Conservative Talk Could Kill Country Radio’s Big Plans

April 8, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Podcasting/Radio  //  45 Comments

rush-limbaughOne of the big behind-the-scenes/industry stories in country music in 2014 has been the formation of gargantuan media partnerships in an attempt to make huge cross-format monopolies consisting of radio, television, online, print, and streaming content that will create a favorable environment for big advertisers looking to tap into country’s lucrative consumer demographics. Anchored by America’s two biggest radio station owners—Clear Channel & Cumulus—the country music media landscape is being reorganized like never before. The New York Times recently ran a story focusing to the Cumulus side of things, while calling country “one of radio’s biggest success stories over the last decade” as the genre gets younger and loses its hayseed image.

But there is a problem. And it’s a big one, for both Clear Channel, Cumulus, and many of their smaller competitors.

Radio is losing money, and losing money at an alarming, unsustainable pace. The problem for American radio is many fold, and has partly to do with some company’s strategies amongst massive red ink and increasing debt to cut costs by slashing labor and nationalizing programming; a strategy that is creating a disconnect with American listeners as streaming options become more prevalent, according to media research company Edison Research.

Though country has been lucrative for the radio business in some respects, and this is the reason media is betting big on country for its future, it may be too little, too late, as debt mounts, credit ratings get slashed, and radio, despite its continued dominance in the marketplace as a whole, faces increasing competition from new technologies.

And then there is the radio industry’s biggest problem: Conservative talk radio.

cumulus-mediaThough the New York Times portrayal of the new Cumulus mega media beehive seemed to be one of forward-thinking and fat times amidst country’s rising popularity, the fact is Cumulus, its chief rival Clear Channel, and many other smaller radio-based media companies are in a very bad way right now because conservative talk radio—the previous cash cow of the business—is in an absolute tailspin, making many of these media giants not just bleed money, but hemorrhage it, as radio ratings are nose diving right and left.

In one year, Cumulus Media’s revenue has fallen an astounding 87.4%, from roughly $56 million a quarter to $7.4 million year over year. TheStreet.com gives Cumulus a ‘C – ‘ rating, and the stock has “significantly underperformed” compared to its peers on the S&P 500.

A lot of the blame for the disappearing revenue is being given to the decision of conservative talk personality Sean Hannity to switch from Cumulus to rival Clear Channel. This swing has caused many of Cumulus’ biggest stations to see a plummet in ratings. Replacements like Gov. Mike Huckabee and Geraldo Rivera didn’t pan out, and it has put the company on a path to insolvency.

The Cumulus ratings problems aren’t just with conservative talk though. The company is seeing ratings drop in virtually all of their major, important markets and across all formats of radio, including some key country music stations. A recent breakdown of Cumulus’ ratings woes paints just how broad the company’s ratings issue is, including their Nashville-based country station that has seen a ratings slip of 45% in the last year.

  • WABC/NY down 44%
  • KABC/LA down 52%
  • WLS/CHI down 57%
  • KGO/SF down 58%
  • KSFO/SF down 38%
  • WBAP/DAL down 32%
  • WLS-FM/CHI (Classic Hits) down 45.9%
  • KLOS-FM/LA (Classic Rock) down 24.6%
  • WGVX-FM/MN (Sports) down 80.8%
  • WKDF-FM/Nashville (Country) down 45.2%
  • WDVD-FM/Detroit (Hot Adult Contemporary) down 38.3%
  • KBEE-FM/SLC (Hot Adult Contemporary) down 50%

With huge plans from Cumulus chief Lew Dickey to create a country music media empire under the “NASH” brand—scheduled to include a takeover of Country Weekly Magazine, and the marketing of everything from food, paint, furniture, and clothing with their NASH emblem, the economic realities beg the question of how the company will have the financial flexibility to pull off such a feat, especially when country itself has proved to not be immune to the company’s downturn. Cumulus is also not as insulated to the upcoming technology paradigm as its rival Clear Channel who has their iHeartRadio streaming app to fall back on.

clear-channelBut Clear Channel has a big problem too, to the tune of $300+ million quarterly losses, and $4.2 billion in debt on their own balance sheets. And once again, the root of the problem can be traced back to conservative talk radio, and specifically Rush Limbaugh. In fact Rush Limbaugh is so big, the flight of sponsors from his show is affecting both Clear Channel & Cumulus, who both carry the conservative talk juggernaut, as do many other smaller companies and independent stations.

