYI, my daughter is a sophomore at Western.


    • Rick Sklar recognized the importance of having redundant systems at WABC. He studied how NASA did it and then built a completely redundant system of studios, transmission lines and transmitters to insure WABC would always be on-the-air.

      Yes, too many band aid their technical problems instead of employing a plan of preventative engineering. (Those types of operations live in a world of continuous ‘fire drills.’)

      I was always insistent that everything be in operational order all the time and that we had a plan for preventative maintenance we followed every week.


      I wish your daughter Good Luck at Western. That university faces huge economical challenges and depending on the new biennial budget coming out this month from Frankfort, it could be even more daunting than it already is.

      I understand that currently a provision that would allow tenured professors to be fired is in the new 2-year funding plan for Kentucky. That coming on the heels of cuts, wage freezes (after a decade of no COL increases) may be a tipping point for some faculty.


  23. Scott Cason

    And has history has shown, having off site backup capabilities is also a requirement. There is no way the powers that be at WCBS-TV could have known what was going to happen, but keeping facilities at Empire was one of the smartest moves they could have made.

    I have stressed numerous times to broadcasters I’ve worked for to have an off site back up. A mirror server for the automation system is very cheap insurance, and if your transmitter site has internet service, all the better place to put it.

    She loves WKU and Bowling Green. I try to get down to see her as much as I can since her free time here is spent with friends….all part of growing up I suppose.


  24. Excellent piece Dick. We have a similar situation in the UK where just a couple of companies own 99% of the stations, and one of them isn’t even British! The very few small local operators get a poor deal from the licensing authority who are running scared of the big boy Borg stations.

    Many years ago many of us sat on the sea (you called it Pirate Radio, but we are FREE, in international waters) and eventually won licenses for commercial radio, prior to that the Government through the BBC decided what was aired. Now those licences have been snapped up 2 or 3 big groups – most have only 2 or 3 hours a day local programming, and even that is presented from a city many miles away from the market.

    the system stinks, as its almost impossible for independents to get a voice. Maybe the change WILL come with ONLINE radio now accounting for 9% of radio listening in the UK this last quarter?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Paul for sharing your perspective from across the pond.

      We are seeing trends that Thomas Picketty foretold in his book “Capital in the 21st Century.” I really don’t know what the re-set will be this time around, but hope it’s not another Great Depression and World War.

      Really appreciate your thoughts and for stopping by the blog.


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  27. Just watched the film tonight. I have worked in small town radio up to the number one market. A radio station mirrors the personality of the community it operates in. When sameness invaded, and program diversity became a thing of the past, the mirror cracked.

    Another note about the WABC comment from earlier. Until the days of disco, the station owned the New York market, with a signal that penetrated the east coast. The signal was well tuned, some compression, some bass boost and levels that never dropped below -2.

    What Citadel and Cumulus did to the ABC owned stations is criminal.


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