|It’s an iHeart world
“iHeart’s dominance is problematic for those of us that are smaller,” says Alfred Liggins.
The Radio One CEO says on yesterday’s fourth-quarter call that “There’s iHeart, and then there’s other folks. Because of the current structure, iHeart has an advantage on national business that they’re currently exploiting.” Alfred says “My personal view is that the industry needs to get re-structured.” What might happen? Liggins continues – “Maybe at some point in time, the rest of the guys in the industry get together and figure out how do you offset” iHeart’s position. Liggins didn’t specifically mention the Katz national-rep situation, or iHeart’s large number of stations. But he says “They do take a lot of money off the table early, at lower rates, grab share...and CPMs [cost per thousands] aren’t growing.” This NOW Newsletter suggested recently that with Entercom merging with CBS Radio, there could be a moment for the industry to consider a rep-firm alternative to Katz. Liggins tells analysts that overall, “as an industry, on a macro level, radio is in as good a place as any traditional media business.” For radio to be “kinda flattish...or down 1 or 2 percent, that’s way better” than some peers like magazines or newspapers.
Political “was a good tailwind” for Radio One in Q4, where net revenues rose nearly 4%
Not every company will share this fourth-quarter narrative, but Radio One CFO Peter Thompson says advertising in its “government/public” category was one of the leaders. That’s in a quarter where automotive slowed down 17% and financial dropped 25%. Thompson says “fourth quarter political was a good tailwind for us,” helping EBITDA (a measure of cash flow) finish near the top end of management’s previous guidance. Overall, Radio One’s net revenue increased 3.8% to about $113.6 million. Among the better-performing markets were Raleigh, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Detroit. But Thompson reports year-over-year declines in Houston, Washington DC and Dallas. Breaking out some categories, local continued a negative trend, and finished down 4.1% for the quarter (and down 3.7% for all of 2016). National was up 7.3% at the stations for the quarter (and up about 4% on the year). We keep talking about “flattish” numbers, and CFO Thompson says “the Miller Kaplan [measured] markets we operate in were down 0.9%” for the quarter. Radio One was up an average of 0.1% - the definition of “flattish.” This current quarter’s pacing down mid-single digits – but down low singles, if you exclude political.
Casino revenues begin flowing to Radio One.
It expects its first check from the newly-opened MGM National Harbor facility just south of DC – the initial payoff from its $40 million investment. Radio One gets a 1% cut of all net gaming revenues, and based on the first several months, that should be $6 million a year. (Radio One stations in DC are also receiving ad buys from the casino and resort.) CEO Alfred Liggins tells analysts they’ve already been approached by third parties who’d buy Radio One’s revenue stream from the MGM casino, in return for some cash. (Much as a lottery winner getting yearly payments might sell that right for a quick check.) Some immediate cash might be used for Radio One’s main priority – paying down some of its $960 million in debt. We do learn from CFO Peter Thompson that Radio One has signed a deal to sell 14 of its towers to an unnamed company (probably a consolidator), and should make $25 million. (They’ll lease back the tower space needed for Radio One stations.) That money plus the income from MGM should help counter soft revenue at radio and the Reach Media syndication effort. Revenues at Reach were off 5.5% for the most recent quarter. On the balance sheet, expect Radio One to work on re-financing the term loan that matures at the end of 2018. Would Radio One do more acquisitions? Alfred Liggins would be open to “the right M&A” deal. But it would likely be smaller, and “not transformative.”
Trump’s happy enough with Ajit Pai to nominate him for a five-year FCC term.
That was apparently what Pai’s Oval Office visit on Monday was about – the president told him he’d be getting a full five years at the Commission. Trump had already bumped Pai from Commissioner to Chairman, but his current term would expire at year-end. We knew “regulatory weed-wacker” Pai was eager to reverse some of his predecessor’s policies, and perhaps one of the audiences he had in mind was Trump. Kansas native Pai first joined the Commission in 2012, along with Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel, in one of those one-plus-one paired confirmation deals. But she left in January and her return – which would require a Trump nomination – seems unlikely. The FCC’s functioning at its three-Commissioner minimum, with Republicans Pai and Mike O’Rielly, and Dem Mignon Clyburn. NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith “congratulates Chairman Pai” and is “especially grateful for his support for AM radio revitalization, moving forward on Next Gen TV standard, and reforming outdated media ownership rules.” We’ll see how far Pai goes on ownership – a lot of radio folks would like more flexibility. At Pai’s Eighth Floor office, he continues shaping his staff. “R Street Institute” think tank Senior Fellow Nathan Leamer comes inside as a policy advisor
“2016 was a very nice year,” says the Saga CEO.
