Jeff Smulyan Torches Bob Pittman

Jeff Smulyan is the first and only radio executive to go public with what many privately think of the iHeart CEO even though they dare not say it.

Smulyan is CEO of Emmis which has had its ups and downs in the radio industry – Emmis means “truth” in Hebrew” and Smulyan launched into Pittman as a selfish person who can’t be believed and who has harmed the radio industry (often with its permission).

NextRadio fiasco

  • Via Smulyan’s book Never Ride a Rollercoaster Upside Down: “It was only after we started to raise the funds for the Sprint (NextRadio) deal that I began to understand the nature of another very significant problem: Bob Pittman”.
  • “Bob was a known commodity when he took the job, and one friend said, “If he sells the industry, he’ll help all of you. If he imposes his strategic thinking on your industry, he’ll kill all of you”.
  • Smulyan calls him “Bob Pitchman” – “I marvel at his ability to tell a story convincingly, even when I know it is a lot closer to fiction then fact”.
  • Smulyan had a good relationship with Clear Channel’s Mark Mays before Pittman took over but he had a funny feeling about Pittman even before the Sprint deal closed.
  • NextRadio was a broadcaster app that works with smartphones containing FM chips allowing users to listen to local radio stations using less data and battery power than connecting to radio apps but Pittman wanted to become the “gatekeeper between broadcasters and their listeners”.
  • Smulyan: “I felt like the rest of the industry is stuck in the back seat of the car and Pittman and (John Hogan) are Thelma and Louise and they’re about to drive the rest of us over the cliff with them”.

But there’s more

  • The NAB was an enthusiastic financial backer of NextRadio but with giant iHeart wavering publicly on support saw them slowly drifting away from their partnership. 
  • Entercom (now Audacy) CEO David Field comes off as a Pittman suck up – “Bob Pittman is furious that you want to put NextRadio in cars and he wants it stopped immediately”.

The most bizarre meeting 

  • Pittman: “Look, I know automobiles better than anyone in this room and I can state definitively that there is absolutely no interest or need for interactivity in cars”.
  • “They want the standard radio tuner, and that’s all they want and we will not support putting anything else into cars”.
  • Smulyan: “Bob, you realize that the tuner you are talking about was invented for the 1946 Studebaker.  Don’t you think we’ve come a bit further than that now?” and Pittman didn’t appreciate the put down.
  • Pittman continued his argument until Smulyan rubbed the 1946 Studebaker’s old technology into his face again to which he replied “Goddammit Jeff, stop mentioning the ’46 Studebaker!” Then he brought up the 1973 Dodge Dart and “By this time, there was more smoke rising from his head than from the Vatican when a new pope is selected”.
  • Pittman got revenge six months later stealing the Emmis Power 106 Los Angeles morning personality Big Boy paying millions to exact his revenge.

The end of the world as we know it 

  • It’s out there – putting his own needs ahead of the industry and misleading the public on the way – Bob may not stop, but a radio exec known for his ethics has poked the bear in public.

Jerry Del Colliano is a professor at NYU Steinhardt Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions Music Business Program.  His background includes Clinical Professor of Music Industry at the University of Southern California, TV, radio, program management, publishing and digital media.

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