Disaster Relief or Disaster Exploitation?

When radio is chal­lenged over its legit­i­ma­cy, broad­cast­ers can always refer back to a nat­ur­al dis­as­ter when the com­mu­ni­ty need­ed them and radio deliv­ered. In Kansas City, old radio guys still talk about the great flood of 1951 or the Joplin tor­na­do of 2011. Both were instances when radio dou­bled down to help the com­mu­ni­ty. But as of 2020, Enter­com is toss­ing its pub­lic ser­vice aside. Lav­ish CEO David Field ($3,491,375 com­pen­sa­tion for him­self in 2018) has told his employ­ees in a memo (3/2/2020) that many will be fur­loughed or the pay will be cut for some who remain by 10–20% accord­ing to RadioIn­sight. I believe Mr. Field is using this cri­sis for ulte­ri­or motives.

Disaster ExploitationAcross the nation, radio will offer less pub­lic ser­vice because there will be few­er peo­ple to offer it. In case Mr. Field does­n’t know, amidst the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic, media has been deemed an “essen­tial busi­ness”. Some of his lis­ten­ers are over 70, don’t have smart-phones, don’t surf the inter­net or don’t active­ly seek out new infor­ma­tion.  They are also most at risk from the virus.

"Money Bags" David Field
David Field, CEO Enter­com, Photo-illustration

I’ve heard this for years about Enter­com. When the city is snowed in, instead of get­ting DJs to urge lis­ten­ers to check on their elder­ly neigh­bors or shov­el their side­walks or bring pets in, Enter­com sends the staff home. Let the peo­ple hear pre-record­ed chat­ter. That’s exact­ly what a “non-essen­tial” busi­ness should do.  Wake up Mr. Field!

There are many busi­ness­es that will actu­al­ly do bet­ter because of Covid-19 (think gro­cery stores). Those who are deemed “essen­tial busi­ness­es” are essen­tial­ly work­ing their ass­es off now.  So Mr. Field­’s move to fur­lough and cut staff pay appears as a chess move for pri­vate gain and has noth­ing to do with Covid-19. At the end of his memo he reveals: “Our future is fur­ther pro­tect­ed by our strong finan­cial posi­tion with sub­stan­tial cash reserves and vir­tu­al­ly no debt due before 2024”. If that’s the case then why is he mak­ing all the cuts? Mr. Field is sav­ing mon­ey under the guise of the pan­dem­ic.  The oth­er radio groups, Cumu­lus and “I Heart Media” are doing the same.

The dan­ger of Covid-19 has always been people’s igno­rance of its trans­mis­sion and reper­cus­sions. This has been exac­er­bat­ed by the cor­po­rate greed that has down­played the warn­ing signs (to boost the stock mar­ket) and now is attempt­ing to cash in on the hys­te­ria and use the cri­sis as an excuse to cut pay and staff. The FCC should require that radio sta­tions prove that they are serv­ing the pub­lic inter­est because the likes of Mr. Field don’t give a shit about it. 

The next time the big merg­ers try to legit­imize their “func­tion­al” monop­oly on Capi­tol hill, let’s look back at where they stood when the nation need­ed them.

A time of tragedy is also a time to reeval­u­ate our pri­or­i­ties. Radio is worth more as a diverse group of local entre­pre­neurs who live in the com­mu­ni­ties where they serve.  It’s worth more to the local com­mu­ni­ties’ health, the local econ­o­my, local bands and even to investors. Nowa­days, radio merg­ers play a shell game with debt that pays the aris­toc­ra­cy like Mr. Field first, while neces­si­tat­ing the fir­ing of those who make the busi­ness run.  Let’s use this qui­et time to lay the ground­work for a media that is alive. Break up the majors and let unfet­tered local voic­es return. We need them now.


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