I guarantee that my exit from the world of Cumulus will not spark some episode of Disgruntled Ex-Employee Syndrome, in which I obsess about how these people could ever live without me. I trust they will do fine. I know I will, and as I say often, more on that soon.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t weigh in on what the company does in my industry, or individual things a CEO says that are just silly. In fact, I may be an ideal voice for comment on such things, because I can now share my thoughts without risk. What are they going to do, fire me?
The quote in question comes from this story, in which Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey willfully energizes every Rush Limbaugh enemy by claiming that his company lost a couple of million dollars in each of the first two quarters of 2012 because of the lame advertiser boycott launched against Rush by haters who sought to chase him from the air because of the Sandra Fluke incident.
By his own admission, Dickey says the losses amounted to about one percent of total revenue, a sliver of money that might have been lost due to a number of things. It is impossible to assign the loss of two million out of 245 million to a single cause, especially when the economy is still sputtering and your company is withstanding the the fits and starts of gobbling up all of the formerly ABC-owned radio giants?
Unless it’s on purpose.
The narrative grows that Cumulus just doesn’t like Limbaugh. Even though he is a massive ratings magnet on most of the bigger stations they have just bought, they have chosen to float the Mike Huckabee show directly opposite Rush, running it on various stations they own, perhaps waiting for Rush contracts to lapse on their other stations so they can boot Limbaugh and run their own product.
There is a certain business logic to that, but one thing makes it ridiculous: we’re talking about the Limbaugh show here.
Rush is that rarest of syndicated shows, in that many stations pay-- a lot-- to carry him. Most network shows are provided for free, taking up some of their affiliate stations’ commercial time to sell network spots to make money.
Rush does this as well, but also asks a hefty fee, which he is able to do because the minute a station runs him, it runs the biggest radio talk show in the history of the world.
I’ve never heard of one station saying “damn, that Limbaugh fee is killing us.” Of course, I had never heard anyone complain about paying me, either. Coincidence?
I am a tiny matter compared to what Cumulus does with Rush, but the Dickey comments baselessly assigning a tiny revenue loss to the inept Limbaugh “boycott” make no sense unless there is an underlying agenda.
Why would a CEO empower a small band of hopped-up activists who live to harass the highest-impact radio show in America, which is carried on his own stations?
Look at the numbers. Cumulus owns just 38 of the 600-plus stations that air Limbaugh. Many of them are iconic titans like WABC in New York, WLS in Chicago, WJR in Detroit and WBAP in D/FW.
The Dickeys would not have put Mike Huckabee in front of the M1 Abrams tank of the Limbaugh show if they did not envision it as a rival. Adding to the fantasy of the “boycott” impact, Lew Dickey suggested the protests “put some wind in the sails” of the Huckabee push for affiliates.
It may well be that a few people in cubicles in Atlanta got jazzed about offering stations Huckabee as a gentler, tamer alternative to Rush, but that is a million miles away from having a show that actually slows the Limbaugh ratings and revenue locomotive.
The Huckabee show may do just fine, and I hope it does. Gov. Huckabee is a wonderful man and a valuable voice. But the media coverage asking if that show would become a threat to Rush was just absurd. So is a CEO trashing the most noteworthy show carried on any of his stations.
Unless, again, there is a Master Plan. I confess to a certain empathy for Huckabee here, who should be able to enjoy the reward of his rollout and any ripples his show makes, without feeling the hot breath of corporate voices who clearly pant at the prospect of him knocking Rush from the mountaintop.
That will not be happening.
I can understand if inattentive souls fail to grasp that boycotts and trumped-up controversies only add to Rush’s impact and ultimately his revenue. But when people in the radio business don’t get that? Wow.
And, of course, I would have said every word of the above even if I were not filling in for Rush next Monday, May 14.