Lew Dickey of Cumulus directly blamed Rush Limbaugh for the loss of “millions” last year, though the controversy cited for spurning the Cumulus revenue calamity was a brushup between Rush and Sandra Fluke which happened way back in February of 2012. Limbaugh is carried on 40 Cumulus-owned channels and the company said in May of 2013 that 48 of the top 50 radio advertisers in the country won’t work with Rush Limbaugh, or Sean Hannity. Meanwhile Rush’s massive, $400 million contract is still on the books until 2016, symbolizing the commitment radio has made to conservative talk, and how unwieldy and difficult it will be to unravel itself from it.

But as bad as Rush Limbaugh is for Cumulus, it’s worse for Clear Channel where the majority of Rush’s affiliates are found.

Clear Channel’s conundrum is even more daunting according to a recent Bloomberg report because their backs are against the wall financially. Clear Channel has lost money in every single quarter since its buyout in 2008 by Bain Captial and Thomas H. Lee Partners. In December of 2013, Clear Channel rolled its debt into a new term loan by offering more than double the interest rate so the company would get three more years to turn around their revenue woes. What that means is Clear Channel is now spending even more money each year on loan interest, roughly $1.58 billion dollars, and interest expenses have surpassed the company’s operating income.

So what does all this mean for country music?

With the big companies that serve country music listeners betting big on country as the next big thing, but at the same time facing mounting debt, anemic revenue, and loans coming due, the entire thing could topple and create a scenario where the huge media companies are not coagulating around the cause of country music, but being liquidated and broken up in the face of bankruptcies and reorganizations.

What makes the prospects look even worse is that these big companies are fighting over each other for the same consumer dollars, setting up a scenario where they not only have to battle for attention with new digital media, but with each other. Undoubtedly one of the reasons for the sharp decline in ratings of the Cumulus country station in Nashville is because Clear Channel has stationed their big radio personality Bobby Bones in the same city. Similar scenarios are playing out across the country, with the two companies cannibalizing each other over the same listeners.

Or the big bet on country music could pay off because of the rising interest in the genre, and just as conservative talk radio became the golden goose for radio in the 90’s, so could country radio be in the coming years.

Though with the rise of streaming media, the elimination of radios in some new cars, and the implosion of conservative talk radio creating a difficult economic environment, the bet on country music is one that’s certainly risky, with the destiny of mainstream country music now intimately intertwined with the fortunes of a few big companies with questionable futures.

45 Comments to “Conservative Talk Could Kill Country Radio’s Big Plans”

  • I wonder how the overlap between the conservative talk radio audience and the country music fan base plays into this. If conservative talk radio fades, many of the AM talk stations could be replaced with country music stations. I assume that a disproportionate share of the talk radio audience consists of middle-aged and older Southerners, who would probably prefer traditional country music to modern country.

    I guess we should await the AM traditional country boom. Maybe then the words to Jason Eady’s song “AM Country Heaven” will actually come true.


    • One of the things going on in conservative talk radio right now is Rush and others are getting relegated to lesser stations, sometimes will smaller signals, or that don’t have the type of infrastructure or staff to make them a major player in a market. Really they’re going where the last bastion of classic country stations still reside, which is buried on the AM dial. This may create competition between the two formats.


      • Rush getting relegated to smaller stations? Hmmm… I just looked at the stations that carry Rush in NY, Chicago, LA, Houston, Indianapolis, Atlanta, etc. They are all major, powerhouse stations.


        • In numerous stories I read on this subject, multiple instances were cited where Rush and Hannity were being moved to smaller, less prominent stations. I don’t profess myself a radio expert, I was just parroting what other writers who cover the industry more intimately were saying. Naming any specific station or market might be anecdotal, but I know there has been talk, for example, of moving Rush from his flagship station in New York, WABC, to a smaller rival WOR (710 AM). Hannity might be moving there as well.


    • I think traditional country listeners (e.g. fans of George Strait, Alan Jackson, etc) tend to be the most conservative listeners.

      I think there is significant overlap between country radio listeners and conservative talk radio listeners, but the overlap is decreasing with the shift towards country pop and country rap. Today’s mainstream country appeals more to young listeners, who are unlikely to listen to conservative talk radio. I’d guess that most of Limbaugh’s audience is over 40. Based on the callers I hear on his show, I’d guess that many of his listeners are southerners or rural residents.

      You know, I used to switch between conservative talk radio and the local country station while commuting, but I turned off the “country” station around 2010 because more than half of the songs they were playing were un-listenable.


  • Wow. You just described my town. We do reside on the AM dial.

    What a well written and researched article.


