ACE in the Hole: It's Time for Common Sense
It’s great to see that some common sense may actually be starting to make its way back into commercial radio management after nearly half a decade of medieval darkness.
… and, where this change is coming from, may well surprise you.
All too often in recent years, we’ve seen massive egos and a ‘take no prisoners’ arrogance being played out by a new breed of hotshot radio executive, that’s been encouraged to claw its way to the top over the bodies of predecessors, as though radio management is a bloodsport.
When we look back over the resultant smouldering wreckage that’s left of once-great radio networks, a number of things becomes evident.
Today’s new breed of executive appears to revel in a ‘Scorched Earth’ policy to remove any trace of those who have gone before them.
Older and far more experienced executives have been shown the door.
The new breed, it seems, wants to constantly ‘re-invent the wheel’ rather than build on the achievements of the past.
I’m convinced this kind of management has become its own worst enemy.
It has fostered a culture, under which relatively inexperienced managers are made the sole source of wisdom for their network and given the power to remove any threats, by making sure they never have anyone senior enough within their network stations to question their decisions or play ‘Black Hat’.
This style of top-down management is fundamentally flawed.
Anyone, who has been in the commercial radio industry for more than 5 minutes, knows that diversely-structured creative operations can’t function efficiently without local knowledge and local input at a very senior level.
So, you ask, where is commercial radio management reinventing itself and taking a turn for the better?
Well, it’s in the regional areas, where egos, it seems, aren’t quite so fragile.
Just take a look at the team heading up ACE Broadcasters.
They know you can’t run a commercial radio network as a one-man band because they appreciate that effective management is all about teamwork and collaboration.
ACE Chairman, Rowley Paterson, and his CEO, Mark Taylor, are pretty smart guys.
Fortunately for the industry, they have the self-confidence to recruit highly experienced radio executives to work with them, without feeling intimidated.
Why should they?
They’re born and bred radiomen themselves and they know exactly what they’re doing.
Their recent appointment of one of Australia’s top radio executives, David McDonald, to manage their Gippsland radio operations is an incredibly smart move and one the industry didn’t see coming.
McDonald brings more than three decades of experience to the table in the management of some of this country’s biggest AM and FM stations.
That’s a depth of knowledge and judgement you can’t acquire overnight.
His days of managing 4BC Brisbane saw the station as one of the most profitable operations in the country.
I’d be prepared to take a wild guess, and say that, without David McDonald at the helm, 4BC is probably no longer in such a fortunate position.
The primary reason that the ACE appointment caught the industry by surprise was that nobody thought a radio executive of McDonald’s calibre could be lured to a regional centre.
However, these days, many major regional towns, like Traralgon, are modern and booming cities with major shopping centres, cinemas and high quality restaurants, offering access to all the comforts and convenience of big-city life, with a far less stressful lifestyle.
Regional radio wasn’t really ready for high-level decentralised management until quite recently, when regional areas started to become a far more desirable place to live.
In years gone by, the process was always that you started in country radio, got your basic experience, and moved on to metro markets, never to return to the bush.
However, with this move, David McDonald may find himself labelled a trendsetter.
Other senior radio executives, with a wealth of experience to offer, may also see the sense in putting their skills to work in regional markets, where their advice would be highly respected and appreciated by a smart operator.
As a bonus, they’d find themselves immerse in a ‘tree change’ or ‘sea change’ environment and that could well become a game-changer too.
Perhaps this was the case for former capital city radio executive, Paul Barlett, who made the shift from city life to join Grant Broadcasters as their Launceston General Manager, a little over three years ago.
I believe both Rowley Paterson and Mark Taylor have been very savvy in making this Gippsland appointment.
They completely understand that putting together the right management team for their radio group can only be good for the operation and its future.
Regional radio is no longer the yokel country cousin.
Many stations are now sophisticated multi-million dollar businesses relying on strong revenues that need to be maintained through top quality management to keep the wheels of the operation turning.
Perhaps the greatest management challenge faced by regional networks, of all sizes, is that their owners and central management team are, more than likely, ‘absentee landlords’.
In these situations, local staff will always be your major concern based on the certainty of the saying ‘while the cat’s away’.
You can’t be in all places at all times to watch over every aspect of your network, and, if you are switched-on operators, like Paterson and Taylor, you know it is better to have highly experienced and responsible people on the ground watching out for your interests.
Sure, recruiting a top executive from outside will always be more expensive than simply promoting people on their way up, but, a move like this has to be seen as an investment, not a cost, and, finding the right person will inevitably pay for itself time and time again.
The advantage of having instant access to a radioman of David McDonald’s capabilities will not be lost on Mark Taylor.
Taylor knows he can pick up the phone anytime, seek McDonald’s input on various issues and be confident the advice he receives is backed by 30 years of experience across a broad range of commercial radio activities.
While Taylor may or may not choose to act on any particular recommendation, he knows that resource is always there and available to him.
Having a ‘sounding board’, like this, is a critical management tool for smart, collaborative CEOs, and, Mark Taylor has the intelligence and humility to understand that nobody has a monopoly on wisdom.
Decentralising senior radio management is something a number of national metro networks should now be seriously re-considering.
They should take a leaf out of ACE’s book, stand back and take a look at just how powerful a pool of in-depth collaborative knowledge from highly experienced radio executives can be.
This access to in-house expertise is what many metro networks have been stripped of during the recent ‘medieval age’.
My belief is that a collaborative approach, with quality input, will always beat the ‘Ivory Tower’ style of management hands down.
Boards should no longer tolerate ego-driven management that is failing to produce results.
That era must surely be nearing its end.
Shareholders simply can’t afford the indulgence.
On the surface, stripping out local senior managers may have been seen by some of the money-men as a sensible, major cost-saver, but, in reality, it never is.
The key ingredient that myopic financially driven media businesses suffer from is this, and, it’s been this way since the days that format radio replaced block programming sixty-odd years ago.
First off: you’ve got to get the programming right, then the audience will come, then the dollars will flow. It’s not rocket science!
However, to get this combination to work effectively, you must first have the right leaders, and invariably, they are people of great experience at a local level – metro or regional.