Kevin Ross Part 3 – Blame it on the economy
BLAME IT ON THE ECONOMY
By Kevin Ross
Per 2008 revenues, terrestrial radio is a $15 billion dollar a year hustle. And yet for many, radio is a bad business to be in right now. The industry has suffered its worst year since 1954, the eighth consecutive “struggling” year.
ABC News puts it all in context. “The radio industry, just like newspapers and books and other forms of media, is facing an unprecedented financial crunch. Radio advertising revenue dropped by 9 percent in the third quarter of 2008 compared with the same period in the previous year, and many radio companies are saddled with huge amounts of debt. As a result, more stations are turning to syndicated programming. Radio stations typically can broadcast syndicated shows at no cost; they just have to allow a distributor to sell some of the commercials on the show. In some cases, it’s cheaper for a station to air syndicated programming than to hire a local talk show host.”
That may be a wise strategy, but a heavy focus on national shows creates another problem: The next generations of KGIL Laura Ingraham’s or Michael Savage’s won’t have the opportunity to learn their craft at radio stations if there are no on-air shifts for them to take.
Media giant Clear Channel Communications, which owns more than 1,200 US radio stations including KFI, is actually down-sizing. The company recently laid-off 9 percent of its employees. Of those 1,850 workers, comprised of radio personalities and executives, few will be able to find jobs in an industry that will likely see even deeper cuts unless the economy rebounds by the third quarter of 2009. At a 52-week high of $25.69, Clear Channel’s shares are currently hovering around $5.00.
Other radio stocks are also performing horribly. Regent Communications sank 94% to 9 cents last year and Citadel dropping 92% to 16 cents a share. According to Reuters, the rest of the carnage looks like this: Emmis Communications down 91%, Entercom off 90%, Salem Communications down 89%, Radio One off 81%, Cumulus Media down 79%, Saga Communications down 72%, Beasley Broadcast off 64% and Cox Radio down 51%.
Then there’s the matter of precedent. Radio stations have never really embraced diversity. And without much sustained outcry from civil rights groups or the Federal Communications Commission, these outlets have absolutely no incentive to do so now.
In California, for instance, Tavis Smiley is the only minority in the state with an English language nationally syndicated talk radio show. Smiley, a popular African American author and PBS television personality who is also a KABC alum, lives in Los Angeles along with his contemporaries such as Larry King of KGIL and CNN, and Adam Corolla of KLSX. Despite the odds, Smiley broke through and is succeeding with aplomb.
This racial gerrymandering is not simply limited to on-air talent. The only discernible nonwhite employee in KFI’s news department, judging by the station’s web page, is Asian anchor Ginger Chan and Latina Editor Karla Marquez. The rest of the 15 member crew is completely white, with 6 of them being female. While producer Ray Lopez of the John and Ken show is Latino, there are likely few, if any, other minority producers employed. Veteran radio talent Mark Austin Thomas, who is African American, was recently added to helm the on-air news department at KABC.
For most, particularly women of color, the glass ceiling is showing no signs of breaking. The recent cancellation of LA based NPR’s News & Notes with Farai Chideya (a black female national host) due to financial constraints was one small crack that was quickly sealed. That leaves Dominique DiPrima of the Stevie Wonder owned Adult Contemporary station 102.3 FM KJLH. DiPrima offers up daily talk from 4:30-6:00 am before the all music format kicks in.
With that pretty much being as good as it gets, as is it any wonder why the political commentary or pop culture discussions that play out on cable news or the Sunday political shows tends to reflect the views of the majority?
Kevin Ross is noted Republican who hosts The Kevin Ross Show, a conservative political show on Blog Talk Radio and blogs at Three Brothers and a Sister. This post is part of a five part series exploring the lack of diversity in radio.