  • Okay, man.. I’m REALLY not trying to stir politics or any other pot, everything I type here is purely out of curiosity and hopefully in accordance with your site policies…

    I have done a few searches and turned up squat on what is causing the conservative talk format to fail. I saw you mention that Rush etc. are being broadcast on smaller stations, but that has to be the outcome of something driving listeners away? Is radio in general a dying format? Are people either not interested in politics, or at least in conservative politics anymore?

    For those not familiar, conservative hosts, especially Rush Limbaugh, are very trusted sources of information to their audience. Anything they say is gospel, anything they advertise is a hit. I hadn’t thought about it, but it makes total sense that those guys are the ones pulling the weight for CC. It does make me wonder where their audience is going.

    Does I Heart Radio falsely hurt the ratings any? Or any stream as opposed to the AM dial?


    • These are good questions Nick. Though it appears the listeners for these conservative talk shows are declining, the big issue seems to be that Cumulus and Clear Channel can’t find big money sponsors for their shows anymore. So even if their listenership is strong, if the parent company can’t make money off of them, they’re going to drop or move them. The loss of listeners might be because they’re putting these shows on smaller stations. Then the bigger stations have to feature something, but it may not be as popular as Rush or Hannity, and so their ratings suffer too, despite being more favorable from sponsors. I still think Rush has a huge following, but the ability for Cumulus and Clear Channel to make money off of them is the big issue.


    • My guess is that talk radio used to be the sole place you could get conservative opinion, unless you lived in a city with a conservative newspaper or you took the trouble to subscribe to newletters/magazines etc. Now you have Fox News and the internet.


  • There are multiple angles to approach this, but I think one of the main trends we are seeing is that many who identify as right-of-center on the political spectrum have been increasingly envying, especially after the 2012 election, the immense influence the likes of left-of-center blogging communities/coalitions like DailyKos and Firedoglake have become in building a movement and directly influencing the political landscape.

    Up until this point, political strategists who identify as more right-of-center have not entirely, but nonetheless comparatively, relied on more traditional, arguably antiquated to varying degrees, means of grassroots organizing and mobilizing the vote turnout. AM radio is a core example of this, and it can also be argued the still powerful Fox News Network has nonetheless left in its wake an air of complacency and ennui that comes with the echo chamber.

    I realize I’ve been teetering on a shaky tightrope avoiding leaning too far into the political here, but here’s my sticking point. Though corporate “country” lyricism has been decidedly more apolitical as of late (i.e. numerous artists saying music is all about forgetting about all the problems in the world, letting your hair down and partying), not too long ago many songs took a confrontational charge with the rural vs. urban binary in castigating city slickers as crime-ridden, devoid of morals and character, detached from their roots and jaded. And, of course, contemporary ideology and political beliefs have also reinforced this rural vs. urban culture war binary. And whether it be listening to a corporate country song that extolled rural superiority and/or Southern pride over urban inferiority/decay, or diatribes from rural politicians over how government has abandoned farming communities and have usurped the heartland, both elicit visceral “Hell yeah!” responses.

    Thus, tragically, as disillusionment and ennui has engulfed a sizable number of those who have longtime right-of-center AM radio listeners who are certainly not guaranteed, but nonetheless more likely than average, to listen to country radio as well, or vice-versa……………as throngs of longtime listeners have tuned out to one, so have they the other.

    Moreover, some feel the urgent need to play catch-up with the left-of-center digital blogosphere/digital grassroots infrastructure epitomized by DailyKos, and have abjectly abandoned the AM radio medium altogether. Thus far, the likes of RedState and Power Line have aimed to close the divide, but in terms of traffic analytics, they still lag well behind: much like the country genre as a whole is lagging behind most any other genre in terms of streaming and YouTube (for better or worse) and may be clamoring to catch up.

    I for one don’t miss the comparatively more politically-charged Music Row fodder from the greater part of the previous decade. Still, I live for the day we see a renaissance of descriptive lyricism and emotional weight to songwriting on Music Row again (as opposed to beyond it in the broader country landscape)


    • I like what Hank 3 said…most musicians, including his dad, are “not worthy” of a political discussion. When asked about his own political views in the same interview, Williams mentioned that he’s a musician, not a politician.

      Songs like “Outfit” and “Can’t Cash my Checks” are great examples of the plight of the working man, the “southern thing”, and the state of the human condition. And they don’t call anyone out, exploit veterans, or disparage anyone or any group of people.

      I like listening to politics about as much as listening to pop country or smooth jazz.


