The Virgin's Nightmare of Consolidation - Part 1

by Craig Jackman

I’d been reading it in the business papers and the trades for years. Consolidation, the dirty word of the industry where fewer owners mean more work, fewer jobs, and unreal stock options for those who already make too much money. I’ll admit it. I was sitting smugly in my little studio thinking that it would never affect me. After all, the people that owned my station were all upstanding members of the community. We all were proud to be the last locally owned station in a major market in Canada. Then they changed the rules on us. After much lobbying by the CAB (Canadian Association of Broadcasters), the CRTC (the Canadian version of the FCC) decided to lift ownership restrictions. So now, instead of owning just one AM and one FM per market, the limit was raised so that in general you can now own 2 and 2. As soon as that came out I knew that CHEZ-FM Inc. (CHEZ-FM Ottawa/CFMO-FM and CJET Smiths Falls) was too juicy a plum not to be in a larger corporations gun sights.

The deal was announced last September, and with the rash of mergers due to the new regulations, the paperwork didn’t get started until this past March. As I write this, the deadlines for interventions in the process has passed, and we are just waiting for the CRTC to either rubber stamp the application (expected) or call for hearings on the benefits of the sale (possible but not too likely). If you haven’t gone through consolidation before, read along. You never know when it’s going to happen to you and your radio station, or when your group will become part of an even bigger group. Maybe what is happening to me can shed some light on your situation.

The first thing that strikes with a vengeance are the rumors. This struck CHEZ very hard in January when Rogers (the new owners) also bought a station in Toronto (CISS-FM) and struck a LMA with the current owners to take over immediately. The story is that they took the entire staff out to lunch to announce the business decision, and while out of the station they changed the locks. After everything settled down it turns out that only 1 staff member ended up being let go after a format change, with some staying at CISS and some going to other Rogers properties. There will be all kinds of rumors flying about staff levels and formats. There is absolutely nothing you can do about them, and they are really hard to ignore. All you can do is keep doing your job the best you can and try not to dwell on them. Keep everything going as slick as deer guts on a doorknob. Remember that the deal to buy your station or group is going to be a big business deal. Anything you can do to keep revenue coming in, and not wasting inventory with make-goods, will be seen as a positive in your favor. Likewise, do everything you can to keep expenses down. To some extent, you have to take your artist’s beret off and think about the business. The new owners will be coming through to view their new investment. Keep your studio neat, functional, and professional looking as well.

Currently the CHEZ and Rogers engineering staffs are looking at the building layout and wondering how to combine the current FM (CHEZ) plus the two Rogers stations (Y-105 and Oldies-1310) already in town. They’ve asked for my input into the production side and combining our two studios with what Rogers wants from us. Currently it looks like it will grow into three studios that will be used for automation voice tracking and “feature program” production as well as good old radio production. My advice is that if you are asked for input, jump right in with both feet. Take any opportunity to show the owners that you know what you are talking about, and be prepared to back it up! There may be a capital budget for replacing old equipment, so have an idea what you need and more importantly what it costs. Your workload is going to increase, so take a good look at your job and what you are going to be doing before you start asking for stuff. Also, are you going to have multiple shifts in the same studio? If so, you have to figure in teaching others how to use the equipment, and if a lot of people are going to be using the studio, you should probably make things as simple to use as possible.

Your attitude and relationships within the station are important as well. I’m not talking about sucking up to current and future management; I’m talking about acting like a professional in dealing with sales, clients, and management. If sales make a request of you, give them a definite answer. And if your answer was not what they wanted, negotiate a compromise. Don’t treat the receptionist and other support staff like underlings. Always make sure that you get the important core part of your job done first (getting the damn spots on the air when scheduled!), then do the other stuff of your job (ordering supplies or giving engineering your input on the new production wing). Somebody will be watching your performance, and you want to impress as many people as you can. The business people don’t care about how great your creative ideas are; they care about making back their multi-million dollar investment.

Right now, the change of ownership at CHEZ should take place in about 6-8 weeks. I don’t know if I’ll have a job past then. Am I worried about it? I’m not losing any sleep over it, but yeah, I’m concerned. I think I have a lot to offer the new owners. The “whistling-past-the-graveyard” line that is making the rounds is that I can always say “Would you like fries with that?” Would I be happy doing that? Of course not, but it would keep the mortgage payments going. As this whole process unfolds, I’ll keep you posted. Look for part 2 in next month.

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