Radio Industry’s Money-Flings

The money-shuffle has intensified in the radio industry as of late:

Clear Channel iHeartMedia: Still saddled with more than $20 billion in debt – of which more than $8 billion comes due in 2019 – the company’s going to great lengths to shuffle revenue between its subsidiaries to keep on top of its obligations. The latest move involves iHeart’s outdoor billboard division, one of the more financially solvent of the bunch, turning over nearly 90% of its latest quarterly dividends to the parent company.

In addition, iHeart filed papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission recently regarding the potential for its outdoor division to acquire the intellectual property to the words “Clear” and “Channel.” This sounds like the corporate version of scrounging for change in couch cushions; no word on how much those two words, separately or in conjunction, might actually fetch.

iHeart’s recent debt-exchange, for which it traded notes due in 2018 for paper payable in 2021, was classified by Moody’s Investor Services as a combination “distressed exchange (DE) and a Default due, in part, to the extension of the maturity date beyond its initial terms and the company’s very high leverage levels,” further observing that “the company will remain poorly positioned to withstand an economic recession or any material weakness in terrestrial radio in the future.” Read More

Nodes of Resistance: Sampling the Haitian Diaspora via FM+Internet

17 years ago(!), I left a budding career in radio journalism out of disgust with the trajectory the industry was taking. The break-point came when the National Association of Broadcasters and National Public Radio teamed up in Congress to conduct a disinformation campaign designed to eviscerate the FCC’s then-newly proposed LPFM radio service.

However, A few months before I actually quit my job, I acquired all the components necessary to start an unlicensed microbroadcast station. “System P” was a 40-watt frequency-agile FM rig that used a portable military surplus antenna mast to conduct tactical broadcasts from a wide variety of locations. You could often hear the station in Madison, Wisconsin, primarily on evenings and weekends; but since the station was mobile much fun was had taking it to peoples’ homes and public events around the country to give the public a more substantive appreciation of the ease by which it could make “the public airwaves” very real.

Another key element of System P was to provide a last-mile node for what was then quite an experiemental webcast-activism scene (today commonly known as “livestreaming”). These often manifested in Independent Media Centers during times of protest, most notably against corporate global trade deals. Activists would converge on a city to fill the streets in order to disrupt the negotiation of these agreements, and the media coverage would invariably skew toward painting the activists as violent thugs and police/other security forces as the guardians of order. But when activists gained the ability to counteract this narrative – oftentimes by live reports from the streets directly – the discursive dynamic around these events changed. Read More

iHeartMedia, Cumulus Go Debt-Offensive

How many ways can you keep debt at bay? Does non-payment sound like a viable option? Perhaps not if you’re just a mere flesh-and-blood human, but the corporate beast’s a special class.

Over at iHeartMedia, $250 million of the company’s $20+ billion debt came due last Thursday (December 15). In a surprise move, the company announced two days before that it would only be paying back just $192.9 million of these notes and foregoing the rest.

The reason? This debt constitutes money that various subsidiaries of iHeartMedia owe to each other. In addition, these particular debt instruments contain a provision that, should the total debt held between these entities fall below $500 million, it would trigger a “springing lien.” This is a fancy term for extra payments owed to debtors as an incentive for giving the conglomerate a nice line of credit.

By witholding $57.1 million of these payments, iHeartMedia’s total debt in this instance doesn’t fall below the threshold, and thus the company can avoid making the bonus-payments to creditors. To stymie any objection to this ploy, iHeart went to the friendly Bexar County, Texas courts and filed a flurry of paperwork last Monday (to give you an idea of how complex its debt structure is, there 11 petitions in all, involving six Clear Channel iHeart subsidiaries), asking a judge to declare this practice kosher. Read More

Radio Stocks Spice Books for Year’s End

Borrow $1,000 from the bank, and the bank owns you. Borrow $100 million, and you own the bank. This seems to be the mantra for end-of-year finance-maneuverings in the U.S. radio sector. Three companies in particular are making plays:

1. Clear Channel iHeartMedia: After beating back a default-notice earlier this year by some creditors to whom the company owes more than $20 billion in debt, run up in the post-1996 consolidation and acquisition-frenzy, another lawsuit filed in Delaware accusing iHeart of playing fast-and-loose with debt-swapping between subsidiaries has been dismissed.

This has emboldened the company to seek a further renegotiation of a portion of its debt-payments. In a statement released late last month, iHeart announced that it’s asked some investors for the flexibility to “amend their terms,” according to the Tom Taylor Now newsletter. If iHeart gets consent, it may attempt to revise the interest rates on these debt-notes, or swap the notes down the road for other debt instruments at more manageable terms. One anonymous watcher tells Tom that if the company is successful, iHeart’s “debt wall,” or the point where the company ceases to be able to make adequate payments on what it owes, might be pushed back “until at least 2018, maybe 2019.” Read More

Translators Now Constitute the Largest Number of U.S. Radio Stations

Revisiting a subject from three years ago: the health of U.S. radio by the FCC’s broadcast station totals. Published quarterly, these figures over time show the relative growth of station-classes, and trends especially over the last couple of years are quite eye-opening.

What sparked my interest was a celebratory missive from FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake released last week. Having completed two filing-windows this year allowing AM radio stations to acquire FM translators, Lake says they’ve been a “resounding success” – nearly 1,100 translators changed hands, and the FCC has already signed off on the vast majority of these deals.

FCC Broadcast Station Totals, 1992-2016

The chart above tells the tale, tracking station-counts over the last 25 years. As of this year, FM translator and booster stations now comprise the largest segment of licensed radio stations in the country, both in raw numbers and percentage. Read More