What I’ve Learned

Sept. 17th, 1999

There was a time when I was the youngest programmer in the business.  All of my peers were older.  I was the boy wonder.  Time has a way of changing things…particularly boy wonders. Now I’m wiser, though I feel no older.  The passage of time brings with it experiences that can be passed along to those who are younger in age…though not necessarily in spirit.

It is in the spirit that I take this moment to share a few things I’ve learned about life and the record and radio industry that shape our lives.

I’ve learned that no matter what kind of spin you put on the phrase, “it looks good for next week,” this statement invariably means your record doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being added.

I’ve learned that no matter what you do for a programmer in advance, when it comes time for the payback, the same PD is either sick, on vacation or the list is frozen that week.

I’ve learned that you cannot make someone love you, no matter how hard you try.  All you can do is stalk them and hope they panic and give in.

I’ve learned that no matter how much I care, how much time I spend trying to develop a relationship, no matter how nice I am, some people are just assholes.

I’ve learned that describing a new group as a cross between Pearl Jam and The Backstreet Boys with the energy of Sugar Ray invariably means the record is a stiff.

I’ve learned that you can get by on charm and personality for about 15 minutes.  After that, you need a big unit or huge boobs.

I’ve learned that it takes years to build up trust and a minute of suspicion to destroy it.

I’ve learned that no GM will fire a PD because of an Arbitron rating…unless it’s a bad one.

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others.  They’re usually more screwed up than you think.

I’ve learned that laughing at yourself is much healthier than making fun of others.

I’ve learned that no matter how many times others claim it won’t matter, loaning or borrowing money is the quickest way to end a friendship.

I’ve learned that you can throw away your answering machine when you lose your job.  You won’t be getting any calls.

I’ve learned that either you control your attitude or you will be offered medication.

I’ve learned that those in our business with the biggest egos have the smallest dicks.

I’ve learned that good looking promotion people usually get more adds.

I’ve learned that there aren’t any good looking programmers…at least not since I got out of radio.

I’ve learned, unfortunately, that in the music business, money is a great substitute for character.

I’ve learned that finally, qualified women are gaining their due in our industry and when in positions of power, they’re usually better than men.

I’ve learned that if you can forgive temporary weight gain due to water retention and the emotional roller coaster that is usually present at the same time, your love life will be much better.

I’ve learned that worrying is the biggest waste of time.

I’ve learned that believing compliments about my “sterling” Editorials is like a dee jay believing all request line callers are 19, single, beautiful and available.

I’ve learned that no matter how much they protest otherwise, men lie.

I’ve also learned that no mater how much they protest otherwise, women manipulate.

I’ve learned that no mater what they say coming in, consultants will eventually bury you.

I’ve learned that if it’s bad, say it.  If it’s good, put it in writing.

I’ve learned that the secret to success is controlling your ego.

I’ve learned that if you think you have more than five good friends, you’re kidding yourself.

I’ve learned that a promotion person is your close, personal friend and will do anything for you…as long as you keep your gig.

I’ve learned that honesty in our business is more elusive than a hit record.

I’ve learned that PDs with good ears are the ones who win consistently.

I’ve learned that research is better used as an excuse for not adding a record than as a tool for successful programming.

I’ve learned that programmers who are constantly complimented invariably believe the bullshit.

I’ve learned that having dysfunctional friends can make us feel better about ourselves.

I’ve learned that it’s all about marketing…until Tuesday.

Most of all, I’ve learned that it can be the next phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways, it’s still rock “n” roll to me.

The Terminator


The recent rash of terminations in our business has created a lot of buzz…most of it concerning stories of great “firings” in the past.  Radio thrives on controversy.  Some of the “horrific” events that happened in the past are now the stuff of legends and myths.  Many who were embarrassed in the moment are now proud to be a part of an amusing “anecdote.”

Others aren’t so proud.

Early in my career, I was called into “Mike” the PD’s office and reamed for behaving poorly.  He told me he would give me an example of what would happen to me if I  didn’t straighten up. “Sit on the couch, do not move and don’t say a word,” Mike told me.

