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Saturday, April 14, 2012



I got into a thread (www.radio-info.com) that started with yet another regretful radio station decision, once again concerning yet another well known radio personality who, after years of garnering listeners and ratings, was recently sacked like so many groceries after a paper or plastic choice.

I've been through this myself and with friends in the biz so much I wasn't going to get into it but one of my buttons got pushed. I got into it, sensing the direction it was headed.

That bus took me all the way back to RKO fifty years ago, then back again through an ugly numbered area very near the top of my Personal Fit Parade. We recognize it as Human Cruelty and Apathetic Lack Of Concern among each other.

Some loving soul wrote it all off as the cost of doing business. His response in favor of that particular seven minute inhumane act of firing an employee neglected to even mention the canned guy's name and sounded something like "Business Statistics show that a leaner, overburdened staff works best, on paper anyway, and occasionally, staff torture is good..."

Well, at first, anyway. Then I read it more clearly. The wording was different but I was right the first time.

Seems it's easy for me to get impatient with alleged superior life forms on this planet that don't even try to live up to the magnificence of their own potential. What follows is inspired from one of my two responses. I am such a proponent of examined thought before action I went deeper, added a little history and made the adventure it was, and is, more dimensional.

Yes, while I, too, live by aligning with change, and even though it's a different audience and the styles have changed, I queried, why can't we be nice to each other? What happened to having fun? That's free. Why the scarey masks and misguided power trips from management, do you think? Those manners and patterns used to happen only in the penal systems in the rough side of the city. This is a freaking radio station, a place of entertainment, not a psycho ward. That bully behavior is such a neon pointer to spinelessness, why so much focus on what's wrong instead of plotting a forward course?

Yet, it's everywhere.

That corporations and business modes are changing is not the problem radio faces here. Operating in this new frontier's first stage is stepping into uncharted territory, yes, out of the comfort zone a few clicks but also an exhilarating once-in-one's-lifetime opportunity. But joyous expectation is not what I see and hear in the broadcaster's eyes and on the air. I see and hear overwhelming fear.

Fear leads to bad decisions and misguided choices. We learned this stuff in the 60s and 70s, c'mon.

So much good will goes out the window when a company gets stained as "ruthless." It's especially hurtful when that company is standing on an entertainment media platform called radio, unusually visible, online, on the air, in the public eye, ears and heart daily. The stupid radio station suffers and the whole industry gets a black eye.

I would think one of the first rules of broadcasting today would be to represent the company and its radio facility well. You don't want to see a cop's motorcycle parked in front of a bar and you don't want to hear a radio station without a heart. fear constricts the heart muscle. Managers of broadcast stations are aware of blogs by now, probably have a web site for each of their stations. Many have instructed their air staff, while they were still employed, to write a blog.

Now that the mid day jock gone doesn't mean she's forgotten how to blog. Smile, Broadcaster Number Manipulators, your actions have become blog fodder at the same time you are being recorded and measured somewhere. Most everywhere, really. Shouldn't have been caught frowning. Makes customers think what you got probably stinks.

Makes stockholders wonder about the two differing stories, the one you tell them every quarter and the one they see every day in the entertainment section or media gossip channel.

When the public gets a peek behind the curtain on the front page of the newspaper and learns of the less than human manner in which broadcasting's so-called leaders have been acting, and how once loyal employees are treated when dismissed - without so much as a "thank you," or "nice working with you," that sound effect you hear is a listener's balloon popping. Until you gave up the game, Mr. Cluster Operating Yes Man, they thought everything at their radio station was polished, professional and perfect. Now they know their station (yes THEIR station) is part of a chain of shops being run like a third world dictatorship. Now you have a brand new station image. And you've donated one just like it to the entire broadcasting industry. Good goin'. This won't go away easily at all.

