IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Radio DOES Need More Dereg.


(By Jeff Warshaw) I recognize that uniform changes to the radio ownership rules are difficult to express, as the radio markets are not uniform. Some markets (even larger ones) have few stations and few meaningful owners, while some small markets have many stations with multiple significant owners. But what is uniform across all markets is that broadcasters need to make the FCC understand that radio ownership limits need to change and change soon; before the economic tides wash over radio like they have the newspaper and other “old” media. Those media outlets, even though they had minimal regulation compared to radio, were overwhelmed by digital competition. Radio needs to be freed to compete against the new entrants in every market.

The FCC needs to be made to understand that radio stations no longer compete just against radio. Instead, they compete against all sorts of local media outlets. Our TV brethren have been freed to acquire two stations in most television markets, and can even have joint sales arrangements with other TV stations in the market — and can own the maximum number of radio stations in the market, and even be co-owned with the local newspaper and the cable system in a community, all without running afoul of the FCC ownership limits. Yet, in no market can a pure radio company own more than eight stations, even though the TV stations, the newspaper, and the cable systems are all competing with radio both for local advertising dollars and to provide viewpoint diversity.


And, today, what dwarfs all of these traditional outlets is online media. Already, local online advertising spending in virtually every market is greater than that for traditional media.  Facebook and Google are in every one of our markets in a very big way, selling to local advertisers, as is virtually every other online platform whether through direct sales or as part of an ad network that is selling to local advertisers. Look at the Gordon Borrell estimates of local advertising spending in various markets. It shows that in virtually every market, digital ad spending outpaces that in traditional media. In addition, in every market digital is growing faster than non-digital advertising. Radio revenue has been shrinking, radio’s audience (AQH) has been shrinking. I’m not saying that we aren’t providing tremendous service to our communities. On the contrary, it’s because we provide a vital service that we need to be freed from ownership constraints. Without that freedom, our very industry will continue to be weakened by our less-fettered competitors.

Today, it cannot be argued that these sources don’t compete for both advertising dollars and provide diverse viewpoints in the marketplace. In the recent ownership order, in assessing the radio-TV cross-ownership limits, the FCC suggested that radio’s contribution to local viewpoint diversity in the marketplace was less than in the past, as most radio stations provide primarily entertainment or national talk programming. Given that recognition, it does not seem to be a stretch to argue that digital media provides exactly that same sort of competition.

The last substantive changes to the ownership rules took place in 1996. Look at how the media landscape has changed since then: Google was started in 1998. Pandora in 2000. Satellite radio in 2001. Facebook in 2004. Spotify in 2006. It is absurd to suggest that radio doesn’t compete with all of those companies. The old rules are antiquated and overly burdensome for radio broadcasters.

Think about a market like Erie, PA. Like every other market in America, there is substantially less revenue than 10 years ago. There are eight significant FM stations that serve the community. There are two Country stations, two AC stations, two Rock stations, and two Top 40 stations. Each competitor plays similar music to the other. In a market where one broadcaster could own all the FM stations, there could be more format diversity, less commercial clutter, and greater economies of scale. We would be in a stronger position to compete with the onslaught of digital.

Let’s not just dream about the “good old days” when AM stations were king and listeners had fewer choices. The industry needs to be free to grow within every market so that we can more fairly compete in a modern world.

Jeff Warshaw is President and CEO of Connoisseur Media and can be reached at [email protected]



  1. After most of the radio mergers were complete – roughly around 2000, we were left with major market stations whose spotloads doubled and tripled. The station I was at saw its revenue double compared to what it made in the 90’s – by going from 7 units an hour as a local fully staffed standalone operation, to 20 units an hour as a voice tracked operation airing national contests. Don’t see how less regulation will undo the damage caused by radio cannibalizing itself just as these online competitors were emerging. If radio had continued to operate under the tight margins it had it the “good old days” it might be a far more vital player in the media landscape today. Instead it drove listeners away with abusive 10 minute long spot sets that incredulously persist to this day – instead of the more reasonable 3 minute stopsets we aired when listeners had no alternative.

