Friday, July 23, 2010


Well, the interruption by management of Dan McDowell's BaD Radio Reports segment as he was reading an internal Cumulus memo has really got the P1 Nation in a lather.  Coincidentally, I have a BaD Radio two-parter in the works, but in a rare display of actual timely posting, Your Plainsman offers a comment on the whole megillah.

The P1 Nation identifies strongly with the on-air guys.  And the on-air guys tease (and sometimes do a lot more than tease) Ticket and Cumulus management.   When Mike R growls "Why doesn't somebody come in here and buy this thing," he sounds pretty sincere to me.

(Although you might have noticed that he hasn't said it in awhile.  I haven't heard it lately, anyway.  Perhaps  .   .  .  perhaps his employer spoke to him about it.)

In any event, there is a tendency on the part of your average listener not to feel kindly disposed towards Cumulus management.  And MyTicket Confession has from time to time taken management to task for failure to take steps to improve The Ticket's signal, for declining to keep the hardware up-to-date for that nice young Michael Gruber, and the like.

But this time, I'm with Cumulus.

And it has nothing to do with the fact that it was Dan doing the report.  I'd feel the same way if it were, oh, say, Mike R or Junior.

Human resources is a difficult function for all companies.  It must be especially difficult when a company's product consists of "talent," which tends to be egotistical, high-strung, and not exactly risk-averse.  And it must be really, really difficult when there is a gigantic disparity between the compensation of on-air guys, on the one hand, and the guys who are supposed to be trying to keep the on-air guys on task and on time -- the producers -- on the other.

While a lot of guys trying to break into radio would find the producer job very desirable, the guys who actually make it to the front lines undoubtedly find themselves pulled uncomfortably in many different directions.  The hosts are demanding, and the management responsible for overall broadcast quality and regulatory compliance has its  own bunch of requirements that the young and lightly-paid producers are expected to observe.

Before BaD Radio got shut down for a segment-and-a-half, Dan was reading a memorandum from management to producers.   He actually managed to get out the two main points the memo was making, which were (1) the producers are the "most important" guys on the showgram, and (2) they work for management, not for the hosts.

Now:  That may sound ridiculous, especially item (1).  But put yourself in Cumulus management's shoes for a minute.  It is not only required to supervise producers, it must motivate them to do the job they're there to do.  As noted, part of that job is to keep the hosts happy, but a big part of the job is to produce the station's product -- make sure that a satisfactory presentation goes out over the airwaves.  They don't get paid a lot to do that, and they sometimes don't get a lot of appreciation from the talent.  (Sometimes they do.)  It is entirely sensible, and in some sense no exaggeration , to tell producers that they're critical to the showgrams' success, and that they are ultimately beholden to their actual employer.  A little hyperbolic to say that they're the most important?  Maybe, maybe, but well within the tolerances of human resources rhetoric.

That might not be a message that the hosts would particularly want to hear, true though it may be.  That is why the memorandum was internally confidential.

But Dan didn't just pass it around the station, which would have been bad enough (someone else must have been doing that, since someone gave it to him) -- inexcusably, he broadcast it to the world.  When he learned he was getting cut off, Dan offered up "this is comedy," but it was very obviously nothing of the sort.  It was a way to ridicule underlings by exposing the delicate and rather insecure position that they occupy, and that they occupy for wages perhaps, oh, maybe 10% of what McDowell banks?  If that?  It is frankly incredible that Dan thought it would be acceptable to disclose an internal company memorandum not even addressed to him over the public airwaves.  (It would have made almost no difference if it had been addressed to him.  Let's see if he reads the written communications he received from Jeff C or Dan Bennett after this little episode, which, I suspect, were far more interesting.)

I work in a very large organization.  I am not an executive.  I am not even a manager.  I have no ownership interest or stock options.  Like any wage slave, I have the occasional issue with my overlords.   So I usually sympathize with the issues the on-air guys have with Cumulus. 

But at least I not so dim as to fail to recognize that management is not dumb and has its own issues to deal with.  The difference between highly-paid on-air guys and highly-paid Cumulus guys is that the latter have in their care the risk capital of the Cumulus shareholders.   Part of their task in guarding that risk capital and trying to make it grow is to direct the activities of their employees, which they are entitled to do by their own lights, without worrying that their every utterance is going to be shared with a public that does not bear that risk, that only enjoys the product.  They're entitled to advise the producers that they're both critical to the showgrams and a direct link to management, and entitled to do it confidentially.   I would love to know what Rich Phillips -- prominent on-air guy and local suit -- thought of Dan's excursion into intracompany communications. 

(By the way, I'm not even considering the gross breach of what is undoubtedly written company policy represented by disclosure of that memo, which would be a firing offense in many organizations.)

