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Reflections on NAB Radio Show 2007

Here are some thoughts on last week’s radio convention and the State of our Industry from Bill Figenshu, formerly COO of Softwave Media Inc., Regional President of Citadel Broadcasting, and Senior Vice President of Infinity Broadcasting (now CBS Radio), among others. His comments are posted here unedited and with permission:

Mark, I was at the convention for 24 hours. Here are my observations. The leaders of Radio companies are looking very tired. 7 years of creating NO value for their stockholders/investors is taking the toll. Other than Dan Mason (the darling of the convention) radio companies need to put operators in charge again. It will be a hard decision for current CEO’s to give up some power, but until creative people start to run radio companies again, with a vision beyond sales and revenue, there will be more of the same. Revenue is important, but we are being challenged CREATIVELY, and have NOT responded effectively. Radio is good at serving its communities every day. Radio is BAD at positioning itself. Radio People are great at positioning their stations, BAD at positioning themselves. The press (including Inside Radio) has created stars out of financial operators. We have made company leaders PERSONALITIES, who now believe they can operate radio from the budget line, not the content line. Senior executives with creative CONTENT IDEAS, on air and on line will be the trend in 2008. Not bankers. Less is more, and Remnant inventory schemes are all a result of the value of content. The content MUST get better. The answer? For 2008 the companies that win will employ the following, 2008 will be the year of BOLD, CREATIVE, operational acumen. Companies will need to be run by smart content oriented people with ideas, vision, and BALLS! The days of 50+% margins are quickly going away. Radio operators must invest in ON LINE content FULL TIME! Not as part of the current management responsibility. The successful company in 2008 will recognize that LOCAL ON LINE, HD, and Broadband delivery of radio content should be operated AS A SEPARATE DIVISION. Not a part time job of the overworked manager. ON LINE/HD REVENUE IS A FULL TIME JOB. NOT part of the current AM/FM Sales manager responsibility. The Concept of national sales needs an extreme makeover. We cannot sell it the same way we did in 2001. Yet, we are. Local radio sales MUST change to providing more specific solutions, not just ratings and the CPP. HD radios will sell when there is content worth buying a radio for. Not quality. Give the band to the young. Not the overworked programmer down the hall. Same with on line. Radio MUST start paying attention to trends of young people. On line and on air, they are telling us about song repetition, format diversity, and lack of local content. We talk about it, but we don’t go far enough. And LAST BUT NOT LEAST, The creative control of radio stations MUST go back to the local stations, not corporate. Local management CAN NOT effectively run more than two radio stations well. Management AND programming personnel are SPREAD TOO THIN. The same number of people that ran one or two stations 10 years ago are now running 5 to 8 stations PLUS ON LINE! Not possible to do it well. Quality is suffering. Running ONE full signal major market radio station is a full time job for the general manager, program director, marketing department, and sales manager. HD, ON LINE and on air for a single station is a 40 to 80 hour work week. Jerry Lee (B-101 Philly) and most local NPR stations have not had a problem growing. They are not running more than one or two stations. In 2008 it will be about QUALITY, not QUANTITY. No more radio by the pound.

While I don’t completely agree with all these points or the way some broadcasters might interpret some of these points, in general they are in the right direction from my perspective.

And what they amount to is this: Our business is changing – transforming before our eyes – dramatically. This is an inflection point unlike anything ever before experienced in the history of the radio industry. This moment demands vision and exceptional leadership – from the top. It will not suffice to tweak business as usual. It will not suffice to take obvious and symbolic steps under the assumption that symbols are all we need. We in radio are not the audience, and they hold all the cards.

I’ll write more on this later, but it is time for our industry to step up, and that means our leaders need to step up. This is not about perception. This is not about radio’s “image.” This is about real, tangible action.

Because in today’s emerging media world, actions don’t just speak louder than words. Actions are all that speak.

Strike one.

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