The unhealthy state of radio in 2009

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Posted by Brewer on December 31, 2009 at 22:53:37:

From Cuprisin in Milwaukee since we don't have one of our own here to write a year-end column..

OnMedia: The unhealthy state of radio in 2009
Big salaries for big names are becoming as old-fashioned as this transistor radio.

It's not news to say that the radio business is a mess.

Consolidation of radio stations into the hands of a few major corporations means that the short-term bottom line is driving decisions. Add to that the general economic situation, which has hit radio advertising hard. Then there's the technological revolution that's affecting all media. For radio, there are increasing listening alternatives, from iPods to satellite radio to the Internet.

The latest whammy hits Milwaukee in the second half of 2010, when a new ratings system from Arbitron, the Portable People Meter, begins measuring listening in this market.

You can look southward to Chicago, the nation's third largest radio market, to get a measure of the possible impact of what's designed to be a more accurate way for Arbitron to measure the listening audience so advertisers have a better idea of what their dollars will buy them.

The most recent victim of changing times in Chicago radio was Jonathon Brandmeier, who got his start in radio in his native Fond du Lac back in the 1970s. He was canned by Chicago's WLUP-FM last month, the victim of a big salary and ratings that no longer justify the expense.

Late last year, Steve Dahl was fired from Chicago's WCKG-FM, thanks to numbers measured by the people meters, WGN-AM (720) dumped mid-day veterans Kathy O'Malley and Judy Markey earlier this year in a bid to bring in younger male listeners, and other big Chicago radio names have reportedly accepted cuts in their big salaries to keep their jobs.

On the national level, Howard Stern had money thrown at him to jump from terrestrial radio to Sirius Satellite Radio -- reportedly $500 million in cash and stock. His contract is up next year and he's talking about walking -- which is probably a tactical move. But he's likely to have to accept a smaller salary and he's likely to stay at Sirius, since he doesn't have the value that he had in 2006. As for a return to terrestrial radio, the syndication money that existed just a couple years ago would be harder to put together to recreate his network of traditional radio stations.

As happens ever year, Milwaukee radio lost a couple familiar names this year. Morning veteran Jane Matenaer was axed by WMYX-FM (99.1), and Phil Cianciola was dumped from his supporting role on Jonathan Green's WTMJ-AM (620) afternoon.

There aren't a lot of radio opportunities for veterans like Matenaer and Cianciola these days. And there's a strong possibility that the ranks of the unemployed veterans will grow in 2010, especially after the new measuring system hits.

Cianciola's trying a route pioneered by Chicago's Dahl, trying to keep his radio voice alive via podcast (Cianciola's is hosted by That's a very personal way to link personalities with their audience, but there's no proof yet that it can sustain itself through advertising.

As for the commercial radio business, its long-term survival will have to mean a rediscovery of the concept of local radio.

Music's available from an expanding number of sources, but a strong, local personality is necessary to connect with the audience.

If the new ratings system means an end to some of the familiar local voices in Milwaukee, it will make it even harder for stations here to rise above all the competing noise.

Loads of "Community": NBC offers four back-to-back episodes of "Community," starting at 7 tonight on Channel 4.

In a week filled with reruns, here's a chance to get hooked on the funny sitcom created by ComedySportz veteran Dan Harmon and featuring Marquette alum Danny Pudi.

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