Alpha’s Growing Desperation

So, when last we visited Alpha Paul Stone had made a modest investment in the cash starved Alpha Media and wrestled control from founder and then CEO Larry Wilson.

Today, Stone is calling the shots.

But things are growing more desperate.

What is Stone’s plan to turnaround Alpha now?

Big decisions coming soon.

The “Cumulus” option.

What brokers are peddling now.

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Cumulus Board Split Over Berner

Coming up on one year out of bankruptcy and CEO Mary Berner is presiding over a Cumulus board unsure of what to do next, her own future in doubt.

The company’s bankruptcy court valued Cumulus at $1.3 billion for the purpose of giving haircuts to lenders and other aggrieved parties.

That $1.3 billion is about even with the company’s revenues on a good day.

That means, Cumulus is presently worth nothing.

There is an explanation for the sale of great FM stations in New York, LA and DC along with a strategy to trade stations at this late date.

But there is a shocking strategy going forward if some board members get their way.

What will Cumulus sell next?

What’s the plan for making the company work and revenue grow without the major stations that they recently sold?

The real problems inside Westwood One, the only part of Cumulus that posts a modest profit and there are many.

And how critical is the split over Berner’s game plan?

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Outrageous New Nielsen Rates Coming

Nielsen is getting ready to reveal substantial rate increases to its radio clients even as they fight their own financial problems and feed rumors of a sale.

Radio stations would be devasted by these increases which have leaked to our sources as Nielsen ratings is one of the major expenses radio groups can’t easily get out from under.

But it may be even worse than that.

Just how substantial are the planned rate increases – still not revealed to clients.

Are they retroactive under existing contracts or will they be for future deals?

What about diary markets where continuous measurement is the plan?

And what are the 3 likely take it or leave it options for owners who can’t afford the rate hike?

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Streaming Crisis Ahead

The record industry is booming right now and radio isn’t.

Network television is on the decline and what audience is left is out of demo.

Everything is about to be disrupted again.

Trouble ahead for the music industry and they can’t see it coming.

And even as TV is being redefined, the streaming pay model is showing signs of stress.

What corporate takeover could shipwreck the record industry?

What are the concerns about streaming music services?

Can radio survive performance rights fees?

The replacement for network TV coming soon.

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Why Radio No Longer Breaks the Hits

Increasingly, new artists are rising to prominence and new songs and albums are climbing the charts with little to no radio airplay.

Deniers in the radio industry have a lot of excuses but little understanding of the dangerous dynamic that threatens music radio more than anything else.

In the past few weeks and in recent months radio has flubbed opportunities to drive hit music to the top of the charts – after all, that’s what radio used to do, right?

What has changed now?

Why aren’t radio groups learning from their mistakes?  Just in the past two weeks, another artist lit up the music charts without radio airplay.

Is this a fixable problem or another unfortunate circumstance?

One thing more than any other is forcing program directors to cede breaking new hits to streaming music services like Spotify and Apple Music.

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Entercom’s Freefall

If you owned Entercom stock three years ago and held it today through the botched CBS Radio merger, your investment would be down 42%.

More recent news is just as bad.

Shares have been rebounding a little over the past month up 6.5% after a year of sustained underperformance.

Still Entercom is down 39.4% over the past 12 months.

What’s wrong with Entercom – how can it be this bad?

David Field’s broken promise that spooked money people.

What keeps investors up at night about the future of Entercom.

And what’s this insider buying the Field family does to boost the price up a few cents.

What are these rumbling of bankruptcy and when.

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Townsquare Turnaround

Townsquare has been the radio industry joke since it came up with the idea of buying micro-small radio markets, using station help to generate digital content and enter the events business.

The events business fell on hard times and Townsquare sold it for what they could get.

Previously, they tried to sell the entire company and got no takers.

They fired their founder, appointed co-CEOs for a year (a strategy that only troubled companies embrace) and finally gave up.

The giving up part turned out to be the unexpected consequence that could be a model for other stations feeling the advertising downturn.

Why is Townsquare’s future looking up?

If no one wants to buy them at any price, why are they rebounding today?

What is Townsquare doing to successfully operate in a depressed radio market?

A tough question is – will anybody buy them now? 

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The Cumulus Exit

Cumulus is fast becoming Townsquare but without a digital strategy.

That’s awful to say but, really, it’s true.

