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The Power of “No”

It explains so many of the past, present and future problems with an industry trying to survive in a crowded content space.

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Whenever I speak with friends or colleagues, the topic of “what’s wrong with radio” constantly comes up.  Everyone has different theories and many of them are valid.  Upon further reflection, I feel that it all boils down to one word.

No.

In nearly three decades of working in spoken word media, “no” is the one word I’ve heard more than any other.  It explains so many of the past, present and future problems with an industry trying to survive in a crowded content space. 

No.

It’s a word that has been said about every facet of the business.  For those of you that have worked in radio, tell me if any of these phrases are familiar.

NO, YOU CAN’T TALK ABOUT THIS

The recent memo Cumulus reportedly sent out censoring their talk hosts from opinions on the 2020 election did not surprise me in the least. 

Companies are infamous for knee-jerk reactions to quell potential controversy.  Don’t get me wrong, there is ALWAYS a line and some of the mandates that companies hand out are justified. 

Many are just over the top and end up doing more harm than good.

I recall one time as a young Program Director, my morning show host took a very hard stance against affirmative action policies that the local university had been adhering to.  Within an hour after his show ended, the station’s General Manger stormed into my office with a sheet of paper in his hand.

“I need you to sign this,” he said. 

The document was an edict that, as PD, I would have to enforce a strict policy that matters of race could never be discussed on the station again.  I would be solely responsible for said policy and that any violation by any host on the station would result in my immediate termination. 

“Hey, why don’t we talk about it first,” I said.  “Don’t you think this is an overreaction to this morning’s show?”

The GM went on to explain, in no uncertain terms, that I could either sign this document or clear out my office.   Since my rent was coming due, I signed it.

The next thing I did was start calling anyone and everyone to see if they were hiring.  I wanted out.  A short time later, I landed a new gig.

Radio has lost a slew of talent to different content channels because they didn’t want to be censored or overly controlled.   It’s understandable why companies would want to avoid controversy.  Far too often, the cost of doing so has been worse than the controversy itself.   

NO, WE CAN’T SELL THAT

Yes, the pandemic has hurt many businesses, radio being no exception.  The reality is ad revenues for radio have been on the decline since 2006.  While digital services jumping into the competition pool has been a big reason for this, so has radio’s stubbornness.

It was shocking at times sitting in sales meetings with fellow Program Directors and hearing how often they would shoot down a revenue idea.  Often the phrase that was used was “We’re not doing that; it would be a ratings killer!”  Many former colleagues would try to protect ratings points like they were their own children. The irony was, they often did so at their own peril. 

Radio is a revenue, not a ratings business.  People lose their jobs for reasons related to the all-mighty dollar; not because their AQH shares went down because of Neilson’s nonsense. 

While I was never one to roll over and rubber stamp any idea that an account exec would bring to the table, I always did my best to find a solution.  I grew up in a family of salespeople.  I understood what life was like cold-calling and living on a commission-only basis.   You don’t sell, you don’t eat.  I would never tell a DOS, GSM, or AE ‘no’ without trying to come up with an alternative that would work.  There is ALWAYS a middle ground that can be found.  Working on compromises with the sales staff was an opportunity for mutual education.  I’d have a chance to explain to the salesperson WHY their idea wouldn’t work for the brand.  The salesperson, in turn, could explain to me their client’s needs and how I should align my thinking. 

NO, WE CAN’T SPEND THE MONEY

I’ve found far too many radio execs that are comfortable playing defense rather than offense.  Quite honestly, I can’t blame them.  Companies have made it a capital crime for GM’s who can’t properly justify an expense.  In doing so, they’ve created an atmosphere that isn’t about winning, it’s about simply not failing. 

I remember in one market; we had the opportunity to make a bid for the broadcast rights to a popular local sports team.  Getting them would have been an absolute game changer for us.  At the time, the station we were bidding against had been paying $4 million a year in rights fees.  When we put our proposal together, our counter to that was to offer no rights fee at all. 

When we were finishing our proposal, the GM looked at me and our sales managers and said with a laugh, “It will be a fucking miracle if this works.”

Feeling like I had to speak up, I countered, “Aren’t you afraid we’re going to get laughed out of the room when we propose this?”

“Hey,” the GM responded, “I’d rather be laughed out of the room than ask (our company) for $4 million a year!”

Our presentation was an absolute embarrassment.  The Team President looked offended afterwards and insinuated that we were wasting his time.  It was a bad look for us and left the impression that we were low rent in front of a multi-billion-dollar company.  We didn’t get the radio rights and continued to struggle to gain traction in a competitive talk market.

