Thursday, November 16, 2006

Clearance Sale

Big radio news today: Broadcast behemoth Clear Channel, the nation's largest radio owner, is selling out to a private equity firm. It will also sell off almost 40 percent of its radio stations and all of its TV stations. The sale of the company itself wasn't necessarily a surprise--it's been up for sale for a month. Neither is it news that they'd sell off some stations. The scale of its station sale--every last one it owns outside of the nation's top 100 radio markets--is what's surprising. The company says the 448 stations it will sell accounted for less than 10 percent of its revenue last year. So you wonder why the company wanted them in the first place. It's as if the nation's radio landscape were a floor covered with money, but they were being just as diligent in picking up the change as they were in grabbing the $50 bills. Nevertheless, 448 stations is a lot to shed at one time.

The move may put a boatload of radio stations into the marketplace, but it doesn't necessarily mean I'll be able to go out and buy me one. Other major media companies are likely to snap up a lot of them, especially in the biggest markets, the ones in the low 100s of the market rankings. It's not known whether Clear Channel will sell the stations individually or put them up for sale in blocks--and what Clear Channel eventually decides to do will be important if it wants to keep the prices up in a suddenly glutted market.

My concern in all this is not for the corporate high rollers who are already unconscionably rich and will get richer as a result of it. I know some people who work for Clear Channel in markets that are going to be sold off. (Madison, market number 96, is apparently not among them.) I went through several station sales in my radio days, so I know that today has been an uncomfortable day for Clear Channel staffers, and today's only the first of many uncertain days to come. The thing about a sale is this: You always go into it hoping for the best, but you should never be surprised if the worst happens. I've had both. I've been through sales where the new company was a vast improvement over the old--and given some of the horror stories you hear about working for Clear Channel, lots of its employees are probably looking forward to a change. But I've also been through sales that went badly. I got fired as a result of one, albeit indirectly. Everybody in the biz knows somebody, or knows somebody who knows somebody, who got caught up in a mass execution on the first day of new ownership. It happens.

If you're a Clear Channel employee reading this, let us know what you're thinking. You can be anonymous in the comments. I'll never tell.


Post a Comment

<< Home