Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Downward spiral of corporate Madison radio continues

Local Madison radio took another hit yesterday with the firing of WIBA-AM morning host Mitch Henck. While Mitch was a little too "golf guy Republican" for my taste and I rarely listened to them, he still has been part of this community for 2 decades, and never struck me as a copycat, divisive screamer of a host. And not surprisingly, the reasons were not to replace Henck with a new and improved local host, but instead was solely done to boost Clear Channel's bottom line.
“It’s a corporate thing,” he said. “The ratings were good. It was a matter of cutbacks.”

“I sensed that this was the direction the industry was moving in,” Henck added, citing a growing preference for syndicated hosts over purely local ones. Henck was on every weekday morning from 8 to 11 a.m. for “Outside the Box.” “

They didn’t really give me the word until [Monday], though. That’s the way it works."
Mike Conway on 96.3 FM also got let go in this Clear Channel move, and it also comes after the pre-Thanksgiving massacre at 1670 AM in 2012, where leftie talker Sly and the station's entire news staff were taken off the air in favor of a third sports talk station in the market. Most of those guys have landed on their feet since then (heck, Sly's ratings are probably better these days on 93.7 FM), but it still is an awful trend that is driving down the level of discussion and knowledge of issues that makes it much harder for the Scott Walkers of the world to throw absurdities against the wall and get away with it.

Tim Morrisey is another former local Madison radio guy, and he penned an excellent blog discussing the mess that exists in over-the-air radio these days, and says that local radio is not a sustainable model.
Hearing the news about Mitch Henck was not surprising in any way, but it was still tough to take. You can’t spend four decades working in broadcasting, as I did, and not be dismayed at how it’s really no longer a sustainable model. People can get music anywhere today. New songs aren’t “broken” by radio stations any more – they’re first heard on social media sites. A local, live DJ after 9 AM has become rare. Newscasts, if a radio station even has them any more, are rare after 9AM and even then may originate in a city far away....

Mitch had a very good career in broadcasting, spending the last dozen years at WIBA-AM after a long stint in TV news. His “Outside the Box” show had excellent ratings; his demise had nothing to do with that. Mitch was never a partisan hack, like so many of the talk show hosts you hear today, either whining the left-wing agenda or screeching the right-wing agenda. Sure, Mitch talked politics – but he also talked basketball, music, and above all, Mitch talked about LOCAL stuff.

He even shared his struggles trying to get his golf score down.

That’s the puzzling thing: about the only thing radio has left going for it is the “live and local” aspect, but shortsighted broadcast managers for the past seven years have steadily gotten rid of the only thing they really had going for them: local talent who talked about local stuff, whether they were doing a music-based show or a talk-based show. That’s why they’ve made the model unsustainable. They’re getting rid of the only thing they really have going for them any more.
Couldn't agree more with that last statement. Morrisey also notes the brutal debt problems that debt-owned Bain Capital has with Clear Channel (over $20 billion worth), which explains why they continually cut expenses by firing staff and replacing them with syndicated programs that take away any unique quality a specific station may have. And of course, we as listeners lose as the quality of news and information-giving goes down, replaced by national claptrap that often has little relevance to our day-to-day lives.

The economics of corporate radio's gutting of local radio at least add up (even if it's a worse product and ultimately destructive to a well-functioning society). But I still want to know why relatively responsible broadcasters like Mitch Henck get blown out, while people like THIS are still allowed to pollute the airwaves.

Between having people like THAT keep a job, along the tens of millions it gives each year to Rush Limbaugh (despite Rush's plummeting ratings), and it sure makes you think that Bain (who former CEO is Mitt Romney) and Clear Channel have another agenda in mind that goes past digging themselves out of their cavern of debt. That one-sided type of hate talk has to be called out and ended, as it continues to spiral of lower quality and lower standards that has wrecked over-the-air radio in much of this country.

If the Brewers, Badgers and Packers went off AM 1310, no one would listen to the garbage they put out during the day, especially with any semblance of a quality, recognizable local voice going away. Maybe we should let those guys and their advertisers know that, and we can all end up better off.

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