He then proceeded to call Bobby, my friend and fellow jock, into his office.  Now Bobby was a large fellow.  Mike, not so large.  Mike fired Bobby.  Bobby didn’t take it too well.  He pulled Mike across the desk and proceeded to beat the hell out of him.  I sat on the couch, not moving, not saying a word.  Bobby finally walked out, leaving the PD bleeding on the floor.

“I’ve learned my lesson,” I said.  “Can I leave now?”

Funny story.  It wasn’t as funny when I got fired the next week.  This time MIke had two others in his office.  He shouldn’t have worried.  I wasn’t as big or as bold as Bobby.  I left meekly, then went outside and slashed Mike’s tires.

Heard about the jock who quit legendary WLS Chicago for another gig?  After his last shift, he nailed a pair of his boots to the PD’s door with a note saying, “Try to fill these.”

One of the most innovative terminations came at a station that had a remote broadcasting vehicle.  The staff was driving through the streets of the city, doing a live broadcast.  A jock was sent into a 7-11 to get some beer.  When he returned, the van was gone.  The jock went back inside and heard his replacement being introduced on the air.

Most terminations aren’t fun.  Nobody wants to get fired and few people relish ending another’s employment.  There was one case, however, when I was pleased to be the “hatchet man.”  I was working at a station where the PD was the morning talent.  I didn’t like him.  Hell, the entire staff hated this guy.  The manager called me into his office one day and said,  “You’re my new PD, but I don’t want anyone to know it until next Wednesday when the ratings end.  That’s when you can fire Chris (the current PD).”

The following Wednesday, just before his last break, I went into the studio and took a Polaroid picture of Chris.  I then told him to see me after his shift in “my” office.  (This should have given him a clue.  I didn’t have an office.)  When Chris entered his/my office a few minutes later, I handed him a picture of his last day on the air.

As a joke (kind of), I also put a heat lamp bulb on the hot line and threatened to fire the jock with the deepest tan at the end of the month. I was outfoxed as all the jocks wore sunscreen!

There was a jock and former boxing champion named K.O., who was famous for beating people up.  Everyone was afraid of K.O. and rightfully so.  K.O. would fight at the drop of a hat.  The Station Manger and PD decided to fire K.O., but neither wanted to do it.  The PD came up with a great idea:  Why not call K.O. at home and leave the termination on his answering machine?  The manager agreed and the PD left the message.

When K.O. got home and heard the message, he was hot.  After giving it some thought, he figured the PD and the Manager were afraid of him, hence the message on the machine.  So he went to the station the next day as if nothing happened.  He was going on the air when the PD asked him why he was at the station.

“Prepping my show.”  K.O. said.  “Why?”

The PD frowned, then asked, “Did you get a message on your machine?”

K.O. shook his head.  “I go a message from a guy I didn’t like and went out and beat the crap out of him.  I was so pissed, I erased the others.  Was it anything important?”

The PD swallowed.  “No.”

Neither the PD or Manager said anything further.  K.O. worked at the station for another year before resigning.

Of course. this Editorial wouldn’t be complete without my story of the toy soldiers.  This story has grown to epic proportions over the years and at the risk of breaking a bubble or two, let me tell you how it really came down.

I was hired to program KCBQ San Diego, a heritage station that had fallen on hard times.  The Station Manger wanted me to replace the entire staff so we could start from scratch.  I asked him to fire the people before I arrived and replace them with temporary fill-ins since I didn’t know any of those on the air and had no history with them.

When I got there, he had chickened out.  Since the entire staff had to go and it was not my decision, I wanted the people to know it wasn’t personal.  I wanted them to know it was a corporate decision.

I came up with what I thought was a brilliant plan.  I bought toy soldiers and placed them on my desk.  As each person came into my office,  I explained my dilemma and told them it was like the army, where an entire platoon was being replaced.

Hey, it seemed like a great idea at the time!

As years have gone by, the story became:  I knocked over the soldiers (I may have bumped one by accident);  I shot some of the plastic men with a water pistol (I was using a water pistol, since my water pic was broken); or that I threw them across the room (that could have happened).  In reality, I would never be so callous.  Now you know the real story.

Have you got any good ones?

Throwing Stones


President Clinton, on national television in January, looks the nation directly in the eye, asks us to listen carefully, then says,  “I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

I believed him.

The stock market rises.

I feel happy.

