back when the old Jacor staff was operating from the top floor at WKRC-TV a few years ago, there was definitely a Format Lab facility up there where music formats were developed and, yes, "canned."
I know a lot of past and present CC folks around the country and what they tell me is that the Premium Choice stuff isn't coming from any centralized place in any one part of the country. It's not "canned," but rather non-localized live radio being done at owned stations around the country. Lots of shows in lots of formats coming from lots of places. It's like out-of-market VT, but more like a real-time live show, rather than just tracks dumped into a computer. The Format Lab, as I understand it, was shut down a while ago.
Out-of-market, yes. Real-time live? Not what I'm hearing when I listen to what I believe are stations fed by Premium Choice. What I hear sounds very generic and not often especially timely. CC may be pitching it as making more use of their best talent around the country, but it sounds to me more like another example of trying to do more with less.
Have you actually heard Premium Choice on the air anywhere, or are you just going by what CC folks are telling you?
The subtext to that question, of course, is this: the CC or Cumulus model, as I read it these days, is to keep as much content production "in house" (not physically but within the corporate structure) as possible, cutting costs to the maximum extent by voicetracking from outside the market.
I think thereís some truth to that, but the two systems are very different. We donít fully know what the Cumulus system will be, because it hasnít been executed yet. But Cumulus has something Clear Channel doesnít, which is a centralized radio factory in Dallas from where they can program multiple stations. Whether they choose to use it for that purpose isnít known. What I do know is that Citadel never used it as a programming center for itís stations, and so far neither has Cumulus. What I keep hearing is they want to originate programming from stations like CC. Turn the major market stations into production centers, rather than using the centralized ďcannedĒ factory. Canned programming is not live. These shows are offered as live real time radio. The model for CC and perhaps Cumulus is Howard Stern and Imus. Those were two local shows that didnít change all that much when they were made available to stations around the country, and they remained hugely successful. The music model is Rick Sklarís SuperRadio, an idea never executed, but called for taking all the DJs from WABC (and maybe one or two from other ABC Top 40 stations) and syndicating them nationally.
I have no idea what Cumulus plans to do with its music-formatted stations, or with the Dallas production center. I do have a pretty good sense, I think, about where they're going with spoken-word, and the plan appears to be to bring as much in-house as possible. Huckabee may never get the following that Rush does, but he's a lot cheaper to run and they don't have to share any of the proceeds with Premiere/CC. I have the impression that the new all-news station they're launching in Atlanta at WYAY will be used to centralize some news production for smaller stations as well.
But here's my question: If you're a content creation company, like CC or Cumulus or whatever, why would you use content from other companies? The only answer is because they provide something you don't have. That's why CBS stations carry Rush, but why CC stations might want CBS News. Of course, there are only a handful of companies that have those resources, and the majority of companies, like Entercom, Townsquare, Cox, and hundreds more, are either doing everything locally, or cherry picking from the syndicators. In TV, the FCC did away with the rules that prohibited networks from getting into the program production and ownership business a long time ago. So why shouldn't radio have that same liberty?
I was playing devil's advocate on that one. Of course a CC station isn't going to be carrying Huckabee if CC already owns Rush. You were positing a "centralized from Washington" NPR, and my point is that you know very well that public radio stations have a lot more freedom than their group-owned commercial counterparts to carry a variety of national programs, instead of being effectively limited to a single corporate source.
I don't think the distinction between "headquarters" and "various local stations" is especially relevant in that context on the commercial side. A Premium Choice jock operating from a CC local office in Minneapolis is reporting to the same bosses in San Antonio as a Premium Choice jock in Seattle or Philadelphia. But Kai Ryssdal at Marketplace in LA is reporting to a completely different set of bosses than Robert Siegel at NPR in DC, no?
I see what youíre saying and not to be coy, but I think theyíre different and the same. What I keep hearing from both listeners and programmers is there are some stations that are better than others in executing certain formats. They have the right mix of talent and music, and those stations are not only successful locally, but theyíre also drawing a noticeable share of audience online through iheartradio. I read comments from listeners on these local radio boards who talk about CC rock stations in Minneapolis or Pittsburgh being so much better than those in other places. So why not share the stronger product with weaker markets, rather than cannibalizing the successful stations and moving the staffs to larger markets? Thatís what MSOs used to do. But today, you can keep a successful staff in its home market, let their families stay where theyíre comfortable, and share their work with broader audiences.
To a certain extent, yes. I am certainly not trying to say that the only way to do good radio is to do it locally. I think there's lots of value to making a Don Imus or an Elvis Duran (or a Diane Rehm) available to listeners all over the country.
But at least in the CC Premium Choice model, based on what I have heard of it on the air, most of the talent isn't being used that well. They're not making anything special at the local-station level out of having national-caliber talent on the air that might be at the top of the game in another market. It's just a relatively generic voice filling time on the air and space on the station website, neither localized well nor especially nationalized well. It's certainly not living up to the ideal picture you paint of what it might be intended to become.
From what I can see, The Brew isnít programmed centrally anywhere. I looked at 10 web sites from 10 Brews around the country, and each had itís own ďbrew crew.Ē There are common elements like the Nikki Sixx show from Premiere. They donít seem to be playing the same songs in the same order. Some carry Lex & Terry in the morning. Some donít. Are some using Premium Choice from somewhere? Probably. Are some using out of market VT? Probably. But the casting decisions seem to be local from what I can see.
Which is pretty much what I'm saying - if they really wanted to go all "Superadio" on it, they might actually be able to make better use of the (often very good) talent they have in all those larger local stations around the country, but that's not what they're doing. "Brew" isn't a national programming feed, it's just a brand, like "Kiss" or "Mix," executed with various levels of local sophistication in various markets. At least here in Rochester so far, it's jockless after Wease leaves the air around 11. There's not enough "there" there even to render much of an opinion about it.
"Not hot. Not not. Just 'meh'," as that silly little feature in the NY Times Magazine would have it.