Cumulus is selling off major market assets to get whatever it can to placate lenders who have already taken a haircut in bankruptcy.

Going forward, the future is not as predictable because there is a belief that even the people running Cumulus – and that includes the new board of directors representing the aggrieved lenders – are not sure what move to make next.

What about the option to sell more of their best revenue producing stations.

What happens to the overall company now that it has lost significant cash flow.

Then there is the problem of losing key people before they are ready to.

Why are they suddenly trading smaller markets while giving away major market class B FMs?

Which option is implemented next.

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Entercom’s Next Round of Operational Changes

David Field spent money recently for the advice of Bain Capital on how to run Entercom.

Never mind that Bain is the genius behind iHeart’s $20 billion bankruptcy.

And a main investor in Nielsen the singlehandedly most controversial way to measure real radio audiences.

What’s in the works starting soon.

Now that David has had a few weeks to digest the gist of the Bain recommendations, he’s ready to implement them and both legacy Entercom and newly-purchased CBS Radio have plenty of reasons to be concerned.

Whose jobs will not be safe under the Bain recommendations -- six job descriptions will either be virtually eliminated or drastically cut back and when it will take place.

What functions will not be affected at Entercom even after enacting Bain’s suggestions.

Bain’s recommendations on employee compensation. 

And talent fees.

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Beasley’s Dominance over Entercom

Entercom is supposed to be the big kahuna in sports having inherited many CBS Radio brands.

But Beasley looks like they have Entercom’s number.

The CBS sports professionals are gone from Entercom and the David Field of Dreams is now the strategy that replaced sports talk.

Suddenly, Beasley is doing things that are not just beating Entercom.

How Beasley is using the old CBS sports playbook against Entercom, the company that bought the CBS stations.

The mixed news on sports programming that makes money but drives listeners away in droves.

Just when Entercom and Beasley are betting their futures on sports, everything just changed again.

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Entercom Salesforce Public Shaming

There is no doubt that David Field and his top cadre are feeling pressure from the failed CBS merger and the inability to build shareholder equity for their stock.

Now it appears the pressure is being applied to local station management where itis beingredirected to employees who are performing at a high level – just not high enough to bail out top management.

How Entercom has devolved to shaming their employees.

The way they do it --- to the horror of other employees who look on in fear.

Why this could be the template for other stations.

And why Entercom is only targeting CBS stations.

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The 2nd Cumulus Selloff Including KLOS

Cumulus is apparently willing to weaken its competitive position by selling more radio stations to pay down debt holders.

Usually radio groups do this to keep the wolf away from the door.

In the case of Cumulus, the wolf is already in the company (lenders in ill-humor) which is why they are selling off assets that would be critical to continue operation.

The $100 million raised from selling stations to Educational Media Foundation was just the beginning.

What does the 2nd piece of the Cumulus selloff look like?

Will KLOS will be sold in round two?

What’s up with the previously scheduled “reunion” of Mark & Brain.

Has Cumulus found a buyer for standalone AM stations they no longer need such as KABC and WABC?

Westwood One’s fate.

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Streaming Music Services Confronting Radio

Streaming music services are killing radio.

Playlists are preferred over radio formats.

And it’s getting worse.

Just 39% of 16-19-year old’s listen to music radio, while 56% use YouTube instead for music.

But wait.

Lew Dickey bought a streaming music company Akazoo which focuses on emerging markets and yet he still wants to own radio stations. 

How does he square that?

What’s the new role for modern radio?

Is it even worth doing radio formats for Gen Z or younger Millennials given their unavailability?

And can the connected car and smart speakers help radio defend against streaming music services?

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Plans for a Second Alpha Media

Financially-troubled Alpha Media is in the hands of investor Paul Stone and he is selling whatever he can apparently without regard to whether his surviving radio group needs the billing to remain a going concern.

Stone is experienced.

Has done this sell-off routine before and he always comes out ahead.

Now, there are plans afoot – not by Stone this time – to build another Alpha-type radio group.

Will it be local and live?

What markets is this entrepreneur scouting.

A buyer when no one other than EMF is buying stations.

Who is this masked man and what’s his plan?

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Voltair/CBET PPM Enhancements Backfire

Voltair and then CBET were designed to improve radio listenership.

Their technology essentially presents a “louder” encoded signal that more accurately records radio listening on Nielsen portable people meter devices eliminating drop outs that can occur with certain formats like spoken word or some music formats.