President Clinton lashes out against the special prosecutor.

I agree and feel angry with him.

Word leaks out during Clinton’s grand jury testimony that he has admitted to “an improper relationship with Lewinsky.”

I feel betrayed.

Clinton appears on national television and apologizes for his actions.

I feel justification.  He screwed up and asked forgiveness.  I feel benevolent and grand.  I’ve asked forgiveness for worse.

Clinton lashes out against the special prosecutor and calls for an end to the investigation into his private life.

I agree and fell angry with him.

The stock market rises.

I feel happy.

Politics and politicians sure have the hot button on our feelings.  We are the quickest to complain about corruption.  We will scream from the rooftops when an elected official gets caught with his pants down…literally or figuratively.  We will launch into long, eloquent diatribes over dinner with our peers on exactly how a politician erred and how we would have done it differently.  We hold our elected officials to a higher moralistic and intellectual road than we would ever take.  We are angered when these people make decisions that ultimately effect our lifestyle.

Yet, how many of us voted in the last election?  Don’t lie, now.  Don’t answer the question under the strictest legalistic guidelines by saying you participated in the electoral relations process.  Been there…done that.  We’ve got DNA from the stains on the original ballot.

It’s a yes or no question.  Did you vote in the last election?

Our business is full of “know-it-alls.”  It’s almost impossible not to believe everything you say is gospel when you’re surrounded by people who are paid to tell you how great you are.  There is a big difference between intelligence and importance.  Wise up.  When does a PD or record executive become a jerk?  When they leave the room.

Having a big job means you’re important in a finite world.  Nothing else.  It gives you license to pontificate.  But be careful.  Only fools believe when another fool tells them how intelligent and wise they are.

You aren’t

The next time one of these blow-hards begins dissecting the latest “mistake” by a politician, ask this question,  “Did you vote in the last election?”

If the answer is no, immediately end the discussion by saying, “If you are so ignorant that you don’t participate in the process yet criticize the outcome, then nothing you have to say is valid.”

If the answer is yes, don’t let the person off the hook.  It’s easy for anyone to lie about their choice for President, but only those of us who really participated remember our votes for the lesser offices.

Prosecute.  Dig deeper.

I’ve found that those who bellow the loudest are generally the ones who never  take the time to vote.  These people are too busy with their own sordid little existences to take the time to do something that could effect their future.  Quoting box office or sales figures to impress the minions is certainly more important than voting.

I digress.

Clinton lied.  I’m stunned.  The fact that a politician lies is not a headline.  The fact that we’re so “holier than thou” when it happens is sad.

Politicians don’t get elected by telling the truth.  They believe, and maybe rightfully so, that the voting public can’t handle the truth.

Barry Goldwater said he would raise taxes and escalate the Vietnam War if elected President.  Goldwater said it was inevitable.  Lyndon Johnson promised the American people that, if elected, he would lower taxes and de-escalate the war.

Johnson won the election. After taking the oath of office, he raised taxes and escalated the Vietnam War.

Johnson also used the office to become a millionaire.  You think all those radio and TV licenses were granted on merit?  So Clinton cut a few corners in a land deal?  LBJ makes him look like a Boy Scout.

John Kennedy had more liaisons in the White House than Clinton has in his dreams.  He and Robert Kennedy “dated” Marilyn Monroe.  Both lied about it.  JFK even had a liaison with the girlfriend of the known Mafia figure who was hired by the CIA to assassinate Castro.  He lied about that, too.

Richard Nixon told us he was not a crook.  That turned out to be a crock.

Ronald Reagan said he had nothing to do with the Contra scandal.  Now we know it was possible he just didn’t remember.

It’s disgraceful.  Cheating, lying, stealing, power-hungry, egotistical, sexual deviants are charge.

It’s almost as bad as the radio and record business.

There But For The Grace Of God…


With only a few short weeks left in what could be described as the most tumultuous year in the entertainment business (with the possible exception of last year), the odds are only 50-50 that there won’t be more  changes before Christmas.  We can only hope for the best.

Whether or not you have been directly involved in the changes that have recently taken place, all of us have pondered the situations brought about by these abrupt moves.  Even if you have an iron-clad contract, the dismissal of Michael Fuchs had to get your attention.

