Clear Channel Clearly Changing the Game

A couple of days ago I was listening to the radio on my drive home from work and heard a local sports talk show discussing the recent cutbacks made by Clear Channel Communications.

Clear Channel, the nation’s largest radio station operator, announced a plan to downsize many of its on-air and off-air employees from coast to coast. The cutbacks began the next day for many, most without a swan song to their listeners.

Their plan is rather simple and arguably a huge cost-cutting move in an attempt to help erase $20 billion of debt (although according to various articles, spokespersons for the radio giant say the debt is not the reason for regionalizing its stations).

Regardless, if you are able to read between the lines, denouncing this debt theory is just damage control by its public relations department. This strategy is not unique as the economic crisis of 2008 could be tagged as a catalyst for such action — and I’m living proof.

I began my radio career in March of 2008, months before our nation’s worst economic downfall in my 28 years of existence. After graduating from Texas Tech University, I broke into broadcasting and joined a local and privately owned radio station in Gainesville.

Major plans were in the works to rebuild the once-failing station, add additional staff and compete in a small market with extensive news and sports coverage along with a morning-drive radio program. It all came to fruition, except the part about adding more staff.

Once the economy tanked, I survived as a full-time employee halfway through 2009, but I was eventually reduced to part-time status. I understood the logic and never questioned the business decision, because it was just that — a business decision.

Luckily, for the audience and the remaining employees, the station has continued to thrive since my departure and is currently No. 1 among listeners 25 and up among the 30-plus signals in the area, according to Arbitron. The above ratings are important to focus on because it’s the local characteristic of the station that appeals to listeners.

We discussed everything in our morning show, whether it was a national, regional or local story. We made the station our own, and connected with our audience on a personal level. We talked about our lives, our relationships, our friends, our mistakes, our purchases, etc. We were a reality show on the radio — the “Days of our Lives” for the audience tuning in wanting a break from their own. Throw in an hour-long show where residents could buy, swap, trade and sell items, and you’ve got a recipe for gathering an audience.

With the latest cuts by Clear Channel, will they lurk into larger markets? Will companies follow this model if it’s successful? How will the audience react?

Only time will tell and it appears that talk radio could take a hit in the coming years. But, according to Clear Channel, the target audience will expand, so in theory, advertising should reach a greater number of people than being confined to a single area.

So is this a bad move?

Like I said earlier, my reduced role at the radio station was a business decision, just as it was for Clear Channel.

Coincidentally, I heard this change referred to as “fast food radio” on said local sports talk show in the Metroplex. It was a brilliant way to put the reductions into perspective. It will be like having the ability to order a Big Mac in Colleyville and having the same option in Denton.

The move is a “Whopper”, but it’s Clear Channel that must chew on this verdict.

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