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Saga fights for Radio’s exclusive content

The following is a memo from Saga Communications head Ed Christian to his group’s Program Directors. It is unedited and reprinted here with permission.

The emphasis is mine.

To: All Saga Program Directors, especially those at News Talk Stations

From: Ed Christian

I wanted to drop you an e mail and let you know what is going on in this company regarding syndicators that supply product to terrestrial radio stations and also to XM and Sirius.

Perhaps many of you are not aware that between XM and Sirius, those two companies employ between 12 and 19 PR firms at any given time. It should come as no surprise to you that the majority of the newspaper, magazine, TV stories on the demise of terrestrial radio have their genesis from XM and Sirius PR firms, in fact one journalist said that if he had a nickel for every story idea called into him on satellite and terrestrial radio by a PR firm, he would be rich.

Candidly, it is a brilliant strategy. If you are the newcomer trying to establish your product and gain market share, one of the easiest ways to do so is to paint your competitor as possessing obsolete technology, out of touch, outdated, over commercialized, canned, etc, etc. I think you get the idea.

XM and Sirius as much as they protest too much and say "No we don’t compete with radio..we are different". Indeed they are our enemy. Don’t kid yourself. They are out to rip off your listeners any way that they can. As an industry we cannot sit back like a child in Oliver Twist and say "please sir my I have some more porridge?"

Think of World War 2. If you read your history, nobody really complained when Germany seized their first, even second, and not much…their third country….finally everyone realized what was going on..and by then, events were already in motion. Much the same is going on here. First it was just music, then..oh maybe we will add some content…now, they are seizing our major league baseball and college football and basketball rights, nascar rights, etc.

The rational from the syndicators is simple: "We just want to "fill in" the part of the country where we don’t have coverage. and the question is "What about MY PART of the country where there is ALREADY coverage?" and the answer is…."Well…we are just satellite and it probably doesn’t matter and it won’t hurt you".

My answer is: Anything that threatens the erosion of my audience base by offering the identical product is a threat. We wouldn’t tolerate Rush Limbaugh on another station in town if we had the program. THE SAME PRINCIPLE APPLIES to syndicators who give us the exclusive right in our market and then give it also to XM and Sirius. Can you imagine what you would say to a syndicator if you had the show on your FM station and suddenly it popped up in town on an AM station or vice versa?

In my opinion, they have to make a choice…and it is their decision. Either run on a Saga station exclusively and not on satellite…or don’t run on a Saga station and run on satellite.

One of our board members, Brian Brady said that radio needs to take a lesson from television. Had TV years ago held firm on syndication they wouldn’t be in the sad shape that they are today. Even so, networks such as ABC have their "soap channel" and re-purpose their soap operas, etc. Re-purpose is a polite word that television networks and syndicators have invented to assuage the affiliates’ feelings.

So, some of you are going to lose programming. That is the bad news, but the good news is that there is a lot of good programming that is terrestrial exclusive, and maybe once the message gets to the syndicators, more and more of the programming will be terrestrial exclusive. We are starting with weekend programming and a little of the weekday programming and moving forward.

First off, as some of you know, we canceled Glenn Haegae and the Handyman Show. This was particularly painful to me as I know Glenn and Rob David personally and Glenn has even been to my house for dinner. We did give them a choice which was stay on satellite and lose Saga…or think through what satellite does bring to you.

The MAJOR question to any syndicator is: "Where do you make your money?" Satellite or terrestrial? The answer is obvious.

Glenn and Rob have notified us that they will cancel their satellite contract and remain on Saga stations. Syndicators need to take a lesson from the famous bank robber Willy Sutton. When asked why he robbed banks, he replied "That’s where the money is".

We also have notified the Dr. Laura people, even though it runs on only two of our stations.

Tomorrow Warren Lada will be sending out letters notifying Bob Brinker, the Satellite Sisters, and Alan Colmes, of our decision and reason. More letters on other programs will follow as we identify them.

My hope is that other broadcasters will stop being sheep and also follow this track and stand up for their rights and not be pushed around by XM and Sirius.

John Locke said it a long time ago "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing". Saga will not be passive and I do need your support and understanding on this business decision. You must adopt the mind set that you are righteously indignant if a program is offered to you and is also available on satellite.

Remember….car radios only know AM/FM and XM (or Sirius). To a car radio and a driver…it is only a punch away to find that program on another frequency. Saga will not allow our exclusive rights to be tampered with and treated lightly.

I am available at any time to talk with you personally should you have additional questions. As far as those stations who will be losing programming, both Steve Goldstein and Cary Pahigian stand ready to find quality (terrestrial) replacement programming.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and letting me vent.

Ed Christian

This is what I call "leadership."

Bravo, Ed. Bravo, Saga.

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