On a positive note, you may be giving your listeners something they really like, Mr. Radio Station Cluster Manager. People love to hate the bad guy. Of course that's a stretch. Not the Frankenstein Monster selling kerosene to his torch-bearing pursuers part, but the notion that it's a positive thing to give listeners what they really want. I really don't think that even enters your design as this point.

By comparison to that ideal of broadcasting perfection, which is the mind's primal function - measuring the similarity or dissimilarity of its perceptions - radio today blows big time. Too many online stories exist concerning today's brand of radio station owners, their manager toadies and clueless, reciting DJs, painting them as pointlessly Cruel And Stupid, the stereotypical Idiot Bad Guys.

(They know they're not really evil Bad Guys, but at the same time, they do not know who they are beyond reciting name and occupation. And now they're too desperate to look for the answer in the right place. They're on the defense, their focus on trying not to be cruel and stupid instead of paying critical attention to what's on the air, their product. And, from this flood of fear plus the gaping vacuum where direction should be, the air substance they produce today suffers painfully and in public.)

"Cruel" because they are so preoccupied with their own performance that they forgo their ability to see the people they're working with nor their strengths. Thus the possibilities inherant in all those unique abilities are completely ignored; the employee is viewed as an obstacle to profits, nothing more. To be subject to such small-minded, misinformed profiling is a cruel fate.

"Stupid" because, as businessmen, they just overlooked The "Business Is Business Precept," and, blinded by negative concepts, failed to see one of their prime resources for bringing in revenue. What they saw as a large figure eating the Bottom Line is actually someone contributing to its growth. Without that person, less growth. That's Management acting with ignorance as the GPS and making decisions; stupid decisions.

They decided against the contributing person in favor of the Yes Man. A thoughtless disregard for the pain, frustration and suffering of honest workers. Karma will be exacted: their own Yes Men will contribute nothing and simply agree with their three-piece suited Lord all the way to the unemployment line. Didn't have to be that way. Unnecessarily cruel. Ignorant to the point of ridicule. (That's excellent fodder for me, I'm a cartoonist who just happened to find himself in front of a microphone and started drawing audio cartoons)

I am glad as hell I was in the radio carnival when the merry-go-round was well lubed, playing captivating tunes and spinning like a top. THAT was a few decades of big fun. A drug, someone suggested? Only if you allow yourself to be dependent on it, become attached, or integrate it into your imagined identity. Like everything else from action itself to inertia. And that has nothing to do with the lack of humanity in today's radio that we were looking at.

But, if you can appreciate the Big Motion as it is, you know ALL things must pass, and even the monotone Scrooge machines in charge of this ugly period of horrible clusters of cookie-cutter content they call broadcasting is on the way out. Soon gone, however with NOTHING of which to be proud, whereas the previous broadcasters, who invested in their audience and held Programming in high regard, set standards on excellence, have walls full of awards and listeners in the millions with fond memories beyond measure.

That broadcast corporations are heartless business entities is nothing new in this thread. Nothing is free but the Grace of God, "Business is Business" and, while it used to be operated on the principle that "as long as the employee is producing, they're valuable, keep them," now the rules have changed. Not for the best either, especially when we look at today's Sacred Bottom Line, which has become inconsistent, more fragile month-by-month and, by comparison, tinier.

Simply, they paid too much for the stations during the time loans were being floated on imaginary money. The economy was doubled over as we all know. Now, at the station, the money coming in is nowhere near enough to pay off that enormous debt and it's escalating. Owners that paid the disproportionately high prices cannot refinance viably for years yet. With the lack of direction, there is desperation in the hall ways. And fear. Everything is connected to everything and we can all hear it on the air.

Because of the new financial structures, management types have to deal with people over which they have no power, the stockholders. They don't know how to do this, so they must ask someone else on the approved corporate list. Higher ups and consultants all spout out the same format:  now we must appease stockholders by cutting costs. Why? Because they blew it and got rid of the creative people, the money makers. Now they have no individual means of earning money anymore. Desperate, they cut their losses, um staff.

Less overhead makes the thing easier to sell, BTW...

