Friday, May 6, 2016

Report: Cumulus CEO Aims to Revive Radio Broadcaster

Mary Berner
When Cumulus Media Inc.’s new chief executive, Mary Berner, made a March visit to classic-rock station KLOS in Los Angeles a number of employees thanked her for bringing them “the Force,” while she answered many questions with an equally cryptic response: “HABU.”

HABU, an acronym for the “highest and best use” of resources, and the Force, short for “focused, responsible, collaborative and empowered,” are two of the code words that have become part of the lexicon since Berner took the helm at the country’s second-biggest radio broadcaster in October.

But, reports The Wall Street Journal,  the upbeat mood and silly-sounding lingo at such stations are at stark odds with the bigger financial picture at Cumulus, which is battling declining revenue and struggling with $2.5 billion in debt that starts coming due in three years. Most of the debt was taken on to finance its acquisition of larger rival Citadel Broadcasting Corp. in 2011.

Berner and other executives say it may take several more quarters before Cumulus’s 454 stations could start generating the advertising revenue that the company needs for growth. She said she is exploring all of her options, but is focusing for now on creating shareholder value.

To do it, she said she needed to first change the corporate culture. In the 18 months before she took over, nearly half of the company’s employees had left the company—mostly of their own volition—costing Cumulus millions of dollars each year, she said.

She required that staff return each other’s emails within 48 hours, started making 30 calls a week to congratulate employees on their work anniversaries and relaxed the dress code. Berner sold the corporate jet, consolidated duplicate Internet-technology departments and created a department to provide stations with market data and analytics on which to base local programming decisions.

Before Berner arrived, programming commands came from Cumulus’s corporate headquarters, and programming was regarded as “more of an art,” based on anecdotal evidence, said Cumulus’s senior vice president of content and programming, Michael McVay. Ratings are up in 17 of 19 big markets.

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