What’s Next For Radio?


(By Ed Ryan) It was less than one year ago Radio Ink reported that, out of the approximate 11,300 radio stations, 11% of them (1,300) were under a bankruptcy umbrella. Cumulus was working through the process (445 stations) and iHeart had just filed (850 stations). Many industry executives had been saying for years that once radio’s two biggest companies clean up their balance sheets radio would be in a much better place. That process was well underway.

Cumulus emerged from bankruptcy, under the leadership of CEO Mary Berner, in the Summer of 2018, with $2 billion in debt gone. Yesterday, iHeart received approval from the bankruptcy court which will lead to $10 billion coming off their books. When you throw in the strong possibility that the FCC, under the leadership of Ajit Pai, will likely approve additional deregulation, and radio’s recent focus on data, all signs appear to be positive for the radio.

Many radio executives, as well as industry watchers, have said that the enormous amount of debt iHeart and Cumulus have been carrying around, combined with their inability to pay it down, had cast a dark shadow over radio. Investors and advertisers have been hesitant to side with a 100-year-old medium, burdened with all that debt, competing with digital companies that offer instant metrics. Will this be the turning point for radio? Will the positive news of Cumulus and iHeart cleaning up their balance sheets finally give radio the ad revenue boost it so badly needs?

Everybody knows a well executed commercial that’s not buried in a 15-20 minute long stopset will net results for local, regional, and national advertisers. Everybody agrees that when live DJs (local or national) read an ad, with that genuine passion, cash registers sing. And nobody argues that when disaster strikes, Facebook and Pandora and Spotify are no match for WCBS, WTOP, and every other radio station delivering what the community needs when the community needs it.

Maybe 2019 will be radio’s year.


  1. Kevin suggests: “Sometimes, a little historical perspective is a good thing.”
    That may be, Kevin.
    However, this is not one of those times.

  2. About the only governing body that really could break them up is the FCC. Bankruptcy laws were written for companies and individuals…how heartless would it be to suggest that some person who got in over their heads because of medical bills, or other understandable reasons shouldn’t be allowed to reorganize? So, because a few companies get in over their heads, they shouldn’t have the right for a second start? The fact is today that there are still lots of companies that do great local radio…whether live or voice tracked. (Hey disc jockeys…did you know YOU were a cost-cutting move? YOU replaced the hundreds of orchestras, hillbilly bands, actors and actresses who once worked in radio stations…who once sported payrolls of 175-200 employees.) Sometimes, a little historical perspective is a good thing.

  3. Wow. Who didn’t get paid by the combined $12 billion in write-offs…small and not so small businesses? And who did get paid? Do you suppose these C-suite execs will receive some type of “performance” bonus? And have they laid the groundwork for future compensation? Hmmm…seems to me if a LOCAL business of any type treated their local vendors this way, they’d soon be oob. Glad I’m out; no integrity.

    And these trades continue to laud these companies’ leadership as “visionary”. That’s one word for it…I guess.

  4. Although many of us florished in the radio business during the days of the 7=7=7 rule , nostalgia is no antidote. The 57 Chevy isn’t coming back either. Realistic thinking, Ed. Remember though, de-reg caused all that debt. Psi may not be the answer.

  5. Although many of us florished in the radio business during the days of the 7=7=7 rule , nostalgia is no antidote. The 57 Chevy isn’t coming back either. Realistic thinking, Ed. Remember though, de-reg caused all that debt.

  6. Over the years after attending so many radio seminars meeting some of the big guys, I realized
    they didn’t have a clue on how to run a station. Clueless executives with no real small town
    feel for their properties. Shameless decisions that reap what we now see happening in the
    industry. As a small station owner and engineer, I ask myself daily what the hell are these
    idiots doing to make this a great communication tool. The problem, they don’t communicate,
    just aimless commercials and little real speaking to listener. Yet, they push
    there stream. Radio! Hey guys get the damn announcers back with something to relate.

  7. “Everybody agrees that when live DJs (local or national) read an ad, with that genuine passion, cash registers sing. ”


  8. There is an old adage in the pshrink-business that goes: “People, and the organizations they create tend to: Find out what doesn’t work, and then, to do it harder.”
    Verily, I predict, shall it come to pass for the already-indoctrinated and dug-in class of radio’s ownership, particularly the Biggies.
    Even as better data and some whizz-bang gizmos become available, radio will refuse to address the only elements over which it has complete control – on-air presentations and local ad generation.
    (The phusterclucking of ads is, of course, beyond all reason and, therefore, qualifies as “Trumpian”.)

  9. I think too many companies take advantage of our Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws as an “escape clause” in a document. What they do through loopholes is maneuver their debt so the smaller investors are left out on a limb! Do you really think millions of dollars of debt just disappear into thin air? Sure, there is some adjusting and selling of some properties for “cosmetic” reasons but it does not come close of satisfying the original investors. Furthermore, what is more troublesome is the courts continue to approve their bankruptcy plan, eliminating more than half of their debt so these companies can open more lines of credit and call it investments! They are doing the same thing all over again which got them into financial trouble from the start. Sadly, until our bankruptcy laws change or the loopholes which encourages these practices, expect more of this to continue.

  10. During this process, you would think that a little humility would be displayed. After all you would want that from a convicted criminal about to be executed for killing someone ( in this case something). I laugh at the suggestion that either one these entities will change. I’m sure underneath the press releases that have been issued it’s business as usual

  11. IHeart paid too much for too many stations–and then couldn’t run them profitably.

    So how is deregulation–allowing even larger station groups–going to help the industry?

    • The bankruptcy courts should have broken up iHeart (Clear Channel). They will continue to degrade the quality of broadcast radio in the interest of servicing their remaining debt. Centralization of overhead and cost cutting will continue at the expense of local content enrichment.


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