Where Have All the People Gone?

It’s almost hard to believe, in an economy where employers are finding it difficult to hire and retain employees, that the radio industry continues to eliminate people.

iHeart Initiates Round of Cuts

Lance Venta of RadioInsight broke the news on Wednesday, June 8th about iHeart doing a new countrywide Reduction In Force (RIFs). On Friday evening, as I scrolled down my screen, Lance updated his initial report with locations of where some of the known cuts had taken place. Boston, Chicago, Des Moines, Jacksonville, New Hampshire and Tampa.

Reading the names of the people cut, I couldn’t help but notice they have been in their positions for decades, with titles like Senior Vice President of Programming and member of the National Programming Team. We’re talking some very senior level people with tenured radio careers.

Main Studio Rule Eliminated

It was back in October of 2017 that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to eliminate the Main Studio Rule, a provision that had been in place since 1934, and allowed radio owners to no longer maintain a main studio within its principal community contour. In other words, there’s no one home at your local radio station.

Lance speculated that in the future, we would see much leaner broadcast facilities. Welcome to that future.

Public Interest, Convenience and Necessity

The case broadcasters make for Over-The-Air AM/FM radio is that in times of emergencies, staying on the air is what makes radio an essential resource. They like to point out that other forms of communication, like satellite dishes, cell towers and microwave relays do not.

Ironically, without having a main studio in the affected area, broadcasters use satellite dishes, cellular communications and microwaves to feed local transmitters, often from hundreds of miles away from where a natural disaster is occurring.

Broadcasters have abandoned local staff being on the ground in their FCC licensed service area and with it, the vital connections with local emergency management officials.

Efficiently Eliminating Radio’s Advantage

Radio is a people business.

When I started in radio back in 1968, every radio station was a beehive of professionals dedicated to being the best they could be.

As an example, CKLW, a stand-alone AM radio station in the Detroit metro, had twenty-three people just in their news department.

Was radio efficient back then? No.

Was radio effective? YES!

Did radio make money? Tons of it!

Radio’s advantage has always been the people who make the magic happen.

Sadly, radio today operates in an “efficiency bubble,” where efficiency is valued over effectiveness.

Efficient radio chases away listeners.

Effective radio creates them.

The pursuit of efficiency is a rational answer to an emotional problem.

The radio business was never built on Excel spreadsheets and doing what was most efficient, it was built by creative people who touched others emotionally. Be it station imaging, air personalities, promotions, contests, community events, advertising or marketing, radio always went for people’s hearts.

Radio is successful when it delivers a sense of community and companionship to the listener.

Show me a successful radio station in 2022 and I will show you one that continues to foster emotions in their listeners and advertisers.

Radio done correctly still wins.


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

28 responses to “Where Have All the People Gone?

  1. Sad story about how far the radio industry has fallen over the past several decades. An industry that once provided quality information and entertainment has become more of a commodity where stations are sold and traded like trading cards. Otherwise, thanks for sharing and posting.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I would like to hear a blog about internet streaming and Facebook and You Tube Live. It is becoming more popular today. I am involved with sports broadcasting on Facebook Live as are many many other broadcaster and private streamers in our State. Back before Facebook live the way to do a remote broadcasts was audio only. Is Facebook live the future of remote broadcasting?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Steve Biro

    The sad part is, the people who need to read this article will never see it – and wouldn’t heed it if they did. The MBAs have wrecked radio and are wrecking many more industries. But they are convinced everything is fine and under control.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You might be surprised who actually reads my blog on a weekly basis, who represent leadership in the radio industry.

      BUT, reading is passive. What the industry needs is ACTION.

      Thanks for stopping by Steve and sharing your thoughts.


  4. Bob Hoenig

    Dick, I couldn’t agree with you more. It breaks my heart to see what radio has become. A few radio stations in my area in NJ are still “live and local.” I prefer listening to them — even though they barely (if ever) do local news. At least I hear about goings-on in the area. I’m retired now, and spent many years in network radio before pulling the plug, but I miss my days in local radio and the fun we could have at the station — and the way that would translate to the air product. You don’t get that anymore. Over-the-air radio isn’t dead yet, but it sure is a ghost of its former self. Bob Hoenig

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I read once that if you work for a company still run by the founder, every employee is looked at as a valuable commodity and a key to the company’s success. Once the company is sold, every employee is just looked at as a drain on the bottom line. When I started at ABC in 1976, Leonard Goldenson was still in the CEO’s chair. As first Cap Cities came into the equation, and then Disney, and ultimately Citadel and then Cumulus, it was very obvious that indeed employees now were considered a cost that took away from “profit”. We saw over and over again that new owners constantly looked to increase Wall Street’s opinion of the company by increasing the bottom line..more often than not at the expense of employees! Layoffs, salary reductions, cutbacks on vacation time and health benefits were all part of the game plan, and in the end they left the stations short staffed and only able to do the bare minimum they needed to stay on the air. My Dad used to like to say, “you got to spend a buck to make a buck” but that philosophy doesn’t seem to exist any more. Sad time for radio, and I feel bad for younger people who will never experience the joy I had working in a job that made me want to go to work every day! Sorry, but when you own a thousand stations, that will never come back IMHO.


