iHeartMedia is the biggest radio station owner in America, and continues to paint a very bleak picture of its ability to do business moving forward, calling into question the legitimacy of the entire radio industry in an ever-changing media market.
American music radio as it is currently constructed will implode, and likely in the next 12 to 18 months. No amount of headlines and recent news should be needed to influence anyone’s opinion on that. If you’ve been paying attention to the quarterly numbers of America’s two largest radio station owners, you would know this already.
“Country Weekly” started in 1994 as a country music lifestyle magazine that ran interviews with stars and covered news from around the genre. In 2014, Cumulus purchased 50% of the magazine in a partnership with it’s owners American Media and eventually relaunched as “NASH Country Weekly.” And in typical corporate takeover fashion, Cumulus is now gutting the publication.
The two largest radio station owners in the United States—iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel) and Cumulus Media—both have billions in debt, are both looking to restructure that debt to avoid bankruptcy or default, and are both dealing with dwindling profitability. Even when the companies are able to post strong quarterly earnings, the interest on the debt they owe makes it impossible to see a way forward.
Cumulus Media’s VP Admits Country Can’t Be Delineated from Pop — Wants to Bring Taylor Swift Back to Country
“You don’t know these artists. You’re just listening to just a few hooks of their songs,” John Dickey says. “You tell me what they are. Florida Georgia Line â€“ country, rock or pop? We can do Brantley Gilbert, Eric Church or Sam Hunt. You’re telling me Sam Hunt’s song is country? Today Country is successful because it’s co-oping other audiences into the format.
One of the big stories involving the back end of country music in 2014 has been the potential formation of a brand new radio format to give a home to the older artists quickly being shuffled off of mainstream radio in the movement towards youth. The big question that remains is how the new format for older country music could take shape.
One of the fundamental issues causing the rapid decline in country music has been the massive consolidation in the ownership of country music’s radio stations and other media outlets. As huge companies like Clear Channel & Cumulus lay off local workers to instill nationalized programming, country music becomes homogenized through matching playlists that lock out local and regional flavor.
If Cumulus Media and its CEO Lew Dickey have their way, in the coming years that big ‘N’ will be one of the most recognized brands in North America, especially if you’re a country music fan. The plans that Lew Dickey has for that big brown ‘N’ are ambitious to say the least, and look to permeate just about every segment of the consumer culture of the United States.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, Lousiville, KY classic country station 103.9 turned heads when it decided to switch from it’s traditional country format to “Garth, The Whole Garth, and Nothing But The Garth,” playing the 90’s country superstar on 24 hour rotation. GARTH-FM drew the curiosity of many, and the ire of some, including Garth’s legal team.
During a recent conversation with Billboard Magazine’s Rich Appel, Dickey says Scott Borchetta is aggressively looking to sign many of the artists that fall between NASH Icons’ 25-year artist window, including but not limited to Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson. “I would look for Scott to make an announcement in the next 30 days,” Lew says.
Envision a day where all the current Top 40 country that classic country fans are incensed over is segregated into its own autonomous format, with its own radio stations, and potentially even its own awards, special events and festivals. And the same could happen for classic country. It could have it’s own place to not forget the past, and respect the roots of the genre.
Announced late Tuesday, NASH Icons, a takeoff on Cumulus’ already-established nationally-syndicated NASH brand, is a partnership with the Big Machine Label Group for the purpose of taking old and new music from artists “of the past 25 years” and giving its own place to live. Though no specific artists to be featured have been detailed yet, the idea seems to encompass music….
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 faces increasing competition from new technologies. And then there is the radio industry’s biggest problem: Conservative talk radio.
2014 is turning out to be the year of the celebrity crotch sniffer in country music. The word is out that country is fertile ground for advertisers and is a fast-rising subject in popular culture, so interlopers and carpetbaggers are rolling out the red carpet for country all over the place, and it’s getting quite stupid. People Magazine has just launched their own dedicated country music website.
the simple fact remains, radio is still the most widely used format for music listeners, confirmed by a new study by Edison Research. And even more importantly, radio is where listeners go to discover new music. 75% of listeners use radio to keep up-to-date with music, while only 20% use SiriusXM, and only 18% use Spotify. Radio’s days might be numbered, but right now, it still rules the roost.
This year at the Country Radio Seminar, Larry Rosin of Edison Research was once again sounding the warning bells about the viability of country music on the radio moving forward in the face of rapid consolidation, the evaporation of local and live programming, and the emergence of new technologies and services competing with radio like Spotify and smart phones.
Cumulus Media is #2 on the radio ownership totem pole, and to attempt to hopscotch their rival Clear Channel, they are planning massive expenditures, acquisitions, and ventures to push the recognition of their big country music brand: “NASH”. To say their plans are expansive is an understatement, and it includes numerous consumer products, including paint, clothing, and furniture.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, just like the great American eagle and the mighty Soviet bear staring each other down and belligerently stockpiling armaments to intimidate one another, the two titans of American radio, Clear Channel and Cumulus Media, have entered a no-holds-barred arms race with country music as the platform, with the ultimate prize being you…
Clear Channel, the largest radio provider in the US, just struck a massive deal with CMT, a division of Viacom, to create national country music programming to be distributed across 125 country radio stations owned by Clear Channel, as well as some digital and television platforms. The move is meant to match a similar national syndicated format created by the second-biggest radio provider in the US, Cumulus.