Broadcast Management Roles
Broadcast managers find themselves today
in perhaps the most challenging era in the history of
their field. Several elements test the mettle of
television and radio managers in the 1990s and
approaching the new century which have complicated the
The dollars-and-cents game managers play in the current
broadcasting climate is a highly-charged, competitive arena.
The winners are those who craft skillful programming strategy,
strong promotional abilities, a sense of quality informational
programming, and experience simple luck.
- Increased competition - Until the 1980s,
television markets usually consisted of the original
three network affiliates and---in larger
markets---independent stations, which relied on movie
packages, syndicated reruns, and sports to carve a
share of the market. In radio, the battleground was
typically over niche music formats---led heavily by
country and rock formats which attracted younger
Today, the typical television market (in the top
150-160 cities) consists of four network stations (with
the advent of Fox in 1987 changing the face of the
competitive structure) and, in some instances, fifth
and sixth stations affiliated with newcomers UPN and
The WB. Larger markets in the top 100 have added a seventh network, Pax TV----a national family
broadcast network largely consisting at first of
off-network reruns of non-controversial series, such as
Touched By an Angel, Dr. Quinn, Medicine
Woman, and Promised Land. Market shares
have become fractionalized. In some instances, as many
as four and five stations in a market are now doing
In radio, large markets have always faced heavy
competition, with as many as 30-40 stations in the
biggest metropolitan cities. However, the 1990s have
brought increasing station numbers in smaller cities,
with the lessened expense of obtaining satellite-delivered
national networks which reduces the need for expensive
local personnel costs. Two other factors have driven
changing competition: the move of a majority of music
from AM to FM in the late 1970s and early 1980s; and
the increasing numbers of "niche" format services, and
relaxed licensing rules from the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC), which have allowed station owners
licensed to a smaller town to literally move the operation
to compete in a larger market where more advertising
dollars are available.
- Mergers and consolidations - Changing ownership
rules as approved by the FCC in the early 1990s and
embellished by the Communications Act of 1994 have led to
mass buying of television and radio stations in the last
half of this decade. Until the mid-1990s, broadcast
owners were limited to the following:
Television - Twelve stations, with a
limit of audience penetration of 25 per cent of U.S.
Today, television ownership groups may purchase an
unlimited number of stations, with a cap of 35 per cent
of U.S. audience penetration. Radio owners may buy an
unlimited number of stations, with a restriction of 50
per cent of U.S. audience penetration.
Radio - Twelve AM and twelve FM stations, with
a limit of 25 per cent audience penetration.
During the summer, the FCC has loosened yet another restriction
on broadcast ownership. Companies are now allowed to own more than one television station in a market, as long as at least eight other
television properties (including low-power and non-commercial) are in operation. In the Memphis and Nashville markets, the owner of one station is now legally allowed to purchase another TV property in the market. Eventually, the FCC is expected to deregulate what restrictions remain in the marketplace.
The changes in these caps have led to two key alterations
in the broadcast marketplace. One, the price of broadcast
properties, including radio stations, has multiplied
substantially in the last five years after a near decade
of limited station transactions. Some stations in the
last three years have sold for as much as 18 times their
annual cash flow. Two, larger owning companies are reaching
down into smaller markets to purchase more stations. One
company, Raycom Media---which owns WMC-TV in Memphis---now
controls 31 television stations. Lowell "Bud" Paxson,
who built a fortune through over-the-air home shopping
channels and a national infomercial network, now owns
78 television stations and has used those properties to
launch his own Pax TV network---as detailed above. Paxson is now openly shopping his stations on the market and NBC is expressing an interest in the properties.
In addition, radio properties---particularly well-positioned
FM stations---are becoming more valuable. Chancellor
is now the largest radio group owner
in the world with 463 stations in 105 markets. Likewise, radio owners are allowed to own more than one station in a market. In Jackson, the parent company for Power-92 FM also owns WTNV-FM (104.1) and WTJS-AM (1390). James Wolfe, owner of Wolfe Communications, owns WKXX (Kix-96), WJAK (1460 AM) and WZDQ (Q-102).
- The Shift to Digital - Television and radio station
owners are preparing for their largest required capital
investment since the shifts from black-and-white to color in
the mid-1960s, from film to videotape in television news in
the mid-1970s, and from AM to FM as the preferred medium for
radio in the early 1980s.
As is currently proposed by the federal government, broadcasters
must convert to digital signals by the year 2006. For a
temporary period, television and radio stations will be
allowed to continue with both a digital and the current analog
feed simultaneously. However, the conversion is exorbitantly
expensive and could force more smaller players from the
Radio and television owners will be required to spend millions
on new transmitters, conversion to digital editing and camera
equipment, and either to broadcast in high-definition video
and audio or with a multichannel feed, which could potentially
target different niche interests of the audience (in television, one channel
as a round-the-clock newsfeed, one channel for entertainment,
one channel for special interests; in radio, bringing multiple
music and interest formats under the umbrella of one station).
The big players are already experimenting with digital transmitters.
WCBS in New York, WRC in Washington, WRAL in Raleigh, and WFAA
in Dallas-Fort Worth are among twenty-two stations across
America currently doing trial broadcasting of digital signals
which virtually no one can see.
The biggest drawback at the moment: cost of the receiving
equipment, which will certainly come down in price. The few
high-end digital television sets currently on the market are
currently selling at a range of $5,000-$7,000.
An additional problem: digital sets are not compatible with
the analog sets Americans have used for more than fifty years.
Once the conversion is complete, the nation's nearly 100
million television viewers will be forced to buy new
receivers. At this point, broadcasters have done a weak job
of preparing the nation of what is ahead---which sends one
signal they may attempt to lobby for an extended deadline on
In radio, managers are fighting one prospect, for which proposals
have been before the FCC for three years---superstation radio.
Digital broadcasting affords the possibility of radio stations
in large cities distributing subscription-based clean signals
nationwide via small satellite receivers which could be
placed on automobiles. Existing broadcasters believe the
concept of superstation radio could render local stations
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