Radio Stocks on the Dollar Menu

Many industry-watchers have been fixated on the travails of Cumulus Media, which ousted its founding family earlier this year and replaced them with new management backed by the private-capital firms that now control the company. It hasn’t yet resulted in a massive turnaround for Cumulus stock, which is up about ten cents or so from its lowest low earlier this fall. Still, that values the country’s second largest radio conglomerate at a paltry $82 million and change — you can now pick up a few shares of Cumulus for a dollar and still have change left over for a gumball.

But Cumulus is not the only company now trading under a buck. There’s also Emmis Communications — the primary driver behind the NextRadio application and a major innovator in the HD Radio space — whose shares are now trading at just 62 cents, triggering a delisting warning from NASDAQ. Just three months ago, Emmis stock was worth $1.42 per share; a decade ago, the stock was worth 100 times more than it is today. Read More

Cumulus Meltdown Continues; is iHeartMedia Next?

Things continue to spiral downward over at Cumulus Media, whose stock closed at 29 cents at the end of trading last week. That put the company’s total market capitalization at just $67.8 million dollars, or just 39% of what the HD Radio system sold for two months ago. NASDAQ has threatened to delist CLMS stock next spring unless it can resume consistent trading above $1.

Perhaps a better comparison might be to a direct competitor: see Townsquare Media, one of the second generation of radio consolidators formed in the last half-decade and now the third-largest owner of radio stations in the country (right behind Cumulus). Townsquare owns about 100-150 fewer stations than Cumulus does, has no holdings in network syndication or distribution companies, but it is making acquisitory forays into online platforms/apps and just three months ago purchased a traveling carinval company. Sound familiar? Only on the surface, because Wall Street valued Townsquare at 106 million dollars last Friday ($10.70/share on 9.94 million shares). Read More

AM Revitalization Order Released

At the close of business last Friday, and with little fanfare, the FCC released its first AM revitalization Report and Order. This rulemaking began two years ago and the most significant outcomes have little to do with the AM band itself.

Comparing the FCC’s proposed rulemaking to the R&O shows that most of the agency’s initial proposals will be enacted. This includes things like allowing for more flexbility on interference calculations and protections, antenna siting and design, the option to use analog transmission protocols that are more energy-efficent, and increased utilization of AM’s expanded band channels. But the meat of the R&O involvews developments regarding the FM band and the utter lack of comment on a digital strategy for AM. Read More

AM Broadcasters’ Last Grasp at FM Translator Marketplace

If you read the latest round of ex parte filings in the FCC’s AM revitalization proceeding, you’d think the future of the band hangs on its eventual migration to FM. Yet of the many things the agency’s considering to help AM broadcasters, opening a new applications window for AM stations to acquire FM translators has not been one of them. Now the drafting of new policy has begun that would take AM revitalization from consideration to implementation — and broadcasters are making a last-minute push to grab some FM crumbs.

In the last month, a motley crew of advocates for more FM translators have been making the rounds at FCC HQ. These include trade groups, individual broadcasters and other interested parties. Some of their arguments espouse wrongheaded notions of “salvation” for the most beleagured AM broadcasters. Read More

Voltair Controversy: The Seduction of Denial

Next month is the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual radio convention, to be held in Atlanta. I wish I could be a fly on the wall in some select panels and the local off-hours watering-holes. Fireworks are expected over an issue that’s been feistily percolating for more than a year — the integrity of the U.S. radio ratings system.

First, a quick primer about radio ratings in the United States. Administered by Nielsen, the ratings are collected by two primary means: listener diaries and Portable People Meters (PPM). The PPM system is a small pager-like device that selected listeners carry around with them; when exposed to a station’s broadcast, the meter logs the station and time spent listening. How? Stations that subscribe to the Nielsen ratings in PPM-enabled markets broadcast a special audio watermark that is inaudible to listeners, but that PPM devices can hear. The watermark is a 1000-3000 Hz tone; as a proprietary technology, the only way to work out how it really operates is by observing it in the wild or by examining its patents.

When the PPM system was introduced in 2007, it was touted as a new era for measuring radio ratings because listeners aren’t all that great about accurately and meticulously recording all the stations they’re exposed to. For example, radio often functions as background noise in places like restaurants, stores, and offices; when you’re at the dentist are you really paying attention to the smooth/lite pabulum oozing from the waiting room ceiling? Today, four dozen markets are measured using PPM technology. Read More