Ed Christian jokes with CFO Sam Bush that he’d cheerfully step into the “Wayback Machine” (harking back to TV’s “Rocky & Bullwinkle Show”) and do 2016 all over again. Especially given the “cold-water wakeup call” of January 2017. He says it was “not only Saga” who felt the chill. For his company, there was pullback from the automotive and medical categories. The medical hiccup could be related to the uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act. While Detroit-area-based Ed Christian notices that “car payment defaults were up substantially” in the first part of the year. That could be ominous. But Ed says “March is coming alive very quickly,” and the temperature’s rising. First quarter is pacing down low single digits, but the CEO is “not alarmed…I’m not ringing the bell.” He says succeeding in 2017 will “require more grit” – and they’re once again looking at “operating strategies and seeking greater efficiencies.” Traveling just a few months back in the Wayback Machine, Sam Bush says as-reported fourth-quarter revenues were up 4.7% to $37.3 million. The same-station revenue line was up 2.9% to $36.1 million. (Saga’s now integrated recent acquisitions in Harrisonburg, VA, for instance.) Net income improved from 63 cents a share to 84 cents.
Saga’s Ed Christian - some game-changers could end a dealmaking “dry spell,” like market caps and foreign ownership.
The CEO cites Richard and Sharon Burns, the Australian nationals just cleared by the FCC to acquire 100% of Frontier Media in Alaska and the Texarkana market (NOW’s February 27 lead story). Ed Christian says “that’s precedential...We could be looking at a lot of foreign money coming into the U.S.” As for the FCC potentially lifting market caps, Ed joins the dealmakers of the world who view that possibility as the most significant game-changer for radio. Instead of being limited to three, four or five FMs (or AMs) in a single market, a relaxation of the “sub-caps” could initiate a fresh chapter of consolidation. (Saga might be able to own six or even seven local FMs.) Christian sees a consolidation wave happening, one way or another. He foresees “some of those smaller players, the private equity funds, getting out” during what he calls “a transformative time.” With one of the cleanest balance sheets in the industry and many millions in dry powder, Saga is (as always) a careful shopper. Christian says “There will be some fallout from the companies that got ahead of themselves in structure and in debt” – and he’s watching.
Nothing from Saga about the TV spectrum auction.
We don’t know if Ed Christian was ever interested in putting some TV spectrum into the FCC auction, or if he did begin to throw chips on the table and then pulled them off. But he didn’t mention the auction on yesterday’s quarterly call, and there were no questions about it. So chalk that up as another kind of surprise in this earning cycle – a “hang-onto” choice for management. CBS toyed with the notion of playing in the auction, but ultimately didn’t like the downward spiral in pricing and didn’t leave any TV licenses in the pool. While Entravision last Thursday cheerfully reported gross proceeds of at least $264 million from the auction – and potentially more from channel-sharing deals.
Richard Mecham’s dispute with American Tower may force four stations in Jackson Hole off the air today. Mecham agrees that he owes American Tower three years of back-rent – but contends that its fees are at least triple what they should be. The Jackson Hole News and Guide says American Tower’s operating on Snow King Mountain, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, and is supposed to be charging only “reasonable” fees under its site plan. Onetime Bonneville-Salt Lake City manager Richard Mecham says “we have tried and tried to work out a deal...[but today] those stations are going dark.” His Rich RP Broadcasting Idaho LLC filed for Chapter 11 protection (reorganization) last Fall. The Jackson Hole stations include adult alternative “96.9 the Mountain” KMTN and classic rock “KZ95” KZJH.
It took 13 years, but the FCC approves a new 1490 AM in Utah, “surprising the applicants,” says Radio World. The grant popped up in the daily “FCC Actions” list, for a new 1,000-watt 1490 licensed to Santa Clara, Utah. Morgan Skinner filed the original application in 2004 via Americast Media, then a subsidiary of his Legacy Communications Corp. But after the FCC looked it over, it said the projected signal wouldn’t provide the minimum 80% coverage of its primary community of service. Skinner filed amendments in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, then heard zilch. (His original proposal was for an unusual directional signal on 1490. But directional arrays are not allowed on Class C local channels. Skinner produced an example where the Commission had previously approved one, in one of the very few exceptions.) These days, Americast is owned by not-for-profit Community Education Association – which must decide whether to pursue the project.
