It’s been years since we’ve seen former Cumulus executives Lew and John Dickey speak publicly about the company they once ran. Yesterday, at The Conclave in Minneapolis, they were on stage talking about what they would have done differently. Here’s what they had to say…
On the topic of forcing down rules from headquarters, former CEO Lew Dickey said that was a mistake. “We could have, should have, changed course. It’s difficult to have a centralized strategy. It should have been fully distributed. We should have pushed all the power back out to the markets with some basic guidelines. In context, I was sitting in living rooms with Octogenarians buying radio stations. These were unsophisticated operations running out of a checkbook so you needed to have best practices. As we grew and grew, in retrospect, it was a sub-optimal approach.”
Former Cumulus Programming Chief John Dickey said, regarding growing a large company after consolidation, “Nobody’s looking over your shoulder telling you what to do. It was kind of like sandlot football. You’re making up plays as you go. In the course of doing that, you get some things right and you make mistakes. Going forward the industry has learned from some of the things that we’ve done.”
John Dickey said Larry Wilson came back into the business on the premise of live and local and unfortunately didn’t get anywhere.
John Dickey added that what’s inevitable going forward, radio is in slow decline. He says the train has forever left the station with respect to programming. “Programming will forever be less localized and more centralized. Not because there are not talented people but because of technology. Because of the necessity of taking cost out of the business and the ability to deliver content through the cloud in a way that’s going to be so overwhelmingly positive for an investor that those decisions will be made for you. And, you will see that in reverse in sales. Some of the mistakes we made…we tried to centralize sales, create standards, and hold sales teams accountable. I think you’re going to see more sales teams less centralized. You’re going to see more self-serve platforms. You’re going to need to figure out how to compete against Facebook, Amazon, and Google on attribution and geo-targeting.”
John Dickey also believes inventory, already too high on most radio stations, needs to go up in local markets by 4X. But, he says, it needs to increase by zoning a signal. “Reduce the price and get more value back to the small business. Let them use radio the right way.”
Lew Dickey says there’s no longer an appetite to invest in radio because it’s not a growth business. It’s a better debt story than it is an equity story. He also said radio does not have a mobile strategy today.
Watch the stream of the Dickey’s interview from The Conclave HERE.