The sudden departure of local Clear Channel honcho Mike Glickenhaus rated nothing more than a “tidbit” buried in the “Currents” section of the San Diego Union-Tribune, which suggests, if nothing else, that the ol' U-T doesn't give a crap about the radio biz.
Whether you love him or consider him a troll, Glickenhaus was a big player in radio in this town for 20 years, first with Noble Broadcasting, back in the day when 91X was considered cool, and then as the local face of Clear Channel, which is lovingly known as “the evil empire.”
Maybe the rabid news hounds covering radio for the U-T were too busy at the TV critics conference in L.A., where they were able to ask network executives hard-hitting questions like, “Can you tell us about your new season?” Or maybe San Diego's biggest daily newspaper really, genuinely, doesn't care about the local radio industry, even though more people in San Diego spend more quality time with their radios than their daily rag on any given day.
That's the type of thing radio geeks like to point out, when they're whimpering about how they don't get no respect. Just about every radio guy has a raging inferiority complex these days, as they see signs, for the first time, that their little fortress of canned music and three-banana-daiquiri lunches is starting to crumble
Radio has always been a no-brainer kind of industry. Flip on the switch, play a good song and let the geek from the library's audio-video club announce the songs and you couldn't help but make money.
But it's all starting to fall apart. The big conglomerates paid huge amounts to gobble up stations, and, for the most part, they put the tab on their credit cards. Now revenues are slipping. Wall Street is wary. The stock prices of the big companies are wallowing and drawing flies.
And now the government is on their ass. Heck, they can't even say “dick” on the radio out of fear of getting smacked around by the FCC, which apparently had never listened to Howard Stern's show until Janet Jackson flashed a nipple, sending hordes of knife-wielding perverts screaming into the streets.
Meanwhile, satellite radio is kicking ass. XM predicts it will have more than 3 million subscribers by the end of the year, the type of in-your-face growth that spelled doom for 8-tracks and vinyl.
Satellite trumps the ace in the hole the cocky radio guys always held close to their heart-the ability to get into people's cars. Radio was the one industry that actually benefited from long traffic jams. The more people sat on SoCal freeways, the more radio executives bought BMWs and cheap whores.
But now satellite services can get into cars, and they don't have those rat bastards in Washington trying to regulate them, which means they're free to offer the type of condemned smut that radio listeners crave.
It's all a nightmare to radio executives, who were always cocky bastards, smoking their big cigars and pointing out that they survived the popularity of “moving pictures” and the boob tube. But now every dweeb with DSL and an old computer can listen to any one of a thousand commercial-free Internet-based stations and radio executives are starting to quiver.
In a sure sign that the world was going to change, Infinity Broadcasting, the second biggest radio player in the country, recently announced it would no longer subscribe to the Arbitron ratings service, which is only the basis for the industry's entire economic structure.
For decades, broadcasters have whined about the ratings system, which puts the fate of their business on whether or not a pot-smoking accountant from El Cajon forgets to write down which station he listened to for 15 minutes while sitting on the toilet. Everyone knows Arbitron sucks. The wild fluctuations from book to book would be hilarious, except for the Herb Tarlik-esque sales geeks who suddenly see the bottom drop out of their world because, for some reason, three diaries went missing in Chula Vista.
In effect, Infinity is saying it's time for a sea change, that this can't go on any longer, even though it's been going on just like this for decades.
And then Clear Channel, Big Daddy, waded in with its own bombshell-announcing that it would move to cut down the number of commercials it broadcasts each hour. This was a shocker, a blatant acknowledgement that the airwaves were so flooded with commercials that the value of a radio ad was fast approaching the price of a candy bar.
This is something anybody in radio could tell you-supply had zoomed past demand and lapped it a few times, flipping it the bird on the way by. Some Clear Channel stations are playing up to 23 minutes of promos and ads an hour. Executives kept adding more spots in a desperate attempt to raise revenues and convince the Wall Street goons that they hadn't screwed the pooch by overspending on these creaky old radio stations.
By announcing in grand fashion that they were going to cut back on ads, Clear Channel was making the shocking admission that maybe-just maybe-listeners weren't eagerly enjoying those fun-filled, five-minute commercial blocks.
This may fall into the “well, duh” category, but it's radical thinking for the radio business, a sure sign that the radio powers are starting to see visions of their own demise.B
Write to MsBeak1@aol.com and editor@SD citybeat.com.