(By Dave Arland) There’s a lot of talk in the radio industry about two large companies that are now in bankruptcy. Cumulus Media and iHeartMedia together operate nearly 1,300 radio stations across the country — a little more than 10 percent of the commercial radio industry in the U.S.
Since both big media companies are in bankruptcy, conventional wisdom might suggest that something is terribly wrong with the financial health of the radio industry.
Well, something is terribly wrong — but it’s not about the radio business. It’s about being over-leveraged with crushing debt, an unfortunate reality for both iHeart and Cumulus. I fully expect both to emerge from this process with much healthier balance sheets and with a renewed commitment to serve their listeners — just like the thousands of other stations that are generating favorable returns for their advertisers, owners, and listeners.
What’s missing in the headlines is the reality that the radio industry itself is actually a very healthy business that entertains, informs, and generates cash for thousands of stations and hundreds of owners. And you don’t have to look far in Indiana to see and hear proof that local radio is vibrant, alive, and very financially healthy:
Muncie: “Radio works when you focus on your community and your customers. It’s what we do. Our stations are well received, growing, and important to the community. We are growing. We are hiring. We have more customers. All of this enables us to be more relevant and most importantly to serve our communities and clients,” says J Chapman of Woof Boom Radio, which has stations in Anderson, Muncie, and Lafayette.
Evansville: “Radio is powerful and emotional and it creates a connection with the audience that any advertiser should be excited to be able to leverage,” says Ed Lander of WEOA Radio.
Fort Wayne: Jim Allgeier’s Federated Media operates six Fort Wayne stations, and he says the radio business thrives “because radio gets results and with the advent of all the digital platforms, there is no better marketing partnership in the world on the move like radio is right now.”
Jasper: WITZ Radio’s Gene Kuntz manages four local stations. “No one else in our area was programming to the Hispanic market. I saw a need to do this and we continue to work with local Hispanic leaders to make sure our programming serves that need. We recently signed up with NextRadio, TuneIn, Alexa Skills, and have live streaming on our station website and station apps. We need to be everywhere listeners want to listen to, both in the car and wherever they are. We’ve had listeners listen to our live stream from all over the world for local news and sporting events.”
Richmond: Brewer Broadcasting’s Amy Dillon says radio is “doing better than ever! Revenues are good. Our clients get results. I’ve been associated with stations in larger and smaller markets on the east and on the west sides of Indiana. I’m confident in the radio industry.”
Michigan City: Broadcaster Ron Miller of WEFM Radio notes that “In many smaller communities, local radio is the primary source of information about events, sports, and weather. Local radio is still strong and a valuable community asset.”
Bloomington: “Despite recent doom and gloom stories on our industry, listeners, advertisers, and local non-profit organizations are still passionate about their local radio stations! We deliver free entertainment every day to an audience that in turn supports our advertisers and non-profit organizations, making the communities we serve stronger both socially and economically,” says Sarkes Tarzian Inc.’s Geoff Vargo, with stations serving Bloomington, Indianapolis, and Fort Wayne.
Salem: WSLM Radio’s Becky White says the radio business “is about connecting people with advertisers on a personal level, which is why advertisers find value in our medium. We can do so much more to connect and promote businesses with their potential customers. Our business partners find our local radio stations to be invaluable.“
Nielsen reports that some 65 million millennials listen to radio each week – the same audience better known for being glued to smart phones. Edison Media Research says that even in fancy cars fitted with the latest technology, Americans listen to 13 times more radio than all of the streaming services combined.
Radio connects with those listeners who want the latest songs, up-to-the-minute news, emergency information, traffic, the sports scores, and a wide range of entertainment. Radio serves communities, with our local stations raising millions for worthy causes and helping our advertisers reach the listeners they need.
So, don’t read too much into the bankruptcy headlines about the overall health of the radio industry. Listeners throughout the Hoosier state rely on our state’s broadcasters for vital information and entertainment — every hour of the day. And advertisers are lining up to reach those listeners in communities all over our state.
Dave Arland is Executive Director of the Indiana Broadcasters Association. He can be reached at (317) 701-0084 or [email protected]. His column was recently sent out to members of the organization.