The Splintering of The Radio Industry


During the discussion between Flick, Morris and Warshaw, both radio CEO’s discussed how the pandemic has driven an even deeper wedge between the big three radio companies (iHeart, Entercom and Cumulus) trying to sell at scale, and smaller groups doubling down on being local.

Over the past few months hundreds, if not thousands, of radio employees have been fired or furloughed then fired, due to the pandemic. Those jobs are not coming back as companies learn to operate more efficiently without those positions and rely more on syndicated talent and national business practices.

Morris and Warshaw told Pillsbury’s Scott Flick letting people go was a last resort as the need to ramp up local programming for their communities intensified during COVID. And if they did have to fire people they wanted it be as few people as possible.

Warshaw spoke about the changes the bigger operators made. “The unfortunate truth is that a lot of the moves that companies made to survive will make it more difficult for them to staff local operations which Ginny (Morris) and I think is the future of our business. Some companies will be kicking the can down the road unable to invest in their operations. It will be increasingly difficult for them to invest in growth.”

Morris spoke about the big three continuiing to move more toward scale. “As more companies go to a hub and spoke programming model there’s going to be a bigger, wider divide with the bigger companies relying on the national footprint, and exploiting that, and those of us that are truly local, that are doubling down on local, to the greatest degree possible, and that’s going to create alternatives for advertisers. That distinction is going to come into sharper focus in the coming months.”

Warshaw said his company used this opportunity, the fact that they have large local staffs, to ratchet up the level of programming service to local our communities. “We knew that regardless of how we were impacted from a business standpoint this was a time that our communities really needed us. They needed to be told how things were going. They needed to be heard. Government officials needed a place to talk about how they thought things were going. We’re very glad we kept so many local programming people throughout the years because this was the time our licenses, our obligations, were really put to the test. If we had become less local over the years, we would have never been able to step up. We really believe that local is important. We really believe that our people are what makes us special and enables us to do the service and only as last resorts did we make personel cuts and we made them as shallow as we could.”

The Radio Show, produced by the RAB and NAB, continues today at 2:00pm Eastern.


  1. It is only natural that the big three and other ‘cluster’ owners forego the elements that make radio in general an effective and valued media. They have no other option. Their plan from the start was to consolidate to the max….station staff, service to the community, and minimize the creativity that made radio the powerful force it once was. But as Ray Charles put it in a song back in ’63, they’re now for the most part, ‘Busted’. ‘Broke’. ‘No bread’.

    What that plan did produce, was ‘smoke and mirrors’ radio.

    It worked for awhile, but the unforeseen emergence of the internet and satellite has greatly exposed this threadbare formula and even worse, has eroded radio’s relevance. How you gonna keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?

    Thusly, the big three cannot afford to advertise their stations, cannot offer lower rates competitive with other local media to accommodate and grow small business clients, and cannot afford to hire young broadcasters and train them. Radio no longer has a ‘farm system’ and to the chagrin of all of us…is rarely attracting the type of talent needed to innovate and advance broadcasting.

    Save for a few individuals, most people in the industry back in the 90’s failed to understand the long-term ramifications when rules were changed, permitting venture capital companies to gobble up hundreds of radio stations in markets of every size.

    The above poster is on target with his comments. Without local programming, radio in general will not again thrive as it once did. In some cases, it will not even survive. I managed three AM’s in three different towns over the last 25 years. All were stand alone. All competed with much bigger major market FM signals overshadowing our tiny footprint. Yet, all grew revenue. All were hyper local.

    Radio still works when an owner invests sufficient resources to serve the community and their clients. The corporates understand that concept, but cannot deliver. They no longer have the resources.

    Congrats to the independent station owners who still do it the right way. Your communities are most blessed to have you.

  2. My memory is that back in the 90’s Jeff Warshaw advised the two banks who were financing the privatization of Clear Channel not to go forward with the deal.
    There are 3 high schools in the home county of one of our stations. As anyone who works in small market radio knows, high school sports can be a gold mine if done well. Five years ago I heart controlled the rights for all three schools. Several years ago, they fired staff and fumbled the broadcasts at one of the schools. We took over mid-season at the request of the school. February they cleaned house again, abandoning basketball coverage of the other large school. We were able to negotiate rights with that school–now on air with broadcasts of that school’s contests on an AM we’re acquiring. And with our help, the other cluster in the market grabbed the rights at the third school.
    The “hub and spoke” programming scheme is yet another way to lose money. Radio’s key to survival is local programming.


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