I am no stranger to corporations owning radio stations. In my career, I worked at every Drake/Chenault station on the West Coast, which placed me in more than one of the RKO General stations. Now THAT was a huge corporation.

RKO was also no gem of perfect corporate demeanor either. They were far from a model business operation overall, with shady dealing in foreign countries, ties to criminals in the elective government, bribes, slush funds and other unsavory activities such as dark doings offer, but -- they were a a great corporation for their roots team, the always fun radio broadcasters. RKO had too much show biz heart and experience to short-shrift it's entertainers in the budget department. They always invested in their radio stations.

When a piece of radio equipment wore out or started acting fidgety at an RKO station it was never fixed, even though we had the world's best techs, but was immediately replaced. They put in a new one of whatever it was - cart machine, EQ rack, studio monitors, whatever. RKO had a traditional understanding and respect for it's own and, in particular, it's program creators. It was business based and knew it was just a building full of equipment and people without the audience. We were reminded of this often.

"What's on the air right NOW is the most important thing in the world." That was our prime tenet, our core koan. This mutual regard for the quality of programming between management and performers, and willingness to procure for them what they needed to get the job done was a show-biz standard and point of pride at RKO, both for radio broadcastersas well as film makers.

As a corporation, RKO got into the same kind of trouble anyone with too much money can, and do, get into today. They weren't just broadcasters, or tire dealers. They were international players. Radio and rubber were just some of the things they did, although, in programming, with excellence enough to still be hail when remembered today. Sadly, RKO cannot boast of these high standards throughout its corporate business tale.

In 1965, as RKO General applied for renewal of its license for KHJ-TV in Los Angeles they were challenged with "reciprocal trade practices," the charge that General Tire conditioned its dealings with certain vendors on the basis that they would in turn buy advertising time on RKO General stations. Similar legal obstacles occurred with their operations coast to coast.

Ten years later, it was alleged that General Tire bribed foreign officials, maintained a slush fund for U.S. political campaign contributions, and misappropriated revenue from overseas operations...

The FCC stripped RKO of WNAC-TV's license in 1980, finding that RKO "lacked the requisite character" to be the station's licensee...

Eventually time ran out and RKO finally lost a critical, long-fought case for good, and, most damning, RKO's dishonesty was cited before the Commission.

In a coast to coast penaly involving properties in Los Angeles and New York city, the FCC finally found RKO "unfit to be a broadcast licensee due to a long history of deceptive practices." The FCC consequently found that RKO had displayed a "persistent lack of candor" regarding its own and General Tire's misdeeds, thus threatening "the integrity of the Commission's processes." That FCC ruling meant that RKO lost the KHJ-TV and WOR-TV licenses as well. The audiences never heard the slightest interuption of their continuous, streamlined entertainment.

All of which is to say - here's a corporation, as far back as twenty-five through fifty years ago, that was not a model operation. But they had FAR BETTER BROADCAST PROGRAMMING AND BUSINESS MINDS THAN THE LOCK-STEP LUMPS WE SEE IN THE MARKETPLACE TODAY. RKO, as awkward in high government as a one-legged thief on stilts, had a hard time in the courts, but never in the entertainment field. They knew their customers (listeners) well, and gave them what they wanted. The corporation supplied the talent and artillery necessary to win.

They invested in their companies and in those who they populated their radio stations. They made so much money doing radio the right way, that a different kind of temptation, associated with possessing both a huge treasure and character of less than equal magnitude, dogged them unmercifully. They ultimately paid the price for their indiscretions, but it turns out to be small footnotes next to the legends of wildly inspired, larger-than-life radio entertainment they practiced across the USA for such an extended period of our personal history.

And their stations were honored, extremely successful, most mythical in lore, even when being divested.

Compare to corporations that own huge clusters of radio stations in each town across our land today. Still heartless. But they sound two dimensional, immature and chaotic. And possess far worse business acumen than the Three Stooges.


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