      • I’ve always felt like music and politics mix as well as oil and water, and that is why I try to refrain from ever mentioning politics unless it is specifically germane to a topic and generally innert like this one is. Even when I may agree what a musician is saying politically (which is very rare), I hate to hear it. I listen to music to get away from the polarizing discourse that has gripped our country, and the world in a do-nothing state of constant gridlock and stalemate.


    • I agree with you about DailyKos. They played a huge role in the 2008 and 2012 elections and IMO (mine only) have a huge role in democratic primaries. I haven’t seen the influence as much on the other side except in radio (as you point out). The Daily Beast is some what there.

      Back to music….


    • I understand why some will want to look for a political dynamic in these trends, but honestly, I really don’t see one. I just think it is more of a symptom of the rising and falling trends of popular appeal in culture. There may be some overlap between classic country, mainstream country, and conservative talk, so it may effect these trends around the margins. But it could just as well be sports talk faltering, and rock music on the rise.

      Though the whole flag-waving trend became a stereotype for country during the 2000’s, even Toby Keith is a professed democrat. Apparently Tim McGraw and Faith Hill are democrats. So though country has a stereotype of being conservative, when it comes to many of the artists, the political representation is right down the middle.

      The one thing that country music could learn from the fall of conservative talk radio as country rises is that all this stuff is cyclical. Though every single media outlet under the sun right now is trying to get into the country game, including People Magazine and Rolling Stone, there’s no guarantee it will be this way forever, or that there is enough pieces of the pie to dole out one to everyone. At some point, popular country will fall out of favor too, and the entities that understand this will be the ones that survive.


      • Yeah, country music certainly isn’t some hotbed of conservatism when you think about it. Toby Keith isn’t a Republican, liked both McCain and Obama in 2008 and opposed the Iraq War, and in his bar chain guns aren’t allowed. Brad Paisley is a moderate, Carrie Underwood supports gay marriage, McGraw/Hill are Democrats, and Taylor Swift has played both sides. I can’t really think of a single major act right now that is conservative, really, or liberal for that matter. Most of the political singers/bands (Hank Jr, John Rich) just aren’t that big anymore.


  • WOW….the conclusions in this article I do not think are honest. First of all siting a Bloomberg post as your source? Yeah cause Bloomberg is so known for honesty and integrity in the media virtual-space. And it doesn’t lean LEFT or anything. I just don’t see Sean Hannity being the reason that Cumulus has lost its ratings. Lets not pour our research into the heart of the problem. Shitty Country Music. The genre doesn’t have a “growing popularity” and research would show you just that! 13 percent of the market that normally buys Country Music are the ones spending money on CM and listening to the Radio. That is a bleak number when you consider the fan base of Country Music existing with 93 million fans! and in the late 80’s early 90’s 87.2% of that market WAS BUYING. Seems kinda dismal don’t you think? Sure 13% represents about 11.7 million fans in the market, but they are impulsive living on Daddy’s money teenage girls who are downloading. What does the genre expect when it was a genre for the late 20’s to mid 60’s demographic who the majority grew up on “Here In The Real World” and “1982”. You think your gonna persuade that faction of the market to buy COUNTRY RAP CRAP??? I don’t think so! They will never open their wallets for what’s on the radio today. NEVER. So if you ask me, the problem (civil war) within country exists in itself….NOT the fact that Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh lost their freakin’ advertisers on CUMULUS! GOOD GREIF!!


    • Troy,

      Though Michael Bloomberg may be left leaning, and his periodical may follow suit, the statics cited in this article and by Bloomberg are FACTS given by a reputable business journal that would not be longed for this world if they published things that were untrue. Also, Bloomberg was the specific source I cited, but those same facts were published in MANY different business publications, and were simply parroted by reporters reading off FACTS that must be reported by the businesses involved to insure fair trade practices in the business markets.

      ” I just don’t see Sean Hannity being the reason that Cumulus has lost its ratings.”

      That is what Cumulus is saying, not what I’m saying. Maybe it’s an excuse, but Cumulus and many other industry experts are citing it specifically. Something has to go into this decline, and though in my heart I would love to believe that it is because country music is so bad—and that certainly may be a factor—expert after expert after study and statistical fact says the money is drying up in conservative talk, and this is the underlying problem.

      Also, that 87.4% number is not country music sales, that is revenue from radio advertisers giving their money (or not giving their money) to Cumulus. Those two issues need to be divested from each other.


  • My guess is that Conservatives are finally realizing that America has gone to Hell in a hand basket, just like Country Music, and are giving up hope.


