Wednesday, February 7, 2018

CRS: Cumulus CEO Says Radio Needs 'To Grow A Pair'

Source: Rick Diamond/Getty Images North America
"Radio needs to grow a pair," declared Cumulus CEO Mary Berner at her first one-on-one Q&A keynote at CRS Tuesday.

The blunt statement came during a Q&A with Emmis Communications senior VP and Country Radio Broadcasters board member Charlie Morgan, Berner talked about how she shifted to running the company after being recruited by the Cumulus board to lead an operational review into why Cumulus was dogged by consistent ratings and revenue declines.

She recalled how, on her first day as CEO, she declared “programming is the oxygen of the company” and gave Cumulus programmers 100% authority while also requiring them to be accountable. By “letting the programmers program,” the company is going on eight consecutive quarters of ratings share growth, Berner said.

Berner, who hails from the publishing industry claims that the print's ROI was largely due to bravado, while radio has the ROI and the audience to back up higher rates and getting what it deserves for the product radio delivers.

She said, “Radio does have strong ROI; it does have an audience; it has the goods. But we act like an ugly stepchild.”

When asked about the restructuring and declaring Chapter 11 of Cumulus she said that they've completed the foundation of "the house" and now are trying to pay down the debt. She says that they will be stronger and expects the reorganization to be over end of April or beginning of May.

Westwood One, according to Berner is currently the best performer in the company, Their advertiser guarantee is making great headway, thanks in part to Suzanne Grimes, President, Westwood One Division and EVP Corporate Marketing. This guarantee gives some chops to the ROI of a Westwood One buy.

According to RadioInk, Berner told CRS attendees that when she took over the company she knew she needed to accomplish two things: fix the operational stability and fix the debt from the Citadel transaction. “We fixed the foundation but the mortgage was too high. We have plenty of cash. It’s business as usual for us.” Berner said there was plenty of confidence that everything would be fine within the company after the filing. She says the hashtag #wegotthis started to quickly circulate among the employees.

Berner’s expectation is that the company will emerge from bankruptcy in April or May with a much stronger balance sheet. “We will have a much lower mortgage on our house with the ability to invest.” Cumulus filed for bankruptcy in November 2017 with about $2 billion in debt. If the bnkruptcy plan is approved, Cumulus will reduce its debt by more than $1 billion.

Berner stated that the Cumulus restructuring is purely consensual, adding it's business as usual for Cumulus stations and their customers. She added that after iHeartMedia deals with their debt, the industry will be stronger.

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