Southwest of New Orleans is Houma, Louisiana, where Lisa Stiglets of JLE Incorporated plunks down $725,000 cash for two stations – country “C 96.7” KCIL and regional Mexican “La Caliente 1490” KJIN. The FM’s a Class C2 licensed to Gray, Louisiana. The AM’s got the usual 1,000-watt full-time power for a 1490 AM. Seller is Jim Anderson’s “My Home Media LLC.” Anderson’s other interests include stations in Texas, New Mexico, and Thibodaux, Louisiana (“LA 106.3 Rock Hits” KXOR). My Home Media acquired KCIL, KJIN and KXOR in a 2015 deal where John Borders transferred his 43.5% interest in Sunburst Media-Louisiana to Anderson. (Part of the consideration was splitting up the company’s pending claim from the BP oil spill.) Here in 2017, Lisa Stiglets begins with an LMA of KCIL/KJIN. Brokers for Jim Anderson – Dallas-based Bill Whitley and Jacksonville-based George Reed, both of Media Services Group.
Today’s “International Women’s Day” inspires various observances at radio – like Alpha Media’s classic hits “94.5 Bay FM” KBAY San Jose “playing nothing but female artists from 6am to 6pm.” PD Ronnie Stanton plans “an all-female jukebox of hits from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. You’ll hear Madonna, the Bangles, Cyndi Lauper, Joan Jett, Heart and everything in between – but no guys are allowed.” There’s a diametrically opposite approach in Birmingham. At Cumulus urban “Hot 107.7” WUHT – it’s “A day without a woman.” Programmer Ken Johnson tells the Birmingham News “Women are our core listeners, and these women contribute a great deal to our sound. Honoring women by highlighting to the community how important they are is a no-brainer.” Hot’s female personalities and imaging voice get the day off, as do all songs featuring women.
Kelly Orchard has been a station owner/operator and a consultant (with her father Ken Orchard) in the area of mock FCC inspections and compliance plans. Now Kelly, a specialist in organizational leadership and a graduate of the NABEF Broadcast Leadership Training Program, expands her consultancy to a larger field of view. She’s particularly focused on developing human capital (“critical to reducing costs, energizing your business and improving profitability”). More about Kelly here.
“When we introduced Voltair, users asked if we could detect watermarks right off-air, or at any patch point.” That’s Geoff Steadman, founder of Telos Alliance member 25-Seven Systems. (For anybody in a PPM market, the “Voltair” name in the headline surely got your attention.) Ahead of next month’s NAB Show in Las Vegas, 25-Seven announces the new “TVC-15.” It describes the device as a kind of “modulation monitor for watermarking” and says “for the first time, stations in electronically-measured markets can independently detect, monitor and analyze how well each element in their programming supports audio watermarking” – and ditto for any other signal they choose.
“Jack FM” signature voice Howard Cogan is ready to open up his market list in the U.S., beyond the variety hits stations that rely on his voice. He’s repped by Benztown, which says “Though Howard will continue to work with Jack FM stations in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Baltimore and other markets, there are still many places where his unique approach to audio branding has never been heard.” Cogan’s “HOCO Productions” will also offer writing services.
“What else radio should know about Amazon Echo”
Andrew Curran’s the President/COO of DMR/interactive, and he says “Much attention has been paid by radio in recent weeks to the Amazon Echo as a pathway to increased listening. However, there’s an emerging story about Amazon that could be even more significant. The retailing juggernaut is quickly generating ad revenue, and Echo is well positioned to play a significant role in that growth moving forward. On Amazon’s latest earnings call, the company reported that ad revenue increased 60% year over year, and analysts now believe it generates $1 billion annually. With 50% of U.S. households belonging to Amazon Prime, the online retailer’s ability to include audio, video and search consumption with purchase data is the Holy Grail that other platforms including Facebook and Google can only dream of.
“The proliferation of Echo devices also provides an opportunity for radio to regain at-home listening after radios began disappearing from households during the last decade,” continues Andrew Curran. “In fact, it represents a unique opportunity for radio to be thoughtful about developing a strategy that keeps your station Top of Mind on a device that is purchased initially as a personal assistant. Radio has a tremendous value proposition and dominant market share in audio. However, Echo isn't going to tell our story for us. Crafting a compelling value proposition for why your station should be Top of Mind for listeners on voice-activated devices is time well spent, especially as voice command becomes more prominent in cars.” Andrew Curran blogs about the ad-platform potential of the Amazon Echo here. Got your own strongly-held opinion about something in radio? Email the Soap Box – Tom@RTK-Media.com.