The simple fact is that if you are in the radio or records business and haven’t been fired or directly affected by the termination of someone in your working environment, it’s just a matter of time.  More often than not, employment length in our industry is described as, “Forever or until Friday…whichever one comes first.”

So, what happens to you when it happens to you?

First of all, you need to be prepared before it happens.  We live in a twisted, psychotic world.  All of us in radio and records are here because we love the business.  We all need to understand that just because we love it doesn’t mean that the business will automatically love us back.

Do not confuse your passion and love with honesty and integrity.  Business decisions are made for business reasons…not passion and love.  Our industry is a huge business and decisions are often made by passionless suits in the corporate tower who are pouring over numbers…not people.  Do not kid yourself.  No matter what you are told, you are part of a complicated business, not a member of a family.

A family atmosphere can exist on a smaller level.  The people you work closely with will share a familiar feeling.  Love and camaraderie become commonplace.  But things have a way of changing.  And if you are a part of the change, you must cope.

If you lose your job, the most important thing to remember is not to take it personally.  It’s unbelievably tough to do that, but it is a fact.  Unless you are totally screwing up, unless you are showing no respect for your superiors, unless you are totally incompetent, it isn’t personal.  Usually, it’s a numbers game.  For one reason or another, corporate policy dictated change.  Accept it and move on.  You aren’t to blame.

Sometimes a new president or department head is appointed and this person wants to bring in members of his or her team.  You become the odd person out.  Again, it’s not personal.  And there’s no need to be critical of the new person.  At some point in your career, you will be the beneficiary of the same thing.  Accept the changes in a professional manner.  Don’t whine and criticize.

Remember…it’s not personal.

What if you’re doing a great job…if you’re working hard…covering all the bases…going the extra mile…being the best you can be…and you still  get the axe?  Hey, it happens.  Be content in the knowledge that you worked hard for yourself.  Take pride in the job you did.  If the company failed to recognize your hard work and talent, the company is the loser, not you.  You should take pride in the job you do…not in the job you have.

Try your best to seek and open dialogue with your immediate superiors.  Schedule regular meetings to get their input on the job you are doing.  Find out if they think you are doing a good job.  Also, try and get their perspectives on the future of the company.  If you’re working for them, they have more information.  The more informed you are, the better you are at making decisions about your future.

Success in our business can be summed up in one word: relationships.  You must constantly cultivate new relationships if you are to succeed in the long term.

It is imperative that you network with others.  It is more imperative that you network with others outside of your company.  In our changing world, your relationships with others outside of your company can often be just as important as those within your company.  You may be having conversations with someone who will be the new president of your company next week.  Or, you may be approaching that same person for a job after you’ve been loaded into the cannon and blown out of your present position.

It’s important that others know about the job you are doing.  Every company is looking for qualified, professional people.  Cultivate the opportunities before they arise.

It’s a lot easier to find a job when you have one.

You need to plan for the worst and hope for the best.  We all want to remain in the status-quo.  It’s comfortable.  It’s safe.  You know the territory.  If you’re well paid and successful, why leave? Unless you’re forced out, maybe you won’t have to leave, but it pays to anticipate the unexpected

In our business, it is tempting to live way beyond our means.  Because we dine at the finest restaurants, fly to events, take limos to concerts where we’re feted backstage, we believe this is our lifestyle, even though the company…some company…is paying the bill.  It’s easy to rationalize a flashy car, expensive house, explosive lifestyle that is way beyond our means because we live so much of the good life on the company’s nickel.

Don’t fall for the hype.

At a minimum, you should put back 10% of your monthly salary in a rainy day savings account.  If this sounds like a lot to you, compare the 10% with what you’re currently paying for the flashy car that you really don’t need…the restaurant tabs that the company doesn’t pop for…the extras that you’re spending to live up to the lifestyle that you really can’t afford.

Absolutely, positively nothing can compare with money in the bank.  While you’re making it …save it.  There will be times when you don’t have the opportunity.

You can be the perfect employee, have a savings account, live below your means and still be shocked by being sacked.

Let me repeat:  Don’t take it personally.  It is strictly business.  Don’t pout and feel sorry for yourself for long.  It’s not the end of the world or your career.

Remember, you were looking for a job when you found the one you have now.

