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 (now Audacy) 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.
Across 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.
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 for a snow day. 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.
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 local 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.