  • The next generation won’t care much about politics at all. While I think hosts like Limbaugh and Hannity are just spewing talking points for the RNC, their listeners do tend to be more educated and in higher income brackets. We are dumbing-down so fast, and it is painfully obvious. A Kardashian will probably be the number one political talk host within the next decade.
    Very well researched and written piece, Trigger. Spot on.


    • That is an interesting thought, but I want to say I read an article that found that the majority listenership of these programs was the opposite of what you describe. I would say they do tend to be older which may cause some competition for ears with country radio. They are typically older as I think the majority of younger people from any political view are getting their content elsewhere.


    • I agree. In regard to politics, I think one of the few positive signs I’ve seen in the past several years is that young people are largely ignoring politicians and both political parties. Of course, this means that they are probably spending more time watching porn, football, and reality t.v., but at least they aren’t taking our sham elections seriously, and placing their hope in liars and thieves. Also, there has been a significant increase in the number of parents pulling their kids out of government schools of indoctrination, and either homeschooling or finding private school alternatives.


      • “Also, there has been a significant increase in the number of parents pulling their kids out of government schools of indoctrination, and either homeschooling or finding private school alternatives.”

        I don’t see how this is relevant to the comments you were making about politicians. Are you implying that teachers are “liars and thieves” as well?


        • Public schools are a political battleground. They are a workshop for far-left social tinkering and indoctrination. But they also exist to inculcate the dangerous lie of “American Exceptionalism” and blind adherence to the federal government. Judging by parents that I know and statistics on the huge increases in homeschooling and private/parochial enrollment, parents are sick and tired and are removing their kids from the gulag. It relates to my prior point, because it is one of the few positive trends I have seen from a national political perspective, education having been politicized by the creation of the Department of Education under Carter, and its affirmation under Reagan.


    • I think that is a good point. Maybe it is a combination of changing demographic, plus–I think–a perception that the political climate is ‘settling down’. I mean, how many days in a row can even the most fervent conservative sit there and hear ‘obamacare, obamacare, obamacare, obamacare, obamacare’. They need a new whipping boy.

      Whenever there is a big crisis conservative talk radio listenership goes up, I bet. The election is coming up. That should help.

      It beats me all to hell what radio should do. 10 years ago I laughed at a co-worker who was quitting to open a tobacco store. A tobacco store? With all the regulations coming against smoking? Needless to say he made a killing, selling tubes of death. Not sure who the joke is on, though. Cough, cough.


  • This is an interesting analysis.

    I don’t listen to the radio, voluntarily at least.

    When I am in a store or restaurant or someone else’s care, I hear it but I really don’t listen to it.

    I have a pretty outlandish music collection, and I would rather listen to it.

    I also don’t pay attention to radio ratings, but I would be surprised if other high ratings shows like Opie and Anthony and Howard Stern didn’t have a similar impact on country music radio stations.

    Seeing Music Row and the Big Music industry squeezed doesn’t trouble me greatly, because I don’t view them as consistent purveyors of good product.

    The advent of the Internet and personal computers may well facilitate the demise of radio, as it has certainly done to some extent to print media.


  • I live in AM land. Talk radio blathers and foams at the mouth every afternoon.

    While the political pundits carry on every day about no one listening to the POTUS, we are not listening to them either.

    Most of us couldn’t give a fat rat’s clacker about all of the finger pointing.

    We wish Congress would shut their north and south. Talk radio has lost its’ punch where elections are concerned.

    We like Country music here. I guess they’ll have to change their afternoon programming.

    I would rather listen to FGL than the pundits. The pundits have made a real dog’s breakfast out of radio.


  • Screw the politics. I’ll focus on the bigger picture of Clear Channel & Cumulus & their financial woes. It’s interesting how the homogenization of radio stations mirrors the homogenization of country music radio formatting. The one size fits all nationally programmed country music radio station parallels all the freakin tailgating down by the river in the jacked up Chevy fryin catfish after skinny dippin in the moonlight. Shocked these ass clowns are loosing money. The content truly sucks. And the sucky content can be played by a 7 year old from a smart phone via bluetooth on the car radio before the seat belt alarm goes off. Bankruptcy for Clear Channel and/or Cumulus is the only way to save mainstream country music. And I’m not sure that even matters


    • Radio made a big bet on one or two huge personalities in the 90’s in conservative talk, and for years it paid off for them. But the fall of conservative talk, and the parallel fall of radio proves that when you put all of your eggs in one basket, it can be a big risk, and your entire industry can fall with trends you have no control over.

