Sunday, March 02, 2008

Radio Nowhere and Chris Core

Friday morning WMAL announcer Chris Core finished his airshift as he had for the past 33 years. Only this time management was there to tell him that he was dismissed, and was no longer employed by Citadel Broadcasting.

Now this isn't a new story in the world of radio, but let's look at this in the light of John Amos' essay "Radio Nowhere."

The crux of the essay was this: listeners long for air personalities they can identify with.

And Core had that in spades. I remember listening to him when he first came to Washington, and after 30+ years, he built up a rapport and credibility with the DC Metro audience that was invaluable -- save to the number crunchers at the parent corporation.

Citadel isn't doing anything new. When times get tough, many businesses let their oldest employees that draw the highest salary go first. Now if you're manufacturing widgets or involved in some other business that requires a minimal skill set perhaps that's feasible. I think for most companies, though, employees aren't interchangeable. There's a trade-off between experience and overhead.

Some jobs are better performed (which means done more economically) by experienced staff. Who would you rather have working on your vehicle? Someone who just graduated mechanic's school last week, or someone who's been taking cars apart and putting them together for 20 years?

How about surgery? A new surgeon's passed the same licensing requirements as a doctor who's been practicing for 30 years, so does it matter who cuts you open, really?

I remember the day the automation equipment arrived at the radio station I worked at. The owner was so excited because (and he said this in front of everyone there) now he could get rid of the biggest chunk of overhead -- the announcer's salaries. He made good his promise, and within two years the station's strong audience melted away, and all of the advertising revenue with it. He soon sold the station at a huge loss.

While there are tough decisions to be made, as Jerry Del Colliano has pointed out many times, a station's announcers are their assets. Those voices connect with the audience and build brand equity day in and day out. Every popular announcer like Chris Core that's let go simply lessens the station's chance to generate ad revenue by that much more.

And if you're in any doubt about the contempt radio corporations hold for their employees -- who they consider interchangeable anyway -- look at the method of firing. After 33 years at the same station, Chris Core did not know it was his last day until he was off the air. He was not allowed to say goodbye to his audience.

Who among us wouldn't have given this long-time employee and his audience an opportunity for some closure? Core is professional through and through, and there would have been no ugly ranting on his final program -- that's just not who he is. But corporate didn't know that, because they didn't know Chris Core, or any of the hundreds of Citadel air talent fired Friday across the country. Just another name to check off the list.

The local management at WMAL has allowed Chris Core to post a farewell message on their website, which shows that at least their hearts are in the right place.

But the damage is done. Citadel's shown they have nothing but contempt for their employees, and their actions show they feel the same about their listeners. They're assuming that the audience won't notice he's gone, and accept whatever cheaper programming they offer in his place.

John Amos wrote:
[Radio] will only survive by cultivating the human connection. Abandon that, and all you’ve got left is waves, bouncing off a satellite.
Citadel didn't value or care about Chris Core. As a result, good portion of his former listeners probably no longer care about WMAL. Now how does that affect the bottom line?

- Ralph


  1. I'd still like to know how much Core was paid. I'm sure a great deal of income came from his too many commercials that were constantly on his program.

  2. I'm sure his salary was very high. That's why he, and others like him at other Citadel stations, got the ax Friday.

    The heavy spot load is a plague on commercial radio, and not limited to Core's program -- while some of the revenue went to Core's salary, I'm willing to bet it wasn't the lion's share.

    For some time now radio's been overburdening their spot breaks, which is part of the reason listenership's declined. And it's also part of the reason advertisers have started going elsewhere. Who remembers the fourth spot in an eight commercial break?

    Core's value was his ability to deliver a significant and loyal audience to the advertisers, and part of it had to do with his longevity (it's that brand equity thing).

    The same people that decided that if four commercials in a break are good, then eight are better because they generate twice the revenue also decided that there was no difference between a realtively new announcer at low end of the salary scale and an experienced one at the high end.

    In both cases it shows a lack of understanding about how radio really works.