Too Cool For School


In the past couple of months, I’ve had the opportunity to consult three radio stations in the nation’s two largest markets.  The companies asked if I would listen extensively to their stations and make recommendations.  All three suffered stagnant ratings.  Naturally…why else would they seek my help?

Although each station was formatted differently, all had one thing in common: inferior promotion. It was relatively easy to spot.  None of the stations were staged to give the listener any sense of anticipation or excitement.  I thought my recommendations would be quickly accepted (I wasn’t criticizing programming procedures), easily remedied (every PD wants bigger promotion budgets) and fun to implement.

Was I ever wrong.

All three PDs objected to increased promotion because “the audience won’t like it.”  Wouldn’t like it?  Their audiences were barely listening.  No one was screaming that any of these stations were their favorites.  But the PDs felt promotion “wasn’t cool” and the audience would tune them out.

I wanted to puke.

I shared my feeling of nausea with Guy Zapoleon.  He agreed.  Many of today’s PDs don’t know how to program.  I have written about how imperative it is to make what is between the records as important as the music.  Most PDs pay little attention to promotion because they don’t know how to promote.  Many believe they can’t put on promotions because their audience will tune out. Many think promotions aren’t “cool.”

Believing you’re too cool for the room will make it come to pass.  And when you’re too cool for the room, someone will turn on the heat and smoke you!

Your audience won’t like promotions because promotions aren’t cool?  Give me a break.  Maybe you need to take a closer look at your audience.  Your listeners aren’t cool.  If they were, they wouldn’t be listening to your station…they would be too busy with their lives.  But they have none.  Capitalize on this fact.  Kevin Weatherly, Steve Kingston and Brian Philips run three of the “coolest” stations in the world.  All are built on image.  All are heavily promoted.

If you don’t do promotions…I mean bigger-than-life, heart-stopping, lifestyle promotions…just admit that you are too stupid to know how.  Don’t try to convince me that your audience wouldn’t like them.

Too many programmers depend on promotion directors to come up with sales promotions.  You want sales off your backs?  Come up with your own hip promotions and make it the sales manager’s responsibility to sell them to clients.  If you’re drawing a blank, give me a call.  I’ve got a promotion that is guaranteed to boost your TSL and your bottom line.

Many PDs spend too much time on everything except what is important.  How many hours do you spend listening to music, going over air checks with your staff and planning promotions?

Are you too busy?  Too lazy?  Or are you just not very good?

This isn’t a new phenomenon.  Great programmers will always beat mediocre programmers.  In 1976, Paul Drew, then VP Programming for RKO, wrote a memo to the general managers in the radio chain about promotion and the lack thereof.  What he said then is still true today.  I would like to share a few excerpts with you.

“The television season past has been somewhat different than several before it.  The Paul Drew programming philosophy has always been to “take an interest in what the audience is interested in and the audience will be interested in you.”  The teens and young adults this past season were into welcome Back, Kotter, The Six Million Dollar Man, Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley.

Last year, almost every RKO station did a contest for Happy Days and/or The Six Million Dollar Man.  I’m sorry to say that I had to call your PDs’ attention to these show.  They should have told me about them weeks before.

Not long ago, Paul McCartney was appearing in concert for the first time since The Beatles had broken up 10 years before.  Tickets were almost impossible to come by.  Everyone was tying to find a way to get in.  McCartney is in town and the station is doing a Doobie Brothers weekend.  I would like to program against that program director.

I’d like you and I to see what’s planned for contests and promotions in advance…so each can be developed and done in-depth, the best possible way.  With the pressures of day-to-day competition, you can’t leave major promotions to the last minute. If you do, they’re superficial, phony, just mechanical.  Sure, there are “at the moment” inspirations that can be put on the air immediately…quickly…but not every week.  I saw one promotion calendar a few days ago that listed for Labor Day Weekend a “Labor Day Weekend” promotion.  Who is the PD trying to kid?  I’ll tell you…himself, you, the station, the jocks and the audience! I saw just one promotion calendar made out in advance that had a promotion listed for the three-day Columbus Day weekend.  The others ignored the weekend.

This memo and its tone is what it is because I want you and your PD to win.  I wanted you to know what a 22-year radio veteran and VP programming had on his mind.  Let me help you be #1.