But hey, we didn’t have to ask for any money.

NO, WE CAN NEVER DO THAT! 

Innovation has been sorely lacking from the radio space for far too long. 

I’ve written columns in the past that radio needed to embrace technology, not ratings.   As streaming services continue to haul in billions of dollars, I’ve pleaded for radio to put a value on their content and to not be afraid of the paywall.   These progressive, forward-thinking ideas have generally been rejected. 

Much of this is because many radio fears failure.   

This ultra-conservative approach has not only stymied the industry’s growth, but its ability to be creative.

While a good deal of progress has been made in the digital space, radio has embraced new ideas at a snail’s pace compared to other content providers.

Facebook built a company worth over $700 billion and did so living under the mantra to “move fast and break things.” 

Amazon has a trillion-dollar empire and got there by “treating every day like day 1.”

Apple is a $2 trillion dollar company whose bedrock is coming out with the coolest new tech toys every year. Radio’s mantra?  “Hey, we’re surviving!”

BNM Writers

Possible Reversal of The 1973 Roe vs. Wade Decision Dominates Network TV Coverage

“Surprisingly, the overall cable news landscape remained relatively steady in prime time on May 2.”

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News of Justice Samuel Alito’s initial draft majority opinion that would have the Supreme Court overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision — which guaranteed federal constitutional protections of abortion rights — immediately spread like wildfire on the evening of May 2nd.

The development, first reported by the website Politico starting within the 9 p.m. ET hour, holds monumental implications for the nation if the Court officially does overturn the law.

Yet, surprisingly, the overall cable news landscape remained relatively steady in prime time on May 2. Compared to the three prior Monday nights (averaging Apr. 11, 18 & 25), MSNBC’s flagship program “Rachel Maddow Show” slipped 4 percent to 1.94 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Its lead-out “Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” (1.45 million) was down 7 percent. 826,000 then tuned in to “The 11th Hour” up 3 percent.

Over at CNN, the 9 p.m. hour of “Anderson Cooper 360” (660,000 viewers) ticked up one percent. “Don Lemon Tonight” grew ten percent in the 10 p.m. hour (689,000 viewers) but fell two percent in the 11 p.m. hour (517,000 viewers).

Fox News Channel’s coverage focused on how the leak from the Supreme Court occurred. “Hannity” (2.79 million) stayed even, while the subsequent two lead-out programs on the night jumped up the most (of all cable telecasts) in raw figures — each increased by two million viewers: “The Ingraham Angle” (2.4 million; +9 percent from the 2.2 million average of Apr. 11, 18, 25) and “Gutfeld!” (2.15 million; +10 percent from the 1.95 million average of Apr. 11, 18, 25).

Cable news averages for May 2-8, 2022:

Total Day (May 2-8 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.484 million viewers; 241,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.631 million viewers; 69,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.478 million viewers; 102,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.183 million viewers; 52,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.132 million viewers; 32,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.132 million viewers; 18,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.112 million viewers; 12,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.111 million viewers; 22,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (May 2-7 @ 8-11 p.m.; May 8 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 2.286 million viewers; 352,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.996 million viewers; 107,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.605 million viewers; 131,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.223 million viewers; 26,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.206 million viewers; 57,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.149 million viewers; 54,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.142 million viewers; 25,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.059 million viewers; 8,000 adults 25-54
  • NewsNation: 0.052 million viewers; 10,000 adults 25-54

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and CNN programs with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.449 million viewers

2. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.431 million viewers

3. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.371 million viewers

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.284 million viewers

5. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.220 million viewers

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.188 million viewers

7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.182 million viewers

8. The Five (FOXNC, Fri. 5/6/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.151 million viewers

9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.047 million viewers

10. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.876 million viewers

36. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 5/2/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.941 million viewers

159. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 599” (HBO, Fri. 5/6/2022 10:01 PM, 55 min.) 0.870 million viewers

161. Stanley Tucci “Piedmont” (CNN, Sun. 5/8/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.859 million viewers

290. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 5/8/2022 11:01 PM, 42 min.) 0.567 million viewers

356. The Daily Show (CMDY, Wed. 5/4/2022 11:00 PM, 31 min.) 0.434 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top  CNN, MSNBC, HBO and HLN programs with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.623 million adults 25-54

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.553 million adults 25-54

3. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.533 million adults 25-54

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.503 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.480 million adults 25-54

6. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.475 million adults 25-54

7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.474 million adults 25-54

8. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.445 million adults 25-54

9. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.444 million adults 25-54

10. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.441 million adults 25-54

76. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 5/8/2022 11:01 PM, 42 min.) 0.231 million adults 25-54

81. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 5/2/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.228 million adults 25-54

96. Don Lemon Tonight (CNN, Mon. 5/2/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.211 million adults 25-54

129. The Daily Show (CMDY, Tue. 5/3/2022 11:00 PM, 31 min.) 0.167 million adults 25-54

152. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 599” (HBO, Fri. 5/6/2022 10:01 PM, 55 min.) 0.154 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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BNM Writers

What Would a Jeff Warshaw Consortium Takeover of Cumulus Mean?

