If you like soap operas for morning radio, there's a good one brewing on Free FM. Was it Van Halen's "Eruption"? ""Ain't Talking Bout Love"? Or was it more like The Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go"?
For radio, the controversy of us-versus-them/talent-vs-management creates gossip, chit-chat and word-of-mouth "didja hear what they said this morning?" to friends and co-workers. It's a tried-and-true technique to attract new listeners, especially when a new show replaces an icon. Even if management doesn't like being positioned as the heavy.
The spotlight attention and expectations on the shows replacing Howard Stern is heavy. Stern made Infinity/CBS Radio hundreds of millions in advertising radio as well as industry profile cachet. He's been the star of radio for 20 years. Since leaving his traditional radio in December for Sirius satellite radio (at his peak, it's estimated he had 15 million listeners weekly across the country; with Sirus's 3 million+ total subscribers, he may have only a million weekly listeners currently), the back-and-forth barbs between Stern and his former employers continue. Last week, CBS Radio filed a lawsuit against Stern charging agreement abuses causing an estimated $200 million in damages. Of course, this announcement came exactly when David Lee Roth (Stern's replacement in 7 markets, including NYC) was on vacation for the week when his first Arbitron ratings were released, showing huge (and expected) audience losses post-Stern.
Listening to Roth this morning, he railed against Free FM management, saying he ultimately expects to get fired because he doesn't agree with them. Being the diva, he doesn't like being told what to do, even though his experience as a radio personality is very limited. According to Roth -- whose image is built from his legacy as Van Halen's rockin' lead singer days in the late 70s and early 80s, Free FM Program Director Mark Chernoff and General Manager Tom Chiusano are trying to put too much control on his show. Commenting about a meeting Roth had with them yesterday to discuss the show and how to improve its performance, management wants him be more true to his Classic Rock roots if he's going to play any songs or use music beds to talk over. They don't like Roth using foreign-language (often Portuguese) show bumpers or promos. And, in Roth's biggest rant, he says he was told Free FM is not interested in attracting female listeners. Instead, he's supposed to target white 35 year old men.
Roth spent most of the show ranting about it. In other words, he was doing 2 things he's expected to do: 1) Be a diva (that's his rep, it's not unexpected) and 2) Complain that the suits are trying to reel in and control the artist. That creates drama and, in its own twisted way, more credibility with listeners who will identify with Roth's complaints. Don't most working people feel like management forces them to do things they'd rather not do?
Of all people, Tom Chiusano clearly understands this dynamic. It's good cop/bad cop, radio-style. Chiusano's been the on-air butt of Stern's attacks for 20 years, always deftly playing his role as the corporate protector of the broadcast license and to help keep Stern (and the the stations) out of FCC trouble. The "artist" needs to push the limits are far as possible while management has to contain liability.
It's a classic radio soap opera love triangle right now. Stern vs his old boss, trying to stay in the press. The old boss fighting back. The new guy complaining just as loud as the old guy that management sucks. The issue isn't about right or wrong; it's about creating drama and ratings. It's that simple.
Who knows how long Roth will stick around or how long Free FM will tolerate his divaness. But it will make morning radio more compelling these next few months.
posted by Chris Kennedy @ Wednesday, March 08, 2006,