Clustered Radio Stations Accelerate Executive Turnover

Staff Reporter

Los Angeles established a first in 2003 by surpassing $1 billion in radio sales in a single year, but that didn't stop nearly half the stations in the market from making changes at the top.

Even in a revolving door business like radio, that's a lot of firings and hirings.

"We have a lot of turnover all the time. What was really striking was that there was so much turnover at the top," said Mary Beth Garber, president of the Southern California Broadcasters Association. "We had 24 general managers and sales directors hired you're talking about the top two or three positions at a station."

The high turnover reflects fundamental changes in the radio business since 1996 when new federal rules allowed owners to gobble up more properties in a market, and publicly traded conglomerates supplanted independent owners.

One outcome locally has been broadcast companies looking to cut costs by putting managers on double duty, triple duty or more.

Walt Disney Co.-owned ABC Radio has just one general manager for its four local stations, John Davison, who also serves as president of those stations. After firing George Nicholaw and Roger Nadel last year as general managers of news stations KNX-AM (1070) and KFWB-AM (980), respectively, Infinity Broadcasting Corp. replaced them with one person, David G. Hall.

"Since consolidation nothing surprises me," said Pat Duffy, vice president and market manager for Viacom Inc.'s Infinity Broadcasting Corp., which owns seven stations in Los Angeles, second only to Clear Channel Communications Corp.'s eight. "It was very consistent for a lot of years but that all changed as everybody really began pushing harder for revenues."

Duffy speaks from experience he had a hand in many of the changes made by Infinity in 2003. Before being named to his newly created role, Duffy was the general manager of KRTH-FM (101.1), a position now held by Maureen Lesourd, who moved over from a job heading Infinity's Detroit cluster.

Managers on the move

One of Duffy's first moves in his new position was firing Nadel and Nicholaw, who had been at KNX for more than three decades.

Also at Infinity in 2003, former KTWV-FM (94.7) General Manager Tim Pohlman exited and was replaced by General Sales Manager David Howard. The company also lured Jeff Federman away from Emmis Communications Corp., where he was sales director for its two local stations, to be general manager of KCBS-FM (93.1).

The Infinity changes were just a part of the hop scotching environment in 2003.

- Hispanic Broadcasting Corp. (now part of Univision Communications Inc.), which owns five stations in Los Angeles, let go of Ken Christensen and promoted Thomas McSweeney to president and station manager for its local cluster.

- Clear Channel transferred KYSR-FM (98.7) station manager Paul O'Malley to Charleston, S.C., hiring Bard Samuel, who had been sales director of KFI-AM (640) and KLAC-AM (570), in his place.

- Spanish Broadcasting Systems Inc. lured David Haymore away from Entravision Communications Corp. where he had been general manager of its local cluster, offering him the same title at its three stations.

- Nancy Leichter resigned as general manager of Radio One Inc.'s hip-hop and soul station KKBT-FM (100.3) after a decade and was replaced by Sue Freund, the station's general sales manager.

- Dave Armstrong, general manager of Christian broadcaster Salem Communications Corp.'s three-station Los Angeles cluster, moved to New York and was replaced by Terry Fahy, the group's vice president of sales.

All this movement reflects the highly competitive nature of the Los Angeles market and the jockeying for security by behind-the-scenes talent in the local radio industry.

Growing pains

Companies are actively looking to poach hot managers from their rivals while the managers themselves, knowing their job may be only secure as the next ratings period, are always on the lookout for greener pastures.

In the most recent Arbitron ratings period, for fall 2003, Clear Channel edged out Infinity by a cumulative rating of 19.2 to 18.8 as the most listened-to company in the market. But both companies saw their listenership erode somewhat as other market players like Emmis, ABC and Univision made up ground.

"When you're talking about a $1 billion a year industry, ratings changes of two- or three-tenths of a point can translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Nadel, who is aiming to get back into local radio. "In the mid-1990s, when you could only own two stations, there were 20 or 30 legitimate players in the market. Now there are only a handful and there are fewer management jobs."

Don Bartolo, sales manager for KPWR-FM (105.9), agreed that integration has meant fewer opportunities.

"There used to be 30 sales managers in town. Now there's like seven," he said. "Good managers can always move up, but that's one part of the game that's gotten tougher."

After all the changes last year, Duffy, for one, believes that things will return to a more normal pace in 2004.

"With new positions comes a lot of pressure. I think it will settle down now," he said. "January started slow but the rest of the first quarter is looking good and we've got an election year. It looks like it's going to be a good year."

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