Monday, May 11, 2009

Clear Channel

63° - clear/sunny at 8:25am

Welcome to another work week.

When I started writing this blog post this morning, I had six other topics I was going to include. My first topic however, was Clear Channel and I've run out of room. This is a piece I didn't want to write.

Still doing a lot of reading as details trickle out about Clear Channel's latest changes, including its "Premium Choice" programming, which essentially syndicates some of the company's better talent to stations around the country. I've found it difficult for me to critical of Clear Channel. My years with them were pretty good ones that I would be hard to trade for anything else.

If what I hear is true, its disappointing to hear that "Premium Choice" won't be localized, unlike the out-of-market voice-tracking the company had been doing - where the local PD would actually schedule the music and ship a log, liners and market information to the remote talent, resulting in a local sounding airshift with some good talent.

How weird to be nostalgic for that period!

This must explain the company's rush to "localism", which is essentially an increased PSA load. Advance damage control but hard to do much otherwise with a skeleton staff.

One PD who works crosstown to a Clear Channel cluster recently described Premium Choice to me as sounding like "bad 70s satellite." I hope not! On the other side of the coin, a large market PD with the company told me via Twitter "Wait till you hear how it sounds. I think you'll be stunned."

OK, fair enough. I haven't heard the product yet.

But apparently gone from any station "opting in" (your definition of "opting in" may vary) to Premium Choice is local scheduling of music. The national playlist rears its ugly head. Interesting that this comes from a company that spent a lot of time over the years denying that there was a corporate playlist (and when the did there really wasn't).

While its true that the hits are the hits are the hits, I don't need to mention that there's always been differences from market to market (that's what local music research
was all about) and this research is what gave stations a competitive advantage. Added: in the very simple sense, it was finding out what your local audience wanted and giving it to them.

Given the present economy, Consultant Harve Allen noted in this piece he posted over the weekend that
"It's the perfect storm--negative cash flow and bland & sterile local radio stations."

And Harve adds:
"Are you mad yet? I hope a little bit."

Harve hints at something that I've said many times one way or another: it's unique hard-to-duplicate content that makes for a winning radio station. And I'm simply repeating something that (love him or hate him) Randy Michaels said to group of programmers at a Dan O'Day conference years ago.

Pulling back the local personalities and becoming music intensive (and with a national playlist at that) offers nothing unique and difficult-to-duplicate. Nothing. Anyone can do that!

There was a day when a smart crosstown competitor would take advantage of a situation like that. I really hope those days aren't over yet, but my guess is that the MBAs making the programming decisions at Clear Channel are betting that there's nobody in most of their markets who will come in and kick their ass.

Or maybe they simply don't care.


rrafson said...

Dan, I am hoping your last point: that competing stations can counter the plain, vanilla programming with vibrant, local programming and succeed.

Anonymous said...

Dan, I have often heard that when the economy is good, radio tends to be bland. When the economy isn't good, radio stations are forced to be more creative in finding a nice to be successful. So, perhaps with a lousy economy, comes better opportunity. ---Shark

Dan Kelley said...

Shark...thanks for the comment;

As with many who might read this, most of my career has been spent with lean budgets and yes, it can have a positive effect on creativity.

It will be interesting to see who does what as we move forward.

Again, thanks.