    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank You Frank.

      I experienced many of those same things as consolidation took over more and more of the radio industry. The change in focus from the station’s employees and the community it served to a lazer-beam focus on Wall Street has not been beneficial to the radio industry.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Where Have All the People Gone? – dxradio.de

  7. Kevin Saisi

    As a small community LPFM, we could not survive without automation, but we are right here in the community to interact with it and support its needs. We operate on a budget of less than $5,000 a year, but we have made the station available to local authorities, at will, without activating EAS. They can drop in announcements, or take over the entire station without the station manager even knowing. Yes, it takes a ton of trust, but relationships are what small communities are all about.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Scott Miller

    I’ve worked for major stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, beginning well before the digital revolution and deregulation. For the past four years I’ve been back in a small, semi-rural coastal market working for a stand-along station that’s an important part of the community. Very much a throwback. There are pros and cons to this situation, but I do feel fortunate to still have a gig. Could be the last one, I don’t know. Not much confidence in radio’s future; people below a certain age have little interest, they have numerous other communication options and have not been groomed to listen to radio.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank You Scott for stopping by the blog and sharing your story. I hope you are able to do radio for as long as you want to.

      I’m a volunteer on a LPFM station and feel like I’ve gone back to my radio roots. I anchor the midday show. For me, in my retirement, this is my “golf game.”


  9. Mike Starling

    Another spot on observation reinforcing why the new station will be valued. This weekend the “Duck” was off the air for most of two days. Because of an automation switching foul up. Thats WBOC’s most listened to station out of the four they bought from MTS, the for station cluster at Great Marsh park. One of the hams mentioned to me yesterday morning it had been off the air on Friday as well as yesterday morning. On the way back last night i was listening to the noise floor of 91.7 and drove out to St Mikes, since that is the community that is just outside the Longley Rice predicted coverage area. Some of the best software preciting software out there but its still a prediction and i think it is likely over predicting the adjacent interference from WBJC in Baltimore on 91.5. The point is coming back from there i tune in the Duck and they have a dead carrier. Signal is on but no audio. So i text friend in Easton who is their contract engineer and within five minutes they are back on the air. So it proves the point there is really no one home at the remotely operated commercial stations which means a tremendous opportunity for a new station that is engaged, providing good local public service. Not just a jukebox for selling ears to advertisers.

    Off my soapbox at the moment. But we should chat about the underlying philosophy of our effort, especially in light of the abrupt right turn of the High Court.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Mark Portzer

    How does a station that has their broadcast located hundreds, even thousands of miles from the transmitter, provide a service to that community? Thanks to radio conglomerates and the FCC, today’s commercial radio is almost worthless to their assigned community. A far cry from radio in the past.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Wow. . a lot to consider here. I was in on the ground floor of “automation” in the 1990s and saw its failures and successes. It was-as I was told-to be a tool to improve the quality of broadcasts by utilizing a more professional sound. At one point I was creating music shows for 6 different stations, from Dallas to Santa Barbara. Each was locally focused and successful. Of course that changed with advanced digital delivery, “premium choice” programming and consolidation. (Not in that order.) The other change is the source for entertainment. AM, then FM and now digital – but the real force to be reckoned with is still content. CKLW’s 23 person news staff offered up a very compelling reason to listen to “Twenty-Twenty News”. Even “network” radio can’t hold a candle to what was created in Windsor back in the day. It’s difficult to find the kind of well-presented content that many of us grew up with in our early days of radio, Dick. If its out there, it’s well hidden. Someone mentioned the High Court. We’ve seen agencies created for the common good make crazy decisions that go against their intended purpose. Which (of course) leads me back to automation, the home studio rule and things like translators gumming up the FM band and now the discussion of boosters separating programming from the main channel. Media has always and will continue to evolve. The best will rise to be successful while the worst will wither and disintegrate. We don’t want that to happen to broadcast radio -but those of us who aren’t driving that bus are forced to follow those who are. Dick, your blogs are some of the most sensible writings of this century and we can only hope that someone with a vision toward the end user (the listener) will come forward and make attempts to save it. Keep fighting that fight.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank You Dave for all you wrote.

      I’m humbled by your kind words about my blogs and want to say “Thank You” for saying what you did.

      My hope is that my blogs create discussion about the radio industry that will lead to meaningful changes.


