December 1, 2015

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First Mediaworks

06/18/07 The Clear Channel Factor

“Are you guys with Clear Channel?” asked the 25-year-old sitting next to us. We were in a burger joint in San Antonio, and he had overheard us talking radio.

“No, we’re not. Why do you ask?”

“I wanted to give you a piece of my mind,” said the Marine who had just returned from duty in Iraq. “Clear Channel has destroyed radio.”

When asked how Clear Channel had destroyed radio, he noted that artists could no longer get new music on the air, that the music is played too frequently, and that too many commercials are aired. “Radio isn’t cool anymore,” he added, “because Clear Channel ruined it.”

Deciding to probe further, I asked what stations he likes to listen to. “The stations in Austin are a lot better and a lot hipper than the ones here in San Antonio,” he replied. He told me about the station he loves in Austin, and the one he likes most in San Antonio. “Clear Channel needs to have stations like those; they are both excellent stations,” he said.

He was shocked when I told him both are Clear Channel stations.

It’s hip to hate Clear Channel.

I cannot remember a time when listeners knew the name of a company that owned radio stations, or even a time when radio was uncool (other than when AM became positioned as uncool at the hands of FM in the 1970s). Today, consumers know the name Clear Channel, but probably can’t name any other radio owners.

Whether or not it is deserved, Clear Channel has a giant image problem to overcome. And the negative shadow that has hung over Clear Channel has contributed to tarnishing the good name of radio. Of course, radio as an industry has also contributed to these negative perceptions by cutting back to keep Wall Street happy.

Arbitron figures still reflect strong radio listening levels, yet the Clear Channel effect has permeated a generation of listeners who think radio is not cool. What are we going to do about it? If people are still listening, does it matter that listeners think radio is uncool?

Though our own airwaves are a great place to start to turn the tide, pro-radio spots do nothing but make radio look desperate and defensive. We have to address the issues consumers perceive as problems by being more creative and personality-driven, more community-centric, and less predictable. Then we need to address our giant PR problem. If radio isn’t cool, will the young media planners and buyers who control advertising want to advertise on radio?

Is it worth an investment in a massive, multi-million dollar PR and marketing campaign to turn this negative tide? Yes! It’s not only necessary, it’s critical. Marketing campaigns work for companies and for politicians. It can work for radio.

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