I'll have more to say about Dan McDowell in a day or so -- much of it favorable.  But if  I were that other Dan -- Bennett, not Balis --  I would probably invite that gent to relax at home for a few days.

Sorry, Confessors.  I like to be in step with the Great P1 Nation, but fair's fair.  McDowell was way out of line and the only regrettable circumstance out of the whole episode is that Jeff C couldn't get to his phone any faster.


Christy said...

I wonder who leaked the memo to Dan. The first name that popped into my head was T.C. (or Jake) - aspiring producer, young, doesn't know any better, still figuring out the line between on-air appropriateness and off-air-only information, kissing up to Dan by showing him a classified memo he's never seen.

Assuming the memo is sent to producers as well and not just to aspiring producers as Dan reveals:

Mike Sirois (Norm's producer) - he's the most recent producing hire (see above) - which would fit with the timing of the situation.

Mike Bacsik - disgruntled ex-producer (for Norm); still keeps in contact with Dan

Do you think Dan revealed his source to management? If TC or Jake are never heard on The Ticket again, now we know why...

Interestingly, Danny (The Hardline's producer), Corby (former Chris Arnold producer), and Gordon Keith (...who probably would have been privy to such a memo because of his relationship with the other two guys) have never pulled this stunt before (I assume)...what does this say about Dan's sense of humor/sense of radio ethics compared to other on-air people?

The Plainsman said...

Christy: Good insights and speculations. I hadn't stopped to think who might have leaked it. Bacsik is an inspired guess, although if he's trying to get a job in radio he wouldn't want to stir that pot. Whoever it was, you can bet they didn't have the slightest freakin' idea that Dan would act in such a way as to make the leaker's identity of general interest to management.

As to whether Dan gave up his source: I'm guessing that Cumulus didn't press this beyond some desultory inquiries. They undoubtedly know that the KTCK gang is tight knit and there isn't much they can do to keep people from gossiping. I didn't hear any of Friday's show and I can't see any reference to Dan getting suspended, so I suspect Cumulus just wants this to go away.

I may have missed that the memo was only sent to aspiring producers. Dan didn't reveal a date on the memo, as I recall. There would be no reason to send it to a Danny or Fernando.

And yes, it tells us a lot about Dan, but, as I will suggest in a couple of days, it doesn't tell us much that we didn't already know.

Thanks as always, Christy.

The Plainsman said...

And by the way, Christy -- why are you reading My Ticket Confession at 3:43 a.m. Saturday morning?

Blue Moon said...

Just stumbled upon your blog... I like it. Interested to read your next BaD Radio take since you and I differ greatly on our Ticket preferences -- BaD Radio is by far my favorite show on the Ticket (Bob is my leader) and Gordon is the third member of my Indispensible Ticket Three along with Bob and Mike.

Anyway, keep up the good work.

Christy said...

My sleeping schedule's a lil topsy-turvey, thanks to working late, thus the timing of these posts.

You're right that management appears to just want this to go away. The other hosts have not mentioned it. Dan wasn't suspended for Friday's show. No e-brake nomination. It will probably only live on through the UnTicket, P1s who check the UnTicket daily and call into screenless saying something about an open program director position or that The Man sucks, and Dan who will probably make the occasional reference to it as he did once late on Friday's show - he said something like he had a memo he wanted to share but then we'd have to listen to the Double Rainbow interview again.

Did Tom know beforehand what Dan was going to read? Or, did he not know and called management himself when he realized the level of misconduct about to take place? Or, did management call Tom?

Did Dan know something was up or that management probably would come a-calling? He got the two points he really wanted to read over the airwaves, and he didn't bog down (an aside: I agree with Sean Bass in general but not in that instance [1:24 mark]. It made for awesome, tense radio though!) either of the times he asked for Tom's involvement and was shot down. I was surprised by Dan's apathy in both instances; I think he would have made more jabs at Tom for not having input under normal circumstances.

Random question/future topic:
- What's the opinion on fill-in shows doing normal shows' traditional segments? I get that fill-in shows have to do them because those segments are sponsored, but it makes me miss the regular shows more. Sometimes, it's apparent when newer hosts seem to be out of their element when they're not talking sports or they're trying too hard to come across as hip.

The Plainsman said...

Welcome, Blue Moon. I'm delighted when commenters take contrary positions and hope you will feel free to weigh in when you disagree. You might be surprised by my take on BaD Radio. It'll be out in a couple of days. I space out posts so I don't run out of material (and I have limited time to write and do another blog to boot). I do agree on the greatness of Bob, Mike, and Gordon.

Christy: Love your conspiratorial cast of mind. I also note that you used brackets within a parenthetical, which tells me that you have some training in writing or copy-editing. I actually like the fill-in shows -- as you noted in an earlier comment, there will come a day when the present lineups are going to change. I think of them as auditions.