I enjoy helping you get talent for shows and/or parties, but I have a passion for programming.”

How about you?  Do you have a passion for programming?  Are you doing everything it takes to win?  Are you dedicated to implementing all your programming tools?

Or were you too busy being coo/?

What’s Radio?


To best understand this Editorial, you must imagine the opening done in a Rod Serling voice.

This scene involving a father talking with his daughter looks normal, except when you look at the calendar on the wall.  The conversation is happening in the year 2010.


Yes, my dear.

Last night, Mommy was showing me old pictures of when you were celebrating your Y2K party.  There was funny looking, silver wire sticking out of your car.  What was that?

Sweetheart, that was an audio antenna.

An antenna?  Isn’t that what used to be on top of the Empire State Building?  We studied that in school.

Yes, dear.  Antennas used to be on top of all radio transmitters and receivers.

Daddy, what’s a radio?

Pumpkin, that is where the Morning Zoo used to live.  The Morning Zoo was filled with all sorts of weird and wonderful characters including 18-year-old interns fresh out of school and horny as hell.  That’s how I met your mom.  The 16th caller used to win cool tapes and concert tickets.  Deep voiced dee jays with a set of balls bigger than Nebraska would tell jokes, give the weather and even read horoscopes on the air.  They had it all:  Hollywood gossip reports, movie passes, Lotto numbers, breaking news and sports…you name it,  Sugar, and you could hear all about it.

But Daddy, we get all that on Google.  And if you want balls, I can get them overnighted for you.

It was different time, Honey.

Who needs horoscopes?  Why didn’t everyone just go to Shoutcast.com?  All you need for that is a cheap PC.  With Mommy’s old Liza Minnelli records, anyone can be a digital dee jay and broadcast to thousands without that stupid-looking wire waving in the wind.

You’re telling me?

I’m sorry.  Is this what caused you to go broke in the radio business?

Peaches,  I knew it was coming.  Cheap software, attics full of Barry Manilow and a shit-load of Long Island yentas with way too much cash and entirely too much time on their hands.  That’s why I married your mother.  She jumped on the Net real early, and a few other things we will discuss when you’re much older.  I kept watching the audience of my stations shrink like a porn star in a cold shower, but everyone kept saying not to worry about it.  People had to drive to work.  I thought we would always have a captive audience.

But Daddy, didn’t everyone realize companies like Delphi Automative Systems were already installing satellite TV?  Consoles and wireless Internet music stations were already in cars, weren’t they?  Everyone listens to CNBC in the car.  Why would anybody want to tune to Jammin’ Oldies when you can find out if the Japanese are about to lose everything as the Yen sinks?

Sugar Cakes, I knew commercial radio was going to lose, I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.  Unbelievably, Baby, your mother was right.  When cable TV trounced into small towns, the government set up extremely strict “must carry laws.”  Big market stations had nothing to worry about.  Cable companies had to carry their signals into all customer homes if they wanted to enter a new zip code.  This was a win-win for everyone.  Cable got strong local news and programming while consumers received a crystal clear digital signal without paying extra.

Daddy, why didn’t radio lobby the government for strong “must carry” satellite rules?

Forget about organized lobbying.  Those idiots were giving their signals and programming away to anyone that would take it.  Mark Cuban at Broadcast.com made Donald Trump look like a janitor at the Five and Dime.  Mark kept selling advertising on his radio website, but didn’t own a single damn station.

Daddy, you’re kidding.

Daddy ain’t no kidder, Honey.  I married your mother and she got the last laugh.  While I struggle to pay these bank notes on some 20-year-old stick in the mud that rotted worse than Eyes Wide Shut, your mother hangs out on AOL playing America’s Hit Music on a $300 DC-Rom and watches her bank account grow bigger than Pamela Anderson’s chest.

Daddy, I’m glad everything turned out okay for you.  Things could have been much worse.  You could have been a foreman at Sony’s Beta factory, owned an Atari repair shop, worked for Wang Computers, or you could have been pressing records.

Go back to your mother’s house, right now.  You’re disrupting my eBAY auction.  Some sucker is looking to buy an analog transmitter.

One more question, Daddy?


Who’s Rod Serling?

