Tag Archives: Wall Street

Don’t Let Radio End Up Like Yahoo!

49I just finished listening to Jason Jennings’ podcast about how Yahoo went from being a company worth $120 Billion to its sale to Verizon for $4.8 Billion. I think the wisdom that Jason shared is very applicable to the radio industry’s journey through consolidation since the Telcom Act of 1996.

Jason says the selling of Yahoo is like a train wreck; you don’t want to look, but you just can’t help yourself. I know many who’ve said similar things as Wall Street invaded radio with its goal of “increasing shareholder value.”

So how can radio learn from Yahoo’s mistakes? What are the lessons Jason shared that apply to radio? Let me share with you the Top 5 Lessons of Yahoo:

#1) Know What You’re All About

Yahoo never really defined itself and the revolving door of CEOs contributed to this with each one bringing a different vision – or no vision – to Yahoo. Or as Jason puts it, the company didn’t have a purpose; they never knew what they were all about.

As radio was deregulated and its original mission of serving the public interest, convenience and necessity was abandoned, nothing replaced radio’s reason for existing except for “increasing shareholder value.” Not surprising as radio people were replaced by Wall Street investors.

#2) Have a Set of Guiding Principles

Radio’s guiding principles were first established by the FRC (Federal Radio Commission) and then by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). Under President Ronald Reagan – and his government is best that governs least approach – radio’s deregulation began. President Bill Clinton would open the flood gates of consolidation with his signing of the Telcom Act of 1996.

With no guiding principles, investors were free to move in all directions; and they did, buying up not just radio stations but many of its manufacturers and service providers for radio.

It’s like the old saying, if you don’t know where you want to go, any road will take you there.

#3) Using a Business like a Personal Piggy Bank

Radio investors and many top radio executives began using radio as a personal piggy bank, only taking care of themselves and focusing on the immediate quarter with no long term vision, strategy or investment. Too many just lined their pockets and left.

#4) Trying to Be All Things to All People

Jason says “great companies stick to their knitting. You can’t be all things to all people.”

Radio was originally about serving their community of license via over-the-air broadcasting. It delivered local news, local sports, local community events, local bands and more by local radio personalities who lived in the communities they served. It was focused like a laser beam on local, local, local.

#5) Don’t Copy the Competition

Radio today is trying to copy Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music and others. Radio today is trying to also copy YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and SnapChat. Radio is trying to copy just about every other business advertising model and without any guiding principles has been economically treading water.

Yahoo’s SVP Brad Garlinghouse wrote his infamous “Peanut Butter Memo” in October of 2006 that pleaded with the company to narrow its focus and clarify its vision.

Brad felt that Yahoo was spreading its resources too thinly. Business Insider recently wrote “This internal memo from 10-years ago shows Yahoo still hasn’t solved its biggest problem.”

If Yahoo had a culture problem, radio by way of mass consolidation had an even bigger one. First, as Wall Street money flowed in and radio stations were bought up, each of those stations represented its own culture that would need to merge into a larger culture. Then these new larger radio groups would try to change the culture from a local scope to a national scope. National radio personalities like Ryan Seacrest, Rush Limbaugh and many others would replace local personalities. National radio contests would replace local ones. Live and local for the most part would soon only appear in the history books on radio.

Culture is created at the top. Over the last twenty-years, radio’s consolidation has seen a revolving door of top leadership. The culture of radio has been a moving target for both industry professionals and listeners alike. Culture is built over time. There is no “quick fix” for building culture.

Absent a company culture, what fills the vacuum is one of everyone for themselves.

Now twenty-years later, there are signs of new growth as people who believe in live and local, and operating in the public interest, convenience and necessity are entering the business.

In many small markets, this way of operating never got sucked into the vortex of consolidation.

Even some of our country’s biggest radio companies are focused on getting back to the core principles radio was built upon.

Radio, the first broadcast transmission system to reach a mass audience, almost 100-years later is still the leading way to reach a mass audience.

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My 100th Blog Post

40Today is a milestone of sorts for me. It marks my 100th blog post since beginning my blog. Also notable since my blog has long passed the threshold of four months, the period of time most new bloggers quit blogging.

What Have I Learned So Far

Reflecting on my blogging journey on the way to my 100th post, I learned that running out of material to blog about was not my biggest problem, but rather having files of ideas and issues I wanted to address and not having the time to develop them due to more pressing issues bursting onto the scene.

I learned that blogging was more about organizing my own thoughts than if anyone else read them or reacted to them.

I learned that blogging connects you with incredibly talented people all over the world that you never would have met other than by doing a weekly blog.

I learned that blogging is fun.

My Biggest Hits

Two blog posts in particular standout as being noteworthy. It’s funny, because they are not the ones I might have thought would have gone viral.

The first one was me venting my spleen about the loss of great air personalities in my post entitled “We Never Called It Content.” What troubled me was the “forced retirement” of some iconic air personalities and that the radio industry wasn’t valuing the relationships that such personalities owned with their audiences. That short-term revenue gains due to expense reduction were at the peril of longer term audience erosion.

As the old farmers used to say “Anyone can tear down a barn, but it takes a craftsman to build one.”

The other blog post that would see over 3,700 reads in a single day was “The Day the ‘Dumbest Idea’ Invaded the Radio Industry.” This post grew from an article in Forbes I had read by Steve Denning. The “dumbest idea” was that of increasing shareholder value. What I realized was that when the Telcom Act of 1996 was signed into law by President William Jefferson Clinton it opened the doors of the radio industry to Wall Street. Wall Street would bring their philosophy of “increasing shareholder value” to broadcasting. The effects of this modus operandi would be as devastating to radio as it had been to every other industry it was used in. Sadly it doesn’t have to be that way and we see that privately held radio companies avoid this metric and as a result are doing well by both their stakeholders as well as the communities they are licensed to serve.

What’s Next?

So next week, I will begin my next one hundred blog posts. I have lots of ideas about what’s going on in our media world to reflect on, research and share with you.

The commercial radio industry is only about three and half years away from celebrating its 100th birthday in 2020. The year 2020 should prove to be interesting for so many reasons beyond just radio, TV or media, for the prognosticators are envisioning so many changes in all aspects of our world.

So I will end my 100th blog post much like the singing group The Statler Brothers used to say at the end of their television show….

“Don’t go anywhere, because we ain’t even started yet.”

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Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales, Uncategorized