When the news of Warshaw’s consortium became public, some of us looking for a knight on a white horse wondered if this was what we had been waiting for. The announcement led to the question: would a Jeff Warshaw-led Cumulus be an improvement over the current management?

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On April 14, 2022, reports became public that a consortium led by Connoisseur Media CEO Jeff Warshaw made an unsolicited, $1.2 billion bid (including debt) to acquire Cumulus Media.

Reuters reported that Warshaw planned to take the company private with a bid of $15 to $17 per share. As a result, Cumulus shares which traded in the $10 – $11 range over the past year, jumped to $14.21, a 40% increase and a level not seen since July 2021.

Cumulus management responded to the reports by acknowledging the indication of interest and stated it was “reviewing the letter.”

During Cumulus’s Q1 22 earnings call on May 4, President/CEO Mary Berner announced a $50 million stock buyback program and rejected the Warshaw consortium acquisition bid.

Radio companies have lagged the overall financial markets for over a decade. I have participated in conversations with groups that already own radio stations and others currently outside the industry who have considered buying radio groups.

In 2013 music streaming service Pandora bought an FM station in Rapid City, South Dakota. Upon first hearing that news, some of us thought perhaps they realized how undervalued FM signals were and would invest in the medium. Alas, Pandora thought they had found a backdoor means to lower its music royalty costs but otherwise had little interest in broadcast radio.

As somebody who has been involved in every facet of the radio industry for nearly 40 years, I was interested in far more than just the investment implications of the proposed buyout.

When the news of Warshaw’s consortium became public, some of us looking for a knight on a white horse wondered if this was what we had been waiting for. The announcement led to the question: would a Jeff Warshaw-led Cumulus be an improvement over the current management?

To answer that question, I used reviews from the website Glassdoor. Reviewers can rate the company on a one to five bases, with five the best and one the worst.

These reviews have to be taken with a grain of salt as former employees may have an ax to grind, but this caveat holds equally true for all employers.

The company Jeff Warshaw currently runs, Connoisseur Media, receives an average of 2.9 stars (out of five) on Glassdoor. This rating is based on just 32 reviews, so the low sample size is a factor to consider.

Cumulus currently has an average of 3.2 stars on Glassdoor based on over 800 reviews.

These Glassdoor reviews suggest that a new Cumulus led by Warshaw wouldn’t be an improvement over the current management. If it takes a knight on a white horse to make Cumulus a better company to work for, it will have to wait for another day.

To be fair, I don’t know Jeff Warshaw. I have never spoken with him. I would appreciate the opportunity to talk to him at the appropriate time (assuming that his attempted takeover remains ongoing). I also welcome employees of Connoisseur or Cumulus who feel the average reflected on Glassdoor is unfair to contact me (andy@andybloom.com). I will accept comments and input anonymously regardless of whether it is more positive or negative than Glassdoor poses for use in a future column.

While we’re looking at the reviews for Connoisseur and Cumulus, it’s a worthwhile exercise to see how the other major radio broadcast groups fare:

iHeart also rates a 3.2 with over 2,200 reviews.

Audacy receives a 3.5, which is misleading as it’s based on 23 reviews. Entercom had 691 reviews and rates a 3.1.

The best I can find in the industry among the majors is Cox with 4.1. Again, this may be deceiving. Apollo Global Management scores a more modest 3.1.

Hubbard has no reviews. I’m not sure why.

SiriusXM appears to have the highest current score at 3.6.

You’ll find common themes, positive and the negatives are dizzyingly familiar across the companies throughout these reviews.

The main reoccurring negative themes include:

· Low pay

· Long hours

· No chance for advancement

· Doing the work of too many people

· Management pays lip service to feedback but doesn’t do anything

The main reoccurring positive themes include:

· The people

· Fun place to work

· Perks – such as free tickets

· Glad to be working in the industry

I was curious about the differences between the companies employees rated higher and lower to work for. Listening to a couple of recent earnings calls revealed some of the variations. In next week’s column, we will examine some of the differences.

