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Are we at the dawn of the post-iHeart radio era? (And will it be good?)

Rough NotesMedialife ponders the imminent collapse of iHeartMedia, a product of Clear Channel’s famous leveraged buyout, which, apparently, has not rescued the new company from its $21bn mountain of debt. Bankruptcy is what the author of the piece hopes for, which will unleash 850 radio licenses onto the market.

Ditto for Cumulus Media, drowning in red ink with 550 radio stations (here in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live Cumulus is dumping on air talent left and right).

Then there’s CBS, which wants to exit the radio business. Add another 117 radio stations to the equation.

All these entities are or will be looking to bail in various ways following the news that 21 percent of United States households no longer own an AM/FM receiver at home. We are talking about something like ten percent of all USA radio stations here, and a much much higher percentage of aggregate radio advertising revenue.

So what does it all mean? Where is this going ? Honestly, I don’t know. But here’s where I hope it is going. I hope it is moving in the direction of much lower prices for radio licenses, and new owners who see them as something more than glorified ATM machines. I’m hoping for another era for radio similar to the period following the television explosion in the late 1940s, an era when expectations for radio were so low that networks were willing to experiment with outliers like Bob and Ray and Jean Shepherd; when free form stations WBAI in New York City and KSAN in San Francisco became household words.

The Irish used to have a saying: England’s troubles are Ireland’s opportunity. Maybe corporate radio’s troubles are local, community based radio’s opportunity?

I think that’s enough unbridled, naive optimism for one post. Obviously that was then and this is now, with Pandora, YouTube, Spotify, and SoundCloud complicating any and all historical comparisons. We’ll see (and hear) what happens soon enough.


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