What The Dickeys Would Have Done Differently


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.


  1. I worked for Cumulus as GM of the Florence, South Carolina cluster 2008 – 2009. It was laughably top down management. Bur I knew exactly what I was getting into when I joined so I had no hard feelings then or now. I actually laughed to myself once when they increased my monthly budget by tens of thousands of dollars after a month had already started! It was my last radio job and I made the move to digital advertising and I’m still doing it. Radio is interesting to watch from the sidelines but I’m sure glad I’m not in it. I can’t even imagine.

    I really enjoyed the interview. It’s insightful as to what their mindset was from Atlanta. He correctly said hindsight is 20/20 but those of us at the market level could see how foolish a command and control management style is even back then. In that sense, we had a better view of the landscape and future than he did.

  2. The Dickeys should have been charged with self dealing and sent to prison. While CEO, Lew Dickey contracted Cumulus to get programming and research services from the company that he and his brother owned. They charged stations tens of thousands of dollars a year, but often providing no local market research and generic playlists to Cumulus stations. That contract was worth millions of dollars a year, and the money went straight into the Dickey’s pockets. That kind of self dealing is against the law and former Cumulus stockholders should sue them.

  3. Beyond worthless. I’ve known Jerry Del Colliano and have read him for decades. I know what and how he’s written about Lew and John Dickey. I saw maybe 0.5% of that righteous anger in this eggshell-walking, elephant-in-room avoiding farce. And even that was subtle and only at the very beginning.
    The rest of that mess was all about treating those guys as statesmen of the industry and quizzing their “wisdom” about the state and future of radio.
    When Del Colliano let Lew get away with “radio must invest in content” and John advocating even more commercials, the only thing I could think of for the rest of the “interview” was, Why does Jerry need to be a whore at this point in his life? What’s his angle here?
    I have about as much respect for him at this point as I do for Lew and John Dickey.

    • In Jerry’s defense, he got them to say some things they might not have said if he had been more confrontational. He said he could have gone two ways at the start of the session. So he chose to make it more about them than about him. I might not have expected that from Jerry either, but in his heart, he is a pro, and knows when to put his own agenda in his back pocket. Too bad our politicians have forgotten that.

  4. The Dickey boys are still making mistakes. And now they are giving you bad advice that is strictly from an investors point of view.

    Radio is a people business. So my radio company invests in local people working in the local market. We make the jobs there a good place to work, invest in the people to grow and develop them, and give them security in their positions so they know they will have a job next week. Let them work, and they will solve each problem in their local market; they will solve their local problems in their local market, and they will solve the big company (AMAZON, etc)competitive problems, and gain programming and financial success. But its a long term investment. Its a long term process, so the short term quick buck investors aren’t interested in doing it in the way to radio success. Look to the good ownership and management practices by big market companies like Hubbard and SAGA for the path to radio success.

    From a 40 year owner, operator, investor, and worker, in Small Market Radio Stations

    • Excellent Tony- well said and “spot” on‼️ You and Jim know and demonstrate everyday why local involvement and caring for your staff and clients is what will always keep Radio relevant and effective in serving your communities. – Jacobson Broadcasting.

  5. The most interesting part is that Lew & John were interviewed by Jerry Del Colliano. I don’t know why that wasn’t mentioned in this article. Yes Jerry writes his own competing blog, but Jerry was the perfect guy to do this interview, and his views on corporate radio are well known.

  6. “Sitting in living rooms with octogenarians buying radio stations” “…. unsophisticated operations”.

    Therein lies the problem Lew Dickey’s only mistake was the company he kept.

    Those “octogenarians” ran good local stations, Lew. A Hell of a lot better than you did.

  7. “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.”

    Herein lies the problem that the Dickey’s encountered earlier, and will continue to endure. As long as local, over-the-air radio is viewed as purely “an investment,” that attitude will prove to be self-fulfilling. For those who run it as a local business, where serving one’s community in turn yields a 30-40% return on investment, this statement is patently untrue.

  8. Most of us around this campfire speak in terms of Radio – as a generalization or as a “thing” – tied together by our commonalities.
    Like a pack of sharks feeding on a whale carcass where radio is the dead whale, great chunks of the business will likely be torn away with neither a whimper or a defence, since that is the nature of dead things.
    However, the opportunities – and glaring opportunities they are, too – remains for those outfits with a pulse and an imagination to: Reconsider their entire communications model, gird their loins, come up with better strategies and jump back into the fray.
    And to come out as winners.
    The irony is that the new, functional and successful strategies will NOT be the same as most organizations suspect will be the ones that do the trick.

  9. No one cares! The Dickey brothers are a HUGE mess and they left Cumulus in financial shambles. They’re reckless, they’re a disgrace and have no signs of common sense.


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