Power Players


The feature in this week’s magazine gives you an accurate picture of exactly “who owns what” in the radio industry today.  We list the top 20 broadcast companies in terms of station ownership.  It is exact and extremely up-to-the-minute.

Unfortunately, it will be out of date within the next minute.

Radio stations are being bought, sold and traded faster than cattle at a Chicago auction.  For those with the billions to play, it is a wonderful game.  For the rest who depend on radio as a living, it’s becoming an increasingly dangerous field in which to play.

I’ve written Editorials before on the approach used by most companies when looking at prospective properties.  Programming…and more important…programming ability…is seldom a consideration.  How can programmers continue to function effectively, given today’s requirements…or lack thereof?

All programmers, whether in larger or small markets, must recognize the landscape and modify their habits.  It doesn’t take a 180–just some spit and shine.  Programming is still important.  You just have to work harder to make sure you get credit for the recipe and when the pie is cut, nobody eats your piece.  No matter what companies look for when making purchase decisions, once the purchase has been made, programming is key.  No company wants to purchase a radio station, only to see it deteriorate because of internal inadequacies.

Too often, forces over which you have no say-so, change your professional life.  You could be living with a healthy share of the market, yet be bought by another company that changes the format of your station because it doesn’t fit their vision for the market.  How do you get thrown into fertilizer and come out smelling like a rose?

Programmers today must adjust.

Nobody is asking that a PD go through a personality change.  (Some would say that’s impossible since PDs don’t have personalities to begin with.)  But a little knowledge of the business outside of programming will go a long way.

In today’s radio station, programmers are asked to do much more than run Selector and make sure the jock schedule is accurate.  With all eyes on the revenue,  PDs must not only help increase the bottom line, but be able to take credit for doing so.

Not only are you in competition with other radio stations in your market, when you’re owned by a large company, you are also in competition with others at your own station.  The more “help” you can offer to your GM, the more important you become in the eyes of the company.

Become more knowledgeable of the other factors that are an important part of the job.  Be able to conduct yourself in an informative manner when discussing budgets and the financial problems that arise.  It’s all well and good to have a healthy rating share…it’s made even better if you know the difference between P&L.

When I first began working for RKO, budgets were “given” to the PDs.  We didn’t have input in determining the figure.  One day, all of that changed and the PDs were asked to sit in on P&L discussions.  When I sat down in the conference room, I jokingly said I didn’t know anything about P&L.

The chief engineer made a prophetic statement.  “You see those guys over there?” he said, pointing to the sales managers on the other side of the table, “They’re P. We’re L.”

It hasn’t changed since then.

Fortunately, early in my career, I worked for Gary Stevens, who made me take the time to learn the business side of radio.  He taught me to understand that if you know the process, you can then use it to your advantage…rather than having it take advantage of you.

If you understand what is going on, you can adjust your programming budget to suit the GM’s needs.  Find ways to cut costs within your budget before your manager demands across-the-board cost-cutting measures that put you at a disadvantage.

Want to increase your chances of landing and keeping a job in the future?  Enroll in a business course at your local college.  You don’t have the time?  Make some!

Nobody’s saying that you have to dress in a suit, carry a briefcase and know how to operate a spread-sheet.  You’re still the program director…still required to focus on programming the station successfully.  But before you start whining and saying you didn’t get into radio to become a suit, let me ask you a question:  “When did extra knowledge become detrimental to your worth as a program director?”

These days, large conglomerates own radio stations.  Often, the people hired to oversee the radio divisions of these companies aren’t broadcasters.  They’re businessmen who happen to be in broadcasting.  Your job will require that you spend time with these businessmen.  Inevitably, your worth will be judged, in great part, by what they think of you.

These businessmen aren’t like promotion people.  They aren’t interested in how cool you are…what records you broke…when you’ll be recognized as the genius you pretend to be.

These businessmen will be impressed by your knowledge of business…in addition to programming.  It’s hard to impress people if you’re ignorant of the subject being discussed.

So, what am I trying to say?  Become well-rounded.  Look beyond your immediate job responsibilities for ways to show your worth to your company and the people who run it.  Express a desire to be apart of the process rather than just a product of it.

But remember, no matter how you look in a suit…you’re still the PD.  You still have to run Selector and make out the jock schedule.

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