  2. I just can’t believe how COE’s Like Jeff have that Mentality based on pure GREED! If I could own all the 8 Radio stations in my market, I will enjoy a better chance to make tons of money because I will be the only Stinky Fat Monopoly in my town, and it won’t matter how nuisanced my format’s farts may be, I will yet be the only kid in town with a cluster of a 8 radio stations or even more, for my self with no direct competition!!!

    What a poor and limited mentality! The sad thing its that our industry, including the idiots from the FCC, they side with CEO’s like Jeff who want to eliminate the competition by owning as many radio stations as they possibly could, so they can become an disgusting and stinky monopoly with the only intention to make money with out any concerns for quality, ethics, or community involvement!!

    This is what happens when our county voted for a President who sides with the Rich, The Multibillionaires, so they can effectively eliminate the middle class including the small to mid size radio broadcaster who will be wiped out if the FCC unleashed their thirsty and Greedy desire to put as many radio stations in the hands of a few!!

    If the FCC Ownership rules get unregulated, we will see super NOVAS of GIANT radio Clusters forming overnight where 95% of the American Radio licenses will be in the hands of may be 5% of the Radio owners. This would be a real tragedy for the average American Person because our Radio Air Waves would be slaved to the evil desires of a few elite wealthy and powerful radio groups while the rest of the spiring broadcasters will have no chance to even think of entering the broadcasting game.

    The Digital Media its not an excuse to Unleash de Demons of Deregulation over the American Broadcasting industry. At the Contrary, The FCC should open up more opportunities, so more Radio Signals could get licensed, and more people could enter the Broadcasting Business, so The Radio industry could compete with the Digital Media with more variety, more quality, diversity, better prices, and the most important of all: Better Results to their Advertisers!!

    How many times have you heard a Radio CEO telling one of his clients some thing like this: “OK Mr. Restaurant Owner, We are very sorry that your 10,000 dollar campaign with our radio cluster did not yield any results. We are going to give you a refund of your investment”?

    Every body will say: It doesn’t work in that way because every radio advertising campaign its an investment with no guarantees of nothing, and I agree with you. But, thanks to daily disasters like this in radio, our beloved media has earned a very bad reputation with many, many advertisers and that very same Advertiser who lost money in a failed radio campaign, he will go some where else to promote his products or services. They go to Craigslist (free), Facebook (Free) Youtube, and Other Digital Ecosystems where they find success with a fraction or no investment at all!!

    The Problem that our radio industry faces is very simple against the Digital Era: Radio its too expensive and most of the times, it does not work!! While The Digital platforms are way more affordable, and they yield better tracking results! but, one thing is for sure, Owning more radio stations may be the answer to compete against the phenomena? The answer is NOOO!

    Owning more radio stations has nothing to do with an outdated Radio Business Model that has been flawed since its invention. Before, you have no choice but to keep trying it at least to deduct some Taxes, but now, there are plenty of different ways how people could promote, spread the word with out the need of a Psychopath Radio CEO who is charging an eye of the face for his over price radio venue.

    The only thing that you need for some thing big in order to fail, its an idiot giving the wrong directions until the big thing entirely collapses. If the FCC’s unregulated ownership rules becomes the new norm, new radio clusters will emerge, and if those clusters get in the hands of idiots like the Chair of the FCC or the President of the United Stated, you will have the perfect recipe for a big disaster while the digital media with thrive because they cost way less, they are way more effective yielding ROI’s.

    • Please feel free to email me if you want to buy a radio station. I’d be happy to try and help.
      I built my first station from a construction permit when I was 19, so I understand how exciting an opportunity it might be for you.

      • Man, if that is an open invitation, let us know. I’m in the process of buying my first 3 myself before dereg makes the prices even more ridiculous. I’d love help!

  3. If radio ever runs into the problems newspaper has, it will be because they focused on ownership instead of on the real problems. There are still plenty of very healthy companies running only a small number of stations that succeed because they know and serve their communities. That is something Google, Facebook, SiriusXM and every other “scary” new media cannot duplicate. All ownership relaxation has ever shown is that big companies will snatch up stations, run them with less people, use canned formats, and sell group deals. If Jeff wants relaxed rules, here’s a proposal: Let an owner run up to half the stations in a market, but they can only operate in that one market. Then they will be forced to create content for their community, to use the limited airwaves to actually do something unique, something no other media can do. I guarantee they will employ more local people, have higher profit margins, and make radio matter more than anything under this ridiculous proposal the NAB has put forward.

