The Deeper Issues of Consolidation

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “The Bigger Picture” series, written by Charese Fruge on September 21, 2021 

We’ve all seen firsthand the impact that downsizing and consolidation have had on the radio business, particularly where ratings and revenue are concerned. What I think we fail to realize is the overall big picture and massive impact it has on all aspects of the radio business, from major events, all the way down to the little details of one radio stations promotional requirements. I was just on a call with a client who was so frustrated because details of a promotion on his station were overlooked because his designated promotions director was now handling multiple stations in three different markets. This caused additional work for everyone at the radio station and lots of confusion about the on-air message of the promotion for the listeners.

Over the years the legal aspects of promotions and contesting have become a nightmare. The approval process, the paperwork, the massive slowdown of the process to pull off a solid promotion, it’s changed the way we use to do things. And now when we try to run something up the flagpole, mostly what we hear is, “we can’t do that,” or “we have to get legal to sign off on that” (which could take weeks because no one has an in-house legal team). We might as well forget about even trying to be creative. Back in the day, we could turn a clever promotion sparked by pop culture around in the blink of an eye and get it on the air on the same day.

Gone are the days of relatable lifestyle promotions which separate a station brand from the rest. What’s even worse is gone are the days of having one dedicated promotions director to focus on the details, sales connections, contest rules, and all the little extra things that help take the promotion to the next level. Promotion’s directors, like Program Directors are spread too thin and they are unable to focus on the details that programmers could not focus on while trying to oversee all aspects of managing a radio station, or several for that matter. Legal details and sales copy are slipping through the cracks and causing more harm than good, not to mention that everything sounds generic, especially if the promotion’s person is overseeing several stations in the same cluster.

The business is experiencing the same issue with station imaging and branding. Most of the bigger companies have eliminated local imaging directors and are now utilizing regional people who are imaging a considerable number of stations in several markets all at the same time. That means that anything last minute is out of the question, everything sounds the same, and details are being overlooked. It’s impossible for these people to even catch a mistake in copy or production if it happens, and on more than one occasion, the wrong information or pronunciation goes out over the air and it takes forever to figure it out, much less send it back to the regional person to correct the mistakes.

What happens when a client complains about the wrong information, and you can’t get it fixed in a reasonable amount of time? I’ve seen this happen a lot lately. One simple mistake can cause a client to demand make goods or threaten to pull the buy (which they love to do). These are mistakes that can be avoided by making sure that there are enough bodies to cover the critical details which could have a major impact on a client, the brand, listeners, ratings, and revenue.

The even bigger issue is one that is necessary to provide a healthy working environment for people at a time when just about everything is a sensitive issue. I have had a lot of conversations with clients about this lately. Sadly, with most of the bigger companies, there are no in house Human Resources services.

Most of the employees of these companies don’t even know where to go if an HR issue comes up. That means nothing is being addressed on a local level, discrepancies are going unreported, and an overall lack of healthy communication and representation are creating hostile work environments in many situations.

Before the pandemic and massive consolidation, sensitivity training and a zero tolerance for any kind of discrimination or harassment were top of mind, and a priority message for all companies. Things are very different now. There is nowhere to go and a feeling of helplessness among quality employees arises which causes them to constantly contemplate whether to escape a situation all together. Mental health among Americans is on the rise these days and the research indicates that most people would walk away from a situation if the environment was not a healthy one for productivity and success. That’s a good way to lose “A players” and set a company up for massive legal challenges in the future if not addressed.

Most of us with a passion for the industry are constantly looking for ways to improve the radio business so it doesn’t go away all together. We are constantly doing everything we can to improve the reputation and encourage the younger generations to pursue a path in radio and help us keep it alive. The common solutions mentioned in just about every column or article you see include closing the gender and diversity gap, increasing and instilling equal pay among all genders, and investing in the product. That means reversing the massive consolidation the industry has experienced over the last several years, because even if we accomplish equality and diversity, it won’t matter if we can’t get the details right. And we can’t get the details right if there is no one in house to pay attention to the details.