Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Cocktail at Sunset


Thomas Hawk

Thank you!

"El ojo del amo engorda el caballo" Spanish proverb

"The eye of the master fattens the horse" says the proverb. When the boss is not involved workers may be less than productive. Seems an apt quotation for today's discussion.

Any reading of radio's performance in the top five markets is enough to give one pause.

Change and Emmis.

Emmis tells us their #1 priority is turning around New York and LA. In LA, their ad spend to support MoVin represents the single largest promotion expense in the history of the company. While silent on Chicago, the stations there remain challenged and without a programming chief after two PDs were summarily dismissed.

Change and CBS.

Dan Mason comes home to CBS Radio, his first day in the office two senior officers are cashiered. In Dan's first weeks failing stations in San Francisco and New York change formats.

Change and ABC?

Farid no doubt wonders about his soon to be AM group. While CBS' three AM properties in New York, his former charges, are each billing 50 something mil, WABC is putting 20 something on the books. In LA, Clear Channel's KFI is writing big business but KABC plays far behind. In Chicago, WGN and WBBM-AM each put high 40s on the pad meanwhile WLS fails to produce 2 mil a month. Clearly, ABC radio has got some catching up to do in sales. The exception to this observation, of course, is the exemplary job Mickey continues to do with the firm's bay area properties.

Change is good. Stasis is bad.

In recent years it has become acceptable for a station to fail and to continue failing without change. For example, a perfectly good FM signal in a top five market was allowed to produce a failing ratings performance without any readily apparent consequence. And this happened not once, not twice but for years. At one point, CBS' three full-powered FM stations in the city were each failing to break a two share but no one really seemed too concerned. Book after book. Stasis. It's what happens when you take your eye off the ball. When you decide not to decide. When you permit yourself to rationalize failure and settle.

These are the results and unintended consequences of a massive failure of imagination. The dangers of being lulled into a false sense of competence, the key words of resignation, assent and acquiescence..."it is what it is." Inertia is a force of nature and a difficult one to confront. It's hard work to think, to stand up and challenge industry dogma. Kipling may have said it best "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you. If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you. But make allowance for their doubting too."

What we allow, we encourage. As ratings failure was allowed, revenue expectations were diminished. To preserve and grow bcf, radio became - without recourse - a penny precious enterprise and no longer the spendthrift venture of nickels and dimes.

Stations in the top five markets are the canaries in radio's coal mine.

Time to reboot the bad radio. Time to end the benign neglect, the tolerance and acceptance of mediocrity. That playbook ain't working. Time to unlearn. The reboot starts with leadership and attitude. Begins with a respect for the fundamentals, the drivers of ratings and revenue - nothing less than excellence in programming and sales. Disraeli said "Mediocrity can talk; but it is for genius to observe."

The really cool thing is radio is nimble, audio being the most agile of measured media.

Bravos to Rick and Dan. Congrats to Farid. Cheers to all. They will fix their broken stuff. They no longer have any other choice. It will take the eyes of the masters to fatten the horses.

Congrats & cheers: Kipper McGee on a wonderful, memorable and simply amazing day of great radio on WLS - The Big 89 Rewind. Having fun on the radio, now there's a fresh approach! Kipper gets it. When every other station is fielding the B team or running some banal best of to fill out the holiday hours, that's the perfect moment to unleash the fresh A team and write some history. The play's the thing. Bravo to the players: Larry Lujack, Tommy Edwards, Fred Winston, Chris Shebel, Jeff Davis, John Landecker, and Tom Kent. Lyle Dean, Les Grobstein, Linda Marshall, Catherine Johns, and Gil Gross. Stay tuned. Jeff Davis has audio via podcast on the way.

Bill Todd has passed. I knew Bill during his Chicago days when he led the charge at WDAI. Mel Phillips remembers Bill here. My thoughts and prayers are with Bill's wife Tina and his daughters Ashley and Nikki. Should you wish to join me and send a check to Tina, you'll find the info here. She is also asking for folks to send along any photos they may have of Bill. Bill was a good man. A successful performer turned skilled and savvy programmer. He worked at ABC during the days when programming was prized, when their PD ranks were filled with smart people like Bill. While it might be hard to imagine today, ABC was also once home to great sellers, the ABC stations were nationally recognized and respected for their exceptional sales organizations. ABC stations, much like the RKO stations of that era, were market leaders in ratings, revenue and attracting the best people. Bill Todd was one of those gifted and special enough to have worked for both RKO and ABC. Back in the day that was most rare, a small club of the industry elite, the best professionals and akin to making the short list of the short list.

Perspective: James H. Duncan, Jr writing in his Tenth Anniversary Issue of American Radio ranked the leading groups of 1977, 12+ weekly cume was the data point...

1. ABC
2. CBS
3. RKO
4. Westinghouse
5. Capital Cities
6. Metromedia
7. NBC
8. Bonneville
9. Cox
10. Storer

Jim also provided the nation's leading stations ranked by 12+ TSA AQH, Spring 1977, only one FM made the cut...

2. WOR
3. WLS
4. WGN
7. WJR
10. WCCO

By the Spring of 1986, using the same metric, the majority had become FM stations; only four of the 1977 group appeared again in the '86 top ten...

4. WGN
5. WOR
10. WBLS

The Spring of 1991, same data point...

4. WOR
7. WGN
10. WQHT

There is simply no good reason why you should refrain - make something amazing happen this week.