Danny Ocean has worked in programming in New York (“Z100” WHTZ), Boston (“Jam’n 94.5” WJMN), Memphis (“FM 100” WMC-FM), San Francisco (the former “Z95.7” KZQZ) and Philly (“Q102” WIOQ). He’s in the Philadelphia area now doing some air-work at Jerry Lee Radio’s AC “More FM” WBEB – but says he’s leaving his other gig, as Director of Affiliate Relations with the “Sheet Happens” prep service. Danny tells NOW the job “allowed me to reconnect with my radio roots and establish a wide network of contacts.” But for the immediate future, he plans to “take some time off and vacation with my family.” His last day with Sheet Happens is March 17. Danny’s at 610-585-8467 and Danny.Ocean@Verizon.net.
Amy Krouse Rosenthal is a Chicago-based writer who “also was a host at Chicago Public Media WBEZ/91.5 and a fellow contributor to its Vocalo blog,” says onetime Vocalo contributor Robert Feder. Amy’s heart-wrenching “Modern Love” essay in last Sunday’s New York Times is one of the paper’s most-read – because it’s titled “You may want to marry my husband.” She’s serious. Amy writes “Want to hear a sick joke? A husband and wife walk into the emergency room...A few hours and tests later, the doctor clarifies that the unusual pain the wife is feeling on her right side isn’t the no-biggie appendicitis they suspected, but rather ovarian cancer.” After 26 years of marriage, she’s facing horrendous choices – but she wants her children to be taken care of, and (the “Modern Love” topic) her husband to find a suitable next wife. Read Amy’s essay here.
J.J. Simmons was “JJ on the Mic” at Radio One’s urban “97.9 the Box” KBXX in Houston. Here’s her transition – from on-air personality to running her seven-year-old “I’m Me Foundation” full-time. Houston’s KTRK television says Simmons suffered “a panic attack live on the air that landed her in the hospital.” After thinking about her life, she quit her radio gig last month, saying “I know I have a bigger purpose in the world.” Her foundation offers presentations at local middle schools and high schools around the subject of self-esteem and character.
Take 2 from yesterday’s sports-radio moves by Emmis-Indianapolis – The company adds the 107.5 translator (W298BB) to the existing combo of “Fan” WFNI/1070 and a translator at 93.5 (W228CX), shifting around some programming in the process. Here’s the way things land, and thanks to a note from NBC Sports Radio source Westwood One – 107.5 had been a mix of ESPN Radio and NBC Sports Radio. The plan is to move some of the NBC Sports Radio programming, primarily nights, overnights and weekends, from 107.5 to the new three-signal Fan.
The D-I-Y Weather Jingle - The recent “You Can’t Make This Up” story concerning missing EANS equipment sparks a memory for NOW reader Ed Gursky. “In the early ’90s, I was doing weekend air-work for then-‘Z104’ WZYQ in Frederick, Maryland. One Saturday morning, the time for a weather forecast approached. I was unable to locate the weather cart, a musical open and close with a bed for the jock to insert the forecast. Honoring ‘The show must go on’ tradition, I decided to make up my own weather jingle. Coming out of the stopset, listeners heard, ‘Dah-dee-dah-dah... Z104 Weather!... Dah-dee-dee... Sunny today, high 72... Dah-dah-dah... Clear tonight, low 45... Dee-dee-dee... Sunny tomorrow, high 75... Dah-dee-dah... Z104!’ - and into the next song. A half hour later, I got a call from the PD, who said he was finally able to stop laughing. A short while later, the weather cart was located, exactly where I had mislaid it earlier.” Ready to share your own perhaps embarrassing (but funny) true radio story? Email “You Can’t Make This Up” – Tom@RTK-Media.com.
Today the FCC faces a Senate oversight committee for what could be a very long session. You’ll be reading about it in tomorrow’s NOW Newsletter. Want to put a Classified Ad or your company’s marketing message in front of this slightly-addicted readership? Contact Kristy Scott - Kristy@RTK-media.com or phone 818-591-6815. See you back first thing tomorrow - Tom