      Now think about what Clear Channel is doing with Bobby Bones. Just like Rush Limbaugh, they have put him in virtually every country station they own. And just like Rush, he’s volatile, and fair or not, apt to make public mistakes that could result in a backlash from advertisers. We’ve already seen him make big, public mistakes with Kacey Musgraves Chris Young, and others. Same thing happened with Stern until he moved to satellite to get away from advertiser volatility.


  • Great article Trigger!


  • Ok, so I’ve been thinking about his article for a full 24 hr now. As someone who spends a fair amount of time listening to both (non radio) country music and AM talk, it’s of high interest to me.

    Our local CC AM station features Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity five days a week. There is really no need to market them, everyone knows what it’s about. Listening to them, they all advertise for basically the same few companies. Problem with that is, if you didn’t buy it from Rush, you’re not buying it from Sean either. Essentially spending 3x as much as you should for the ad, assuming a large carryover of listeners from one host to the next. Add to that the fact that they’ve all been advertising the same companies for years and years on end with little change up. Bottom line, we know where to go of we want to buy gold, online cloud backup, or discount window blinds by now.

    I would guess that many companies nowadays are shying away from any controversy that being a part of that environment could bring to their business. Or that they see the few loyal companies willing to fork over millions on those ad slots with little to no bump in revenue as a result.

    As far as CC is concerned, I guess they’re still selling the ad spot regardless…


    • No, I think Clear Channel sees this as a huge problem. As Cumulus said, 48 of the biggest 50 advertisers won’t work with them. You also have local advertisers who may be hesitant. Then you have open boycotts going on, not only of Rush and others, but the products they advertise. How effective the boycotts are is anyone’s guess, because they consist mostly of politicos who may not buy those products anyway, but all of this combines to a huge revenue dilemma for these radio companies.


  • What I’m still confused about is why Clear Channel thinks their streaming service, iHeartradio will save their profits. Neither Pandora nor Spotify, the leaders in music streaming, are breaking even. Pandora posts quarterly losses in the millions every quarter and Spotify lost $78 million dollars in 2012, up from $60 mil. in 2011.

    The reason Pandora proposed a bill to Congress to reduce their royalty payments to artists was so they could finally be profitable. Until that bill is passed, and it might not get passed, Pandora may never make a profit.


    • I agree. But for years Amazon, YouTube, and other internet companies were significantly in the red, and now they’re considered Blue Chips. That is the bet people are taking with Pandora and Spotify. But iHeart is still tied to radio. Just like country music, it may be profitable, but if the entire rest of the company is going down the tubes, what does it matter? I will say I was surprised when I posted my recent article on how radio still holds a majority of the market that IHeartRadio had as big of a share as it did, above Spotify in some measurements.



  • Thanks for responding Trig!

    But, Youtube makes money by playing a 15 to 30 second commercial before every video AND displaying banner adds AND selling featured video space. Pandora and Spotify don’t do nearly as much advertising and people wouldn’t use their services if they played a commercial every two songs. Amazon makes money by also selling physical goods, not just relying on ads. Plus, didn’t Spotify just expand the features available in their free package? Without paying subscribers, these streaming companies don’t even approach profit. How can a company with as much debt as Clear Channel think streaming is the way to get out of the red?


  • The more I read, the more it looks to me that satellite Big Country stations flopping wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

    It won’t have any impact on the kind of music, and the artists, I listen to.

    I don’t like it when artists try to be icons (or outlaws) instead of trying to write and play quality music.

    Willie Nelson is an icon, an outlaw and a celebrity, but he didn’t set out to achieve any of those labels.

    He just did what he knew how to do with a deep love and respect for the music and for his fans.

    Some other very genuine and authentic artists become icons as a result of their output, which follows the natural order of things so to speak.

    I don’t care to see or hear 20 Nashville Music Row singers who all aspire to be the next Kenny Chesney playing stadiums amidst pyrotechnic displays, but that is pretty much what I see on the horizon today (certainly in Nashville).

    I also don’t care to see artists declaring themselves to be outlaws, pushing their pick-up trucks in the lake, etc.

    The more I think about it, I wouldn’t mind seeing both of these satellite channels go the way of Newsweek.


    • Dang.. Newsweek! I forgot all about that!


  • “I’ve always felt like music and politics mix as well as oil and water”


    … Wloody Guthrie, Dylan, Neil Young?

    go back a little …

    buddy can you spare a dime, the music of yip Harburg.

    Come on man, you can’t possibly be serious.


