Thursday, October 28, 2010

Radio station owners fall into two camps: Pick one!

The last two years in the radio business have not exactly been a walk in the park. Defaults, bankruptcies and receiverships have been rampant. A ton of equity vaporized in a sea of debt. It has not been a good time for station owners, especially those "faint of heart" or with highly leveraged balance sheets.

All of this has precipitated a lot of gloom and doom talk on Wall Street, in the industry trade publications, and in the convention hallways, suites, and bars.

From my perch, it seems that station owners fall into one of two broad categories:

1) Those who believe that radio's best days are behind it and that the end is near, or

2) Those who believe that the current low station prices present the buying opportunity of a lifetime. The business will recover and even thrive in the new environment.

Let's look a little more closely at each assumption:

1) Radio is dead. Long live Radio!

• Old media is over. New media wins.
• Radio has lost the kids.
• We're too little, too late to the digital party.
• Who needs a transmitter when you can stream?
• There are too many "cooler" new media options.
• Who buys radios when you can buy a smartphone or iPad for your information and entertainment?
• The Internet will soon occupy the dashboard.

2) Shopping at the bargain rack!

• Radio is still a high cash flow business.
• We can and will compete in the digital world.
• Fortunes were made in the last major downturn (think Lowry Mays).
• Regulatory relief may be the catalyst for reigniting the business (think elimination of the subcaps).
• Newspapers have lost their strangle-hold on retail business.
• There is no better megaphone for generating web traffic than radio.
• Radio still drives customers on Main Street.
• HD holds long-term promise.
• In the face of competition, radio has maintained its ubiquitous reach.

Conclusion

Pick a camp. Now.

Yeah, this sounds self-serving (after all, I am a broker). But, it is now time to place your bet. Here's my logic:

If you're in the "Radio is Dead" camp, the best thing you can do is cut your losses. With station values headed south, your station(s) will never be worth more than today's valuation. If you're under water with your bank, hand 'em the keys. Get out now while you can.

If you believe that you can buy good radio businesses from the bargain rack, then step up. You will buy solid businesses at historic lows. The seller's pain will be your gain. Get on board before prices take off. Build great clusters and hire from the incredible talent pool stranded on the beach. There is no better time than now.


It is time to select the scenario you believe will pan out in radio's future. To do otherwise is to leave your personal future to fate. Hold 'em or fold 'em. One school will be right. The other . . .

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

George
Media Services Group