After a period of denial, Nielsen introduced CBET and the radio industry has been rolling along getting credit for the listening it earned.

Or is it?

Why a new analysis indicates further problems with both Voltair and CBET technology.

How these problems could upend the ratings stations and radio groups thought they had.

What the evidence is – and it’s dramatic.

And where that leaves over 1,000 stations that until now thought they were doing themselves a favor by applying Voltair and CBET.

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Bye-Bye CBS All-News All the Time

You give David Field 22 minutes and he’ll give you a world of things that are wrong with CBS Radio.

Field has apparent resentment for CBS people and the very stations he bought.

He’s already fired lots of CBS managers, employees, talent – even people critical to his future success.

Now, Entercom is turning its attention to undoing what CBS Radio has succeeded in doing on the air.

How Entercom has begun tinkering with iconic CBS stations.

On-air changes that lay an egg and defy reason.

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Nationwide iHeart Downsizing Begins

Rumors started flying last week.

Now, it has been confirmed.

Wide-ranging iHeart downsizing of on-air talent that promises to further degrade the on-air product has begun.

Which format is being targeted?

What’s reportedly in the lengthy corporate emails describing these firings.

Why it is likely to be the first step not the last to cut costs.

And why even the survivors are going to fear that a sharp knife is coming.

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New Breeze Soft AC Format Intel

Nothing is hotter than soft oldies. 

And nothing is worrying program directors more than the crosswinds that are developing.

The soft AC format aka “The Breeze” has been adopted in numerous markets looking to flank a hot AC competitor and erode their ratings.

New intel shows for the first time how “The Breeze” is rearranging station ratings.

Consistent proof from several PPM markets where soft AC has been in place for at least six months.

Is soft AC the right move going forward based on evidence?

Do we know the weaknesses so they can be addressed?

Who is winning in markets where “The Breeze” and soft ACs are doing battle.

Some observations from 3 PPM markets …

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The iHeart IPO

With iHeart, it’s all about changing the subject.

Bob Pittman’s much-touted multimedia platform that collapsed into bankruptcy was designed to take your eyes off of their $20 billion in debt.

Podcasting is promised as the future moneymaker to make up for slipping spot revenue  but it has never produced cash positive results for anyone.

“All Podcasting All the Time” stations were supposed to show iHeart putting their stations where their mouth is except they put it on only 1 out of 848 stations – in iHeart’s Allentown market on an AM station guaranteed not to attract the money demo, but still – it changes the subject from the poor job iHeart has done of managing lenders and shareholders money.

Now, they’re back selling radio like this -- “Consumers listen to the radio because the voice on the other side sounds like a friend” – their actual words in its filing from the company that brought you layoffs, voice tracking and less live and local. 

All this begs the question what kind of investor would support an IPO for a sinking ship in stormy waters?

No radio group has been able to do an IPO for years, why does iHeart think they can?

What happened to Apple and Liberty – often mentioned as wishing to takeover a terrestrial radio company.

How will iHeart stations be managed and operated if this IPO is successful.

And what if it’s not?

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The Decline of Average Quarter Hour

Nielsen doesn’t like to release numbers that are not favorable to its radio clients.

But a stealth look into forbidden PPM figures indicates trouble.

Not just a decline in average quarter hour.

Worse – far worse.

And now it can be documented and explained with evidence you’re not supposed to see. 

How can 250 million people a week be listening to radio for so little time.

Who is ramping up to take advantage of this?

How do you stop the decline of AQH?

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FCC Investigating Entercom

Lawyers are involved.

There appears to be a lot of fast talk but the last thing Entercom needs is to pull out a gun and shoot itself in the foot again.

The stock is 39 cents shy of the $4 range – unthinkable when the CBS merger was announced and Entercom stock was flying high at $16.

Investors are concerned with impairment charges that Entercom is writing off to reflect the new, lower valuation of its assets.

And a fear that more impairment charges are coming as Entercom fails to put its CBS merger on track and is stifled by the same revenue decline that has affected other radio groups.

Now there is this new development …

  • How the FCC caught Entercom red-handed.
  • Entercom’s shocking defense.
  • How a disgruntled CBS employee may have dropped a dime to turn them in. 
  • The offense was bogus until the FCC sniffed around and found something else. 

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