Monday, April 17, 2000

Concert deal could turn up volume in radio wars

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The outdoor concert season is a few weeks away, and I can't wait to hear the noise.         I not talking about music. I'm eager to hear how Clear Channel stations will promote Riverbend Music Center rock concerts, now that the radio giant has announced plans to purchase SFX Entertainment Inc., which books Riverbend, Bogart's, Taft Theatre and the Firstar Center.

        I've seen the cross-promotion between WKRC-TV and eight Clear Channel radio stations push Channel 12 news far ahead of the pack in local news ratings.

        Imagine what they could do for the concert industry — or vice versa — when the $4.4 billion deal closes later this year.

        “I'm not going to tell you everything we're going to do, but it's huge,” said Randy Michaels, president of the radio division of Clear Channel and based in Covington.

        “I think the synergies are going to be tremendous,” he said. His company, the world's biggest radio company, owns WLW-AM, WEBN-FM, WOFX-FM, WFKS-FM, WVMX-FM, WSAI-AM, WKRC-AM and WCKY-AM.

Ahead of others

        Although Wall Street reacted negatively to the March acquisition, many radio observers saw the move as a stroke of genius.

        Clearly Mr. Michaels and the gang at Clear Channel (formerly Jacor) were several pages ahead of everyone else, as they have been since Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Mr. Michaels had lined up eight-station clusters in Cincinnati and Denver, as provided in the new law, before the ink was dry on President Clinton's signature.

        The marriage of a radio owner and concert promoter is no different than Disney buying ABC, or Viacom (Paramount studios) acquiring CBS, or AOL seizing Time Warner. It's a distributor partnering with a content provider.

        Who knows today's hottest musical artists better than the radio stations that play them? Who plays the music and makes them stars?

        Maybe not this year, but some day soon, when Ricky Martin or Britney Spears come to town, Clear Channel's WFKS-FM (KISS107.1) could have an unfair advantage promoting the concert over WKRQ-FM (101.9), owned by CBS' Infinity Broadcasting.

No changes yet

        For now, SFX Entertainment plans to work with all stations, not just Clear Channel.

        “SFX operations are business as usual. We're using everyone (station) in the market,” said Mike Smith, SFX vice president in charge of Cincinnati venues.

        Mr. Michaels predicted that will change after the acquisition.

        “When Britney Spears comes here, is Q going to get a piece of that?” Mr. Michael said. “No, they're not. What am I going to do, lie to you?”

        That's just a small fraction of Mr. Michaels' grand scheme. He ticked off the other possibilities for Internet sites operated by the 800-plus Clear Channel radio stations. Rock fans soon could:

        • See concert clips and get concert tour information.

        • See the view of the stage from prospective seats before purchasing concert tickets online.

        • Order an on-line presentation if they can't make the show.

        • Buy a band's hat, shirt or CD.

        “The Internet play between radio and the concert business is going to be huge. This is all enormous,” he says.

        It could get bigger.

        “Imagine a show that's going into the Firstar Center that will sell 7,000 or 8,000 tickets and give us a nice profit,” Mr. Michaels said.

        “What if we take the other tickets, and go to a car dealer group, and everybody who does a test drive gets free tickets, and we do 500 or 1,000 tickets? We still get the concessions. And it will have given us a real advantage in selling radio time.”

Radio boosts TV

        Channel 9 folks have said around-the-clock promotion on Clear Channel's eight stations was a factor in Channel 12 winning all newscasts in November and February sweeps. For years, Channels 9 and 12 were neck-and-neck in news ratings.

        “If you go back and look at when they started doing it a year ago, you'd see the (ratings) numbers moving their way,” said Scott Diener, Channel 9 news director.

        “What would it cost me to get that same kind of run (radio exposure)? Yearly that must be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Mr. Diener said.

        KISS107.1, which beat Q102 in the recent quarterly ratings, soon could have a similar edge, along with FOX92.5, MIX94.1 and WEBN-FM.

        “Would I be worried if I were the Q, that all of this was available to KISS and not them? Sure! That's one of the reasons we bought it,” said Mr. Michaels, a former Q102 program director.

        Soon we'll have a big new weapon in Cincinnati radio wars, and it will make lots of noise. @tag:John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. His column appears Monday and Wednesday. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330.