Monday, February 05, 2018

Radio Consolidation

Several people have e-mailed asking for my opinion on the big radio deal announced last week in St. Louis, with Emmis selling KSHE and KPNT to Hubbard (which owns WIL, The Arch, and 101 ESPN), while simultaneously spinning off KFTK and KNOU to Entercom (which bought CBS Radio not long ago and now owns KMOX, KEZK, and Y98).

Much of the speculative talk about this deal concerns Entercom giving KMOX a shot on an FM frequency. It would likely be a simulcast at first, as some legacy AM stations are doing in many other major markets. However, such a move would pit the right-wing extremists on KFTK against the similarly conservative loudmouths on KMOX. Yes, they compete already, but now they’d be doing it under the same corporate roof and on the same band. Companies rarely let two of their stations have formats that contend directly with each other (e.g. while KSHE and KPNT are both male-oriented rock stations, the former plays up its 50-year legacy and plays more classic stuff than the younger-targeted latter).

Who might stay and who might go under such a scenario? Frankly, the real question of concern is what will happen to the staffers whose names you don’t know because they work behind the scenes at the four stations that have just been sold. Having been through a couple of radio ownership changes, I can tell you that they should all be worried about being fired. Oh, sure, the new owners always come in and say things like, “We wouldn’t have bought this place if it weren’t for the great people who work here.” As soon as they hear that, every one of them should immediately update their resumes and start looking for someplace else to work.

Blame it on the economy of scale. If the new company already has a human resources person, they’re unlikely to keep whoever did that job at the now-sold station. The same goes for the chief engineer, some sales managers, office staff, promotions people, producers, board ops — anyone whose job is duplicated by an already-in-place employee in the new owner’s hierarchy.

As in any other business, the cuts are likely to come quickly, and most listeners will have no idea it’s happened. This is simply a fact of consolidation in radio. The problem is that there are now only a few group owners left, limiting the options for those who find themselves on the outs.

I hope I’m wrong, but I’ve seen it happen too many other times to doubt that it will happen here and now.