    • Yes, and all of those guys and many more cut their politics with subtly and illustration and that is what made them genius. I was talking more about Toby Keith or Hank Jr.’s last album.


    • Country music has always been largely apolitical, especially from the 1940s onward.


      • I prefer that artists leave most of their politics out of their art.

        I would exlcude some folk artists, like Woody, who were somewhat movement artists.

        I like Steve Earle and Jackson Browne a lot, but when they make political CDs, like Bocephus did (and apparently Toby Keith according to Trig), I generally take a pass on them.

        The irony is that many of our country artists were, at some point during their lives, felons and unable to vote.


  • “In one year, Cumulus Media’s revenue has fallen an astounding 87.4%, from roughly $56 million a quarter in 2013, to $7.4 million this year. ”

    First Quarter 2014 revenue won’t even be reported until the April 29th Conference call.
    Actual 2013 Revenues can be found here. http://yhoo.it/1n7qHwV


    • I worded that poorly. It should say “year over year.” The $7.4 million came from whatever the last quarter was to report. If it wasn’t the first quarter of 2014, then it would likely be the last quarter of 2013. Either way, it doesn’t look good.


      • Just a nit – I think that large year-over-year decline in revenue referenced is political revenue which indeed fell around 85% at clear channel in 2013. That isn’t advertising on Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow’s show it is ads paid by political candidates. The reasons for the sharp fall year-over-year of course is that 2012 was a Presidential Election year and there are very few 2013 elections.

        The bigger point remains correct – the burden at Clear Channel, and to a lesser extent at Cumulus – is their giant debt burden. The owners at Clear Channel are likely underwater so they are tempted to ‘swing for the fences’ to get the last extra $ of revenue so they can buy time and roll the debt. So you go all-in chasing (what I hope!) is a fad on Bro Country…gets you some earnings for a couple quarters that you can talk to your banks and kick the can down the road a bit longer.

        You can also see the share losses – Clear Channel’s radio revenue in 2013 was $3.1bn basically flat while Pandora’s revenue was up almost 50% to $640m from $400m the year prior. So basically in two years Pandora went from being 1/10 the size of Clear Channel to 1/5. Yes Pandora makes little money but it’s in a growth and investment phase. Pandora is also rapidly adding staff to get into the local radio market which has to be the highest margin segment of radio advertising which can only further pressure the giants (ie Coca Cola has a lot of leverage when it negotiates a national contract, your local car dealer has less clout).


  • Besides Rush Limbaugh’s advertiser woes enthusiasm for and interest in conservative talk radio took a huge hit when Obama was re-elected in November of 2012. Fans of conservative talk radio realized that either the election results were rigged and fraudulent (with Ohio and Pennsylvania being the most blatant examples) or concluded the majority of American voters were now government dependent imbeciles or politically ignorant dupes! In either case it meant the days of America as a Constitutional Republic were essentially over and trying to fight for and advance conservative political principles had become futile.

    As for Rush’s advertisers the Obama administration has made it clear how it feels about its political adversaries and how it will take actions to “teach them a lesson”. Can you blame large radio advertisers for not wanting to be on Obama’s “hit list” of political enemies for financially supporting Rush Limbaugh? Sheesh…


  • Whoaaaa Trigger!!! Slow yer horses just a bit…

    You know I’m a huge fan of your site and what you do, but it’s a stretch to lay the entire fate of country radio at “Conservative Talk Radio’s” feet. Like others commenting here, I will try to stay out of the political mudslinging, but your write-up is based on a red herring and suffers a bit from a lack of information.

    The main issue is that you’re basing your entire premise on a red herring the Dickey Bros created. You’ve cited Cumulus’ terrible numbers, such as: “in one year, Cumulus Media’s revenue has fallen an astounding 87.4%, from roughly $56 million a quarter to $7.4 million year over year” as well as direct quotes from the Dickey Bros (Lew and John, the owners of Cumulus) criticizing Limbaugh and Hannity as being non-profitable. Bottom line, the paramount reason behind the financial hole Cumulus finds itself in is simply this: Lew and John’s monumental mismanagement. Not conservative talk radio or any one host. To take the financial numbers or the Dickey’s comments at face value is ill-fated.

    First a little history… the Dickeys bought-out Citadel Radio two years ago for a sleek $2.4 BILLION dollars. Most of the stations Rush and Hannity were on under the Dickeys came AFTER the Citadel acquisition, including WABC in New York which was home to both Rush and Hannity. Before this acquisition, Cumulus basically focused on medium sized markets and smaller radio shows/hosts. Though they had big plans of taking over the world with the “Nash” emblem you mentioned, the weight of this massive buyout and the A-list talent they now had to work with, were a burden they were unprepared for. Your article makes no mention of this acquisition or the fact that the company *immediately* began drowning under the weight of this purchase.