Are the pros and cons listed above familiar to you? I welcome your input and anonymous comments for next week’s follow-up column. Please reach out to me at andy@andybloom.com.

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BNM Writers

Dave LaBrozzi Knew What He Wanted From Day One

LaBrozzi has nearly four decades of experience in radio, most recently as Vice President of Programming for WABC Radio in New York City.

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Dave LaBrozzi was very high on my interview ‘wish list,’ second only to the guy who does the insurance commercials with the nasty emu. There seems to be little LaBrozzi has not accomplished in his career (with the exception of doing an insurance commercial with an obnoxious emu.)

He’s got that voice that hits you like a freight train. That radio voice, even if he doesn’t sit in front of the microphone these days. One of those booming set of pipes you’re just born with.

LaBrozzi is one of those guys who knew what he wanted from day one. Or at least when he was ten years old. Truth be told, he said he was one of those kids who sat at his mother’s kitchen table talking into a wooden spoon as though it were a microphone. 

“I wanted to be the next Pirates play-by-play voice,” LaBrozzi said. “Working as a disc jockey was right up there too. The spoken word has always been a passion for me.”

Future moves in his life were made with one eye focused on a career in radio. It’s the only career he’s ever been involved with. Today he’s with KDKA Radio News, the world’s first commercial broadcasting station. “It’s an honor to be here with these legendary call letters,” LaBrozzi said. “It’s become a second home and a thrill to be sitting in this office.”

LaBrozzi has nearly four decades of experience in radio, most recently as Vice President of Programming for WABC Radio in New York City. Prior to WABC, he was Program Director of WPLJ-FM. In addition to his work in New York, Dave spent 14 years as Vice President of Programming for Audacy’s Baltimore stations and has also spent time programming in Nashville, Austin, San Antonio, and Pittsburgh.

LaBrozzi was appointed brand manager for KDKA, overseeing the content strategy, talent, operations, and branding. 

KDKA was launched in 1920. It started as an opportunity to instantaneously provide news and information about the presidential election returns in the race between Warren G. Harding and James M. Cox. 

LaBrozzi said he’s extremely proud of his current on-air lineup. “Larry Richert has been here for 25 years. Kevin Battle has come back. In all, we have a really solid staff that’s deeply entrenched in the community.”

When LaBrozzi drops into his chair behind his desk in the morning, he checks the stories to make sure they’re talking about what matters to people on any given day. “We’re working hard to get back with the community, checking in with people one-on-one.” 

LaBrozzi said they grade stories after they’ve aired, deciding whether they hit their mark and if they mattered. He said it’s important to talk with people and visit neighborhoods.

“I hope local papers hang on; they play such a vital role in the community.

I started in a small station in upstate Pennsylvania with 2,000 people. It was an oldie’s station. The first record I played was ‘Here Comes that Rainy Day Feeling Again,’ by The Fortunes.” 

That song must be like a first love for LaBrozzi. If he’d played a Lawrence Welk song, he might not be where he is today.

His father was a high school administrator and was able to identify his son’s strengths and weaknesses from the get-go. 

“He knew my academic career wasn’t going to send me to Harvard,” LaBrozzi said. “He also knew I had the passion and drive to succeed.”

LaBrozzi tells his on-air folks to connect with listeners one-on-one. “It’s all about being authentic,” he said. “I want them to share their life experiences. Audiences can tell when a person is disingenuous. You can have a different sound on the air, but you have to be real.” He went on to say his staff is very passionate and believes in what they’re doing.

He was born in Emporium, Pennsylvania. Today the town boasts a population of close to 2,000 people. Compared to Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, that’s a metropolis. He went to Mansfield State College, but the radio bug called, tugged, and pulled. “I tell people I got thrown out of college because of what I didn’t do,” LaBrozzi jokes. He said he’d intended to get a business degree, but the math requirements sent him running for the exit.

Why radio? “I think it’s a passion, drive, not that different from being an athlete. It’s something deeply within our souls. “My wife was in the business but gave it up to home-school the kids.”

When he’s not busy being a radio executive, LaBrozzi likes to indulge in books. “I’m reading Ernest Hemingway right now,” he said. “I’ve watched some of the Winning Time series on HBO. It’s entertaining if not factual.”

Then came the dreaded question. Where do you think radio is going?

“I think social media is doing so much to help our industry,” LaBrozzi said. “We need to embrace all it offers. There’s always a need for more information on a local level.”

With LaBrozzi ‘in the can,’ now I have to track down that Emu guy.

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