Market Share


This past week was a good time to be poor.  Rich people lost a ton of money in the stock market last week.  LPMs might have lost a couple of dollars.  Deejays didn’t lose a dime.

It’s almost funny that the last few Editorials I’ve written concern the stock market. Until a short time ago, those in the radio and record business didn’t pay any attention to Wall Street.  Most thought the stock market was a place to look at cattle.

Unfortunately, the decline of the stock market is going to have an effect on us “little” people.  We might never be on a first name basis with a stock broker, but when the river bursts through the dam, you can bet the slaves will be called out to haul sandbags.

If you’re naive enough to believe that a bleak market isn’t going to impact your life because you don’t own stocks, perhaps you would be interested in purchasing some ocean front property in Arizona I’ve been holding.  Or maybe those Florida radio stations I own a piece of.  (Actually, the land in Arizona might be a better deal.)

The stock market, and specifically the price of radio and record companies’ stocks, drives our destiny.  When record companies were owned by individuals and radio stations by broadcast companies, the market was no more reflective of earnings than the foreign policy.  All of that has changed, Virginia.  You were right.  There is no Santa Clause.

Record companies are now owned by public conglomerates.  The worth of the company is measured by the value of the stock.  When company executives are compensated with stock options, do you really believe the new superstar album is anticipated for the cutting edge music quality?


Company executives are bonused when the stock has reached a certain point.  They’re not thrilled when the tracking graph shows a sudden dip.

What does this mean for a record company employee?  Work harder, work faster.  These words are music to a worker bee’s ear.  A month ago, the stock market was going up and we were all heroes.  Backs were getting blisters from the pats.

Thirty days later, through no fault of our own, working just as hard as before, the stock market makes a “correction” and we’re all worthless.

In a bull market, revenue drives the car.  If you must spend more to make more, so be it.  In “bare” times, expenses are all that matters.  Record companies will be charged with cutting expenditures drastically in the fourth quarter to make the bottom line look healthier.  If you’re working for a record company, expect belt tightening measures.  Your T&E budget will be cut, if not suspended.  Promotions will be curtailed.  Fly-aways will be grounded like Northwestern.

However, the record companies will weather the storm.  Record company earnings are mostly consistent and weighted fairly against the stock’s price.  Radio, however, is an altogether different ballgame.

Everyone knows radio stocks are overvalued. The only reason radio stocks have risen in the past is on the assumption that another company would pay more for the group than the last one did.  It doesn’t  take a Harvard genies to figure that out.

There is a new equation now on the board.  As the price of owning radio stations has increased, the number of potential buyers has decreased.  Radio stations have been operated to generate revenue and make the stock more attractive to another buyer.  One could easily believe that if a station is billing $10 million and spending $8 million, the potential buyer could cover the purchase price by keeping the billing high and cutting costs.

Unfortunately, there’s only so much that can be cut.

Competent broadcasters, in the business for the long haul, can operate radio stations profitably.  But if the purchase price is ridiculously high, even the best broadcaster can’t cover the nut.  When radio stations are trading at 700 times earnings, as many are, it takes an awful lot of increased billing and an equal amount of cost cutting just to break even.  What radio station today isn’t running as lean as possible?

We’ve all predicted the bursting of the big bubble.  We know that at some point in the future, the price for radio stations will drop drastically.  In a bull market, bright colors are easily painted by the most incompetent artists.  When stocks take a major dip, reality bites and those teeth are sharp.

The following example might be over simplified, but it makes the point:  A radio station that cash flows $10 million is put on the market for $200 million.  (That’s 20 times cash flow.)  For that station to meet the interest payments (forget about increasing profits) it must increase the cash flow by 20%.  That’s a lot of additional billing and major cost cutting.  This is all right, as long as another buyer is will to cough up $300 million for the next purchase.

But what if there is no buyer?  Is the scenario much different from the one learned by many in the market last week?  When telling their broker to sell, the answer was chilling.

“To who?”


StraddleMy latest book, “Straddle,” will be published in June and available for purchase in your favorite outlets. If you want an early edition, I have a limited number of copies I will be happy to autograph and send to you now. $10 (checks only) to Crysis Management, 10061 Riverside Drive, Suite 859, Toluca Lake CA 91602. Hope you enjoy it!