    Now hemorrhaging money, and attempting to find a scapegoat for their new failing acquisition, what the Dickey’s did next was desperate and unexplainable: 1. they publicly attacked their own AIR TALENT, vowing to remove Rush & Hannity from the air and labeling them as divisive and unprofessional and 2. they attacked their own AUDIENCE, at one point labeling Rush/Hannity and their listeners as “too old”. THEN, in a massive head-scratcher, they signed Mike Huckabee, Geraldo Rivera and Michael Savage to extensive deals, completely ignoring the fact that Savage and Geraldo are in their 70’s, thus OLDER than Rush and Hannity. So as they were drowning, Lew and John then axed their two biggest hitters, insulted their listeners, and put terrible shows (with no audience) on the air to replace them. A bad formula for success. What was the point of the infighting? Was it simply so the Dickeys would have a scapegoat for their own failed decisions? Was it to destroy pillars of talk radio?? Was it so they could clear house? Was it something larger? Whatever the case, it’s a chief reason for the Cumulus death-spiral. Check out the following links which delve into the Dickey’s terrible management of the multi-billion dollar acquisition:


    Next is something you seem to not be aware of: the ratings for news/talk have NOT fallen off a cliff. Rush Limbaugh continues to have the largest radio audience of any program in the country at 14 to 25 million listeners per week (ranging from the lowest estimates to the highest, depending on who you trust). After the Sandra Fluke incident, when a few advertisers backed out, a slew of new advertisers flocked to take their spots on Rush’s program. There is no problem finding advertisers. To quote Lew Dickey saying “48 of the top 50 advertisers won’t buy on Rush” is a non-issue as Rush’s sponsors have historically been more from independent companies with niche marketing campaigns. Perhaps these are simply not the advertisers the Dickey Bros are interested in courting (especially if they were planning a vertically integrated world-takeover). Now I will grant you, there WAS a brief loss of audience shortly after the 2012 election, but this is ALWAYS the trend with talk radio stations POST-ELECTION CYCLE when everyone is tired of election coverage. Since then, contrary to the Dickey’s comments in 2013, the numbers have returned to normal levels and gone well beyond. Check out one of the latest Nielsen ratings surveys (from Feb 2014) showing News/Talk stations gaining share in virtually every market as opposed to 2013 averages. It also shows top 5 stations in major/large markets like Atlanta, Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington DC, Baltimore, Milwaukee, etc, etc. Note that many of these markets have MULTIPLE news/talk stations which further dilutes audience. The main point is: THE AUDIENCE FOR NEWS/TALK IS PLENTIFUL.


    As one quick sidebar to the conservative talk radio discussion, there was also an interesting behind-the-scenes war going on between the current administration and the Arbitron ratings system (since acquired by Nielsen) over the implementation of the PPM, or Portable People Meter. This new method of registering ratings digitally with a pager-sized device, is arguably more reliable than the old “diary” system. This PPM system was implemented back in 2008 and the Obama administration literally ran a behind-the-scenes campaign to get Arbitron to discard the PPM system altogether.

    WHY? Why would they fight to have the PPM thrown out??? The reason became apparent upon the VERY FIRST PPM rating released: the results showed the conservative News/Talk format gained in EVERY market, coming in first in many large and major markets, including at WABC in New York, where ratings increased almost 2 full shares during the daypart. The listenership was proven to be larger than previously thought. See the following:


    So anyway, my point is not to say that country radio won’t be effected by these companies’ bottom lines. It absolutely will. But to say these companies’ problems are only due to “conservative talk radio” is a red herring. There are MANY other contributing factors that have effected their financial situations. The talk format has not lost listenership or suffered from a lack of advertising. In the case of Cumulus, the Dickey’s mismanagement is the main issue. I point to your chart showing Cumulus’ loss of audience across *multiple* formats as solid proof of this.

    I submit that the financial insolvency both Clear Channel and Cumulus are heading toward is from the weight of massive acquisitions that never should’ve been made. These companies have over-extended themselves to the point they will never recover. I would also submit that radio’s largest problem is that they are “creating a disconnect with American listeners,” as you so perfectly put it in your piece, by destroying the local station serving local communities. AND, as far as the country format goes, I agree with Troy above who said it quite eloquently: shitty country music.

    Anyways, keep fighting the good fight, amigo!


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