For many of you, this past week has been a very stressful one. The world’s largest radio owner/operator, iHeartMedia, announced a countrywide Reduction In Force or RIFs. However, reading an internal memo obtained by All Access, I see that the new term for this is “employee dislocation.”
No matter how your phrase it, a lot of good radio people lost their job this week.
Is Your Iceberg Melting?
Let’s face it, the radio industry so many of us fell in love with, is melting away.
Back in 2009, the book everyone was reading was by Ken Blanchard called “Who Moved My Cheese?” Ken actually published this little 95-page book back in 1999 and it’s still an extremely great read.
But today, maybe the book everyone in broadcasting ought to be reading is “Our Iceberg is Melting and Succeeding Under Any Circumstances” by John Kotter, who is an award winning author from the Harvard Business School.
In Melting, Kotter writes a simply fable about doing well in an ever-changing world.
The fable is about penguins in Antarctica that discover a potentially devastating problem to their home – an iceberg – it’s melting away.
It’s a story that will resonate with anyone in broadcasting, as a new round of “employee dislocations” occur and there are fewer radio stations to relocate to, as this is the same thing that is happening by the other big box broadcasters nationwide.
Kotter’s book walks you through the eight steps that produce positive change with any group. You will not only enjoy the read, but will be guided with valuable insights to deal with our 21st Century world that is moving faster and faster every day.
The Big Take Away
Regarding change, when all employees, corporate and middle management are on the same page, it is amazing what can happen. What I’m hearing from the broadcasters I know, both those that have been RIF’d and those who have not, it is a feeling that there’s a lack of honesty in communication from the top through the entire organization.
“Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.
Fool me three times, shame on both of us.”
The problem for the leaders of the broadcasting industry is that radio people have been fooled too many times and the level of trust is at an all time low. Daryl Ledyard, who was “dislocated” from a position he’s held at WBBS in Syracuse for over ten years told Rolling Stone “[iHeartMedia is] very much convinced that the local aspect of radio is no longer important.” However, iHeartMedia says in their statement “we will continue to serve every local community in which we operate just as we always have.”
It begs the question of how that will be possible when the number of on-air people have been reduced to one or two or none.
Live & Local?
Over the years, at every radio meeting I attended, the one refrain heard over and over and over was that “the power of radio is live & local.”
In October 2017, the FCC voted along party lines 3 to 2 to eliminate the Main Studio Rule.
When the FCC voted to end that provision in America’s broadcast law, what did that mean to regulations that have been in place since 1934? FCC attorney Gregg Skall explained it this way in his 1991 “Main Studio Rule and Staffing” memo:
The main studio rule as clarified in 1988 requires a station to maintain a main studio within its principal community contour “which has the capability adequately to meet its function…of serving the needs and interests of the residents of the station’s community of license.” That rule has now been further revised to allow a main studio to be located either within 25 miles from its community of license reference coordinates, or within the principal community contours of any station, of any service, licensed to its community of license. (See memo, Revised Main Studio and Public File Rules). Jones Eastern requires the station to maintain a “meaningful management and staff presence” at the main studio on a full-time basis during regular business hours.
You can read the full memo HERE
Since the introduction of automation systems, syndication, satellite delivery and computer voice tracking, the LIVE aspect of radio has been on the wane. Even in the #1 radio market in America, New York City, stations may or may not have a live operator behind the microphone when you’re tuned in.
In 1967, when I was starting out in radio, we used to have to announce whether a program was live or pre-recorded so the listeners wouldn’t be deceived about the broadcast. In the early days of radio, virtually all radio was live, it was the exception for something to have been recorded.
Today, what you are listening to is more than likely not live but syndicated, voice-tracked or pre-recorded.
With the Main Studio Rule, the goal was, that there would be a live person at the station and the studio would be in the community the licensee was licensed to serve.
Lance Venta writing on RadioInsight on October 24, 2017 wrote “But what will it (elimination of the Main Studio Rule) mean in the short term? Probably not a lot. In the long term, be prepared for a much leaner broadcast facility.” You can read Lance’s entire article “The Radio Station of the Future…Today!” HERE
The National Association of Broadcasters lobbied for the elimination of the Main Studio Rule, and its then executive VP of communications Dennis Wharton said “We’re confident that cost savings realized from ending the main studio rule will be reinvested by broadcasters in better programming and modernized equipment to better serve our local communities.”
When a broadcaster doesn’t have a studio in the local community it serves, it delivers its programming through the internet, satellites, microwaves or wired lines. Broadcasters have been quick to point out how these forms of communication are first to go down in natural disasters.
What seems to be missing in this conversation, is what happens when a local community is hit with a Black Swan Event. I wrote a whole blog article about how such an event could impact communities FCC licensed radio stations are empowered to serve. You can read that article HERE
Those who believe in the unconditional benefits of past experience should consider this pearl of wisdom allegedly voiced by a famous ship’s captain:
‘But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident… of any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.’
-E. J. Smith, 1907, Captain, RMS Titanic
[Captain Smith’s ship sank in 1912 and became the most talked-about shipwreck in history.]
The Future Predicted in 2004
On May 24, 2004, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a “Broadcast Localism Hearing” in Rapid City, South Dakota. The president, general manager and co-owner of KLQP-FM licensed to Madison, Minnesota (population 1,767) Maynard Meyer addressed the commission. Telling them:
“I have been involved in the radio business in announcing, sales, engineering and management for about 36 years, all of my experience is in communities of 5,000 people or less. We personally live in the communities we serve so we know the ‘issues,’ we work to address them in our programming and have been doing so for the past 21 years.“
“A few years ago, many stations operated this way, but much of that has changed for a variety of reasons. I think the beginning of the end of local broadcast service started in the 1980s when the Federal Communications Commission approved Docket 80-90.”
Mr. Meyer went on to explain to the FCC, how that many communities “on paper” had a local radio station that actually was nothing more than a transmitter being fed from another location tens of miles away. Mr. Meyer went on to say:
“I don’t think this is the best way to promote local radio service. From what I have seen through my personal experience, as soon as a hometown studio is closed and relocated, the local service is relocated as well.”
(I’ve edited his comments. The full text can be found HERE)
What do you think?