  12. Bill Sepmeier

    This isn’t off topic – it’s the basis of the topic. Bear with me here…

    Thermodynamics always wins. Economists and business students aren’t taught this, but without constant energy input, Entropy always increases. Efficiency is the opposite of entropy, and requires continuous energy input to establish and maintain. This is a function of physics, which is the last subject anyone majoring in business ever takes. Over the past 150 years, the exploitation of the vast energy density of oil has transformed civilization in every way imaginable as energy input increased exponentially every year – but regrettably, that has ended. Global discovery of new oil deposits practical to extract peaked in the 1960’s. Global “conventional” oil production peaked in 2005 – the crash of 2008 was a direct consequence. A byproduct of the federal reserve’s reaction to the financial collapse, free money for bankers, American unconventional oil – shale oil – was promoted as the savior of the oil based economy – but even with zero interest rate loans and hundreds of billions in “investor” cash, physics still prevailed, since fracked well output decline is ten times faster than conventional porous sandstone deposit well output. The average fracked well initially produces 1000 barrels a day. That’s quite low compared to conventional and offshore wells. But the output declines rapidly, by 80% after two years, and by 5 years output is comparable to conventional “stripper wells” – about 25-50 barrrls a day. Those old wells cost about $100k to drill and they produced significant oil for 20-30 years. Fracked wells simply can’t. The majority of the oil in a shale field stays bound up in the shale, you only get the oil freed by the fracturing, and that’s it. There’s no migration to the well as there is in sandstone. So, the drilling and fracking costs – $7mm to $10mm per pad, simply cannot be recovered. The loans can’t be repaid. That is why over s half trillion dollars in shale oil investment and debt is now in bankruptcy.

    Here’s the really bad news – global all liquids oil production peaked in November 2018. Waaay before covid. Covid actually extended the time before the bow decline in oil energy became obvious, though the banking system was already in trouble in September 2019, when the fed had to create a trillion a week to provide “overnight0 trade settlement liquidity. (That has escalated recently, to two trillion a night!) Before the Ukraine thing, civilization was running short of oil to the tune of 4mm barrels a day, compared to February 2020 demand.

    Energy is the power needed to perform work over a period of time. Energy IS the economy, and we are 100% dependent on a source that is unparalleled in energy density and convenance (which equals low cost) but which was always finite, with production pesk dates calculated and known 66 years ago (for the USA) and 50 years ago for the planet. With a financial system that cannot function without energy growth, a population 8 times the real time solar power carrying capacity of the planet, and nothing ahead but oil energy decline, efficiency that requires energy input and the complex global communications and logistic systems needed to sustain that efficiency, well – efficiency is now just a paved road to chaos and failure. Just in time delivery using “rolling warehousing” – already failing. The electricity grid … already operating under a national electricity emergency order (June 6th). Energy costs up 66-75% and climbing.

    Radio corporate management has fallen into a tiger trap. At the precise moment when entropy is rising, as it must when energy levels fall, it is doubling down on complexity and efficiency, the long known goal being a terrestrial equivalent of satellite radio, centrally administered, centrally programmed and centrally marketed and sold. Utterly dependent on layers of grids – power, Internet, finance, debt, etc. – that are unsustainable without exponential energy expansion – while we have entered oil’s terminal production decline, which will require a vast resurgence in LOCAL production of everything – food, fiber, materials, clothing, packaging, literally everything. Radio isn’t exempt. Humans require 2.4 kWh in nutrition a day to do everything we do. That’s far less energy input than an equipment room full of servers and IP gear, the global network of networks needed to support them, the source energy used at 18-33% efficiency to power them, none of which will remain affordable or reliable too much longer. Efficiency has been a trap, and we are already seeing it close upon us. Radio won’t be spared if it jumps in with both feet, shouting We’re Still Relevant! as it plunges into the abyss.

    When the lights start blinking, and the wireless Internet 5G towers grow intermittent, a radio station that’s nothing but a last mile delivery system for product that requires national grids won’t be delivering anything. That LPFM run by a “hobbiest” who can plug it into her RV’s solar battery and inverter will have a 100 share.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. That’s pretty heavy, Bill. I’ll need to read it a couple of more times but do get the gist of what you laid out as reality.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Lawrence A Spinner

    Great article, Dick. I’m just brainstorming here, but I wonder whether there’s a correlation between the rise of “pirate” stations (especially in the major cities) and the homogenization of AM/FM radio over the last twenty years. Clearly, the “pirates” are serving the needs of their communities while the major stations spew the same playlists and same network feed. Perhaps the FCC should ease up a bit on the requirements for LPFM (open up some applications) and part 15 broadcasters (at least give them 1 watt!) instead of continually playing “whack a mole” with the pirates. Just my 2 cents.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank You for the kudos Lawrence.

      Pirate stations are nothing new, whether in the USA or elsewhere around the globe. They always have been put on-the-air to serve people that are underserved.

      The whole LPFM concept is to bring back local radio to communities who’ve seen their radio station move to a major metro for economic reasons.

      The FM band is pretty saturated with signals these days and it is getting harder and harder to squeeze in more LPFM signals where people actually live.

      The question really is, WHY did the FCC allow radio stations to stop serving the public’s “interest, convenience and necessity?”

      Liked by 1 person

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