iHeartMedia At Debt Wall

Looks like the time is nigh for Clear Channel iHeartMedia to pay the piper.

Those who hold a significant portion of iHeart’s $20+ billion in debt are balking at the company’s attempt to kick the can down the road. This spring, iHeart floated proposals to creditors to extend the time the company gets to pay back on its debt while pegging a higher interest rate and some equity to the revised payback-plan. The offers were roundly rejected – fewer than 1% of existing note-holders accepted the terms, and now the company’s repeatedly extending the deadline to creditors hoping they will accept it. Read More

FCC and Pirates: A War of Words

The rhetoric’s heated up, for sure. Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who’s made cracking down on unlicensed stations one of his signature issues, calls them infectious squatters, casting the phenomenon as a cancer preparing to metastisize. And he’s gotten much more critical about his own agency’s handling of the problem: when the FCC proposed to fine a Kentucky couple more than $144,000 last month for operating a low-power TV station for nearly twenty years after its original license had expired, he likened FCC enforcement to “a sometimes annoying, sometimes sleepy, but ultimately harmless Chihuahua when it came to protecting broadcast spectrum licenses.”

That makes “paper tiger” sound almost tame.

Industry trade-press has taken the cue and upped their coverage of the FCC’s anti-pirate broadcast enforcement. Radio World trumpets warning lettters, fines, and threats of fines issued by the Enforcement Bureau as if they’re landing knockout blows. It even got Chairman Ajit Pai to concede in a March interview that pirates are a “serious concern.” Read More

The FCC’s Trumpian Shift is On

The governing paradigm in contemporary U.S. communications policy is genuflection to principles that invoke the “free market,” especially post-1980 when economics captured the policymaking process. As such, all Federal Communications Commissioners, regardless of party, will couch their positions and rationales in this language, though nearly all also make the effort to connect their rationales to something akin to “the public interest,” which has been the principal ideal as mandated by the agency’s own authorizing statute.

But the FCC’s also been a safe space for the occasional ideologue who worships capitalism as the human condition most worthy of emulation. It is not a radical notion to believe that an economic theory may not be an appropriate paradigm by which to organize all of the workings of an entire society. Folks who do believe that are market-fundamentalists; and whether it comes in economic, political, or religious flavors, fundamentalism is an extreme that the act of being civilized tends to temper. Read More

Radio Finance Capital: Dominos Aligning

It’s not a long line of dominos – just three in particular – but if they begin to fall you can bet there’ll be collateral damage throughout the radio industry.

The most wobbly of the three is Cumulus Media. The #2 radio station conglomerate in the country by stations owned, the company just can’t get a break with its turnaround endeavors. After an 8-to-1 reverse stock split last year which temporarily raised its share-price above the critical $1 floor for listing on NASDAQ, the company’s gone underwater again. Thursday’s trading-close saw CMLS shares at just under 27 cents, making for a total market capitalization just above $8 million. That’s about half of what it was just a month ago. Earlier this month, NASDAQ started the delisting-clock again, which means Cumulus has six months to implement a revival-plan and stick to it.

Of course, the aggregate value of Cumulus’ hundreds of radio station licenses is multiples higher than the market value of its stock, but most definitely not enough to cover the $2+ billion in debt it carries. A refinancing proposal using stock imploded last month, prompting Bill Cunningham in Media Life (just before it shut down) to observe that “Unless some white knight comes along, Cumulus has no choice but to file for bankruptcy protection. It could come in a matter of weeks.” Read More

Ajit Pai’s Forked Tongue on Media Freedom

His boss has repeatedly asserted that journalists are the “enemy of the people,” but when FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was asked directly at a Senate hearing earlier this month whether he agreed, he skillfully talked around it. Claiming reluctance to “wade into the larger political debates,” Pai commented that he believed “that every American enjoys the First Amendment protections guaranteed by the Constitution.”

After the hearing, 13 Senate Democrats sent Pai a letter asking for more detail on his commitment to press freedom, and his response was perfunctory – though he did assert that he thought Trump was talking about “fake news” being the enemy, not legitimate journalism.

Unfortuantely, Pai’s past actions as a lowly Commissioner completely contradict these claims. There are two cases that make this plain. Read More