  4. Radio has been and always will be “Survival of the fittest!” Or in radio’s case survival of the best broadcaster. When you look at the immense competition…tv, newspaper, magazine, digital, billboard, Google, Bing, Facebook, etc…less competition amongst ourselves can be beneficial. Radio and tv provide their communities more LOCAL content and entertainment than any other media. If the FCC doesn’t relax the ownership rules, you will see many stations across the country go dark because they can’t compete. They must make a profit. Yes, you can debate the reasons why they go dark, but the main reason is simple. The advertising dollars radio once saw in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s doesn’t exist any longer. All media is competing for the same dollar and the NEW media that didn’t exist back then is gaining more and more of those dollars that used to go to radio. As an owner, if I could own all of the radio stations in my market I could have my sales staff sell all the stations…saving money on a sales staff for each station. If I could find an engineer, he/she would be paid a little more to take care of all my stations. Consolidating my staff and paying them more, would save me money. Because radio revenue is so much less these days, an owner must be smart with their staff and other resources to make a profit.
    I love radio and have been a broadcaster since 1975. Back then radio was huge. We made money hand over fist. Our Jocks were personalities, they were local celebrities. Facebook, twitter and all the digital media we have today didn’t exist. The revenue is spread much thinner today. Here’s the bottom line…When I hear people who are against relaxing FCC ownership rules say…”They will be creating monopolies.” My response is…If a monopoly means radio survival, then bring it on!

  5. Sorry, Jeff, but this argument is flawed. Radio has always had to compete against other media–and has always fallen short in revenue. Allowing one company to own all the stations on one band in a market violates every principle of diversity. That just oepns the door to one opinion and total control over rates. You serve the public first, the advertiser second and your investors third–not the other way around. I drvoe six hours and waited six more hours to give two mintues of timed testimony agaisnt further consolidation at an FCC hearing–and I would gladly do it again. Large consolidated radio is squeezing local advertisers right out of the marketplace as they continue to raise rates to pay for the debt service on their acquisitions. Owning more stations is not going to help you compete against other media. Better trained sales people and educating advertisers will.

  6. I don’t understand why we’re still having this argument. Consolidation has been great for a very few people who were able to walk away from the industry with wheelbarrows of money. Consolidation has been great for bankruptcy lawyers. Consolidation has been great for syndicators and satellite networks.

    Consolidation has not been great for radio station personnel, as most of the jobs are gone and many of those people who are left are doing the jobs of multiple people. Consolidation has not been great for creativity, as everything now is judged by “the numbers” and “research” and gets tighter and tighter. Now there is talk about bringing artificial intelligence into the mix, too. Consolidation has not been great for listeners, who have become tired of the cookie cutter formats, extremely tight playlists, repetition, and tons and tons of commercials.

  7. That radio in particular is stifled and stymied by outdated and unfair rules & regs is a given.
    However, human nature (of the questionable kind) being demonstrated constantly by the ownership groups suggests, if not guarantees, that a stranglehold on individual markets does not lead to superior services for audiences and advertisers.
    Besides, even a more level playing field provides no assurances that ownership will then immediately begin blazing a trail of improvement within the industry.
    The contrary is more likely.

  8. “In a market where one broadcaster could own all the FM stations, there could be more format diversity, less commercial clutter, and greater economies of scale. We would be in a stronger position to compete with the onslaught of digital.” How many readers just spit up their coffee reading this? That’s a rather unique view of consolidation. I’m sure Jessica Rosenworcel will easily remind Jeff of Clear Channel/Minot, SD. Less commercials? Sure — spread em around and cut deals for the loss leader like iHeart. Format diversity? Easily done with Premium Choice. Is Jeff looking for a buyout at a fair price? More consolidation squeezes him out, not giving him growth opportunities. Market radio better to CMOs and create brands like they do. Otherwise, 555 owners or 5 owners, you still don’t matter. Content wins, not economic efficiency


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