There aren't many syndicated talk show hosts who get kicked off the air in the most important radio market in the country and then land a big raise. But Glenn Beck just did.
One year after landmark New York City talk station WOR yanked Beck's show due to poor ratings, and one year after Beck has failed to find a replacement affiliate in the market that plays home to Madison Avenue, Beck just signed a five-year contract renewal with Clear Channel's syndication company, Premiere Radio. The company not only gave Beck a raise, but doubled the talker's contract to a reported $100 million.
Note that in 2011, Beck's show was also taken off the air in Philadelphia and it took nearly eighteen months for him and Premiere to find the talker a new radio home in that crucial top-ten market. (Beck returned to Philadelphia just last month.) And in Kansas City, Beck's show in 2011 was moved from the coveted morning drive slot and moved to the less desirable late-evening block.
Perhaps those high-profile dings were some of the reasons industry guide Talkers Magazine recently demoted Beck on its annual list of the country's most important talk show hosts. This year, Beck tumbled from No. 3 and No. 9 on Talkers' "Heavy Hundred" list.
And yet Clear Channel, the conservative-friendly media behemoth with a soft spot for right-wing radio, just doubled Beck's deal to a reported $100 million, while the struggling company remains buried under an eleven-figure mountain of debt.
As I noted when Rush Limbaugh was rewarded in 2009 by Clear Channel with the biggest contract in terrestrial radio history (even though there appeared to be no other industry competitors in a position to lure the talker away), there's something strange about Clear Channel going so far out of its way to overpay right-wing hosts while the rest of the company suffers through a chronic economic depression. (Forbes this year dubbed Clear Channel's once-booming radio business a "loss leader.")
Question: Why is Clear Channel, now owned by Bain Capital, so anxious to compensate two of its right-wing talk show hosts nearly $60 million each year. In terms of context regarding the entertainment industry economy, that $60 million is nearly identical to what late-night hosts Jay Leno and David Letterman make each year, and they bring in nearly half-a-billion dollars in advertising revenue annually for their TV bosses.
As you ponder the Limbaugh/Beck question, it's worth remembering that Clear Channel has a long history of playing partisan politics with its talk radio business. Around the time of the Iraq war in 2003, when Clear Channel was paying to produce and promote pro-war rallies hosted by Glenn Beck (which the company insisted were merely "pro-troops" rallies), several on-air personalities claimed they had been told by their Clear Channel bosses to tone done their anti-war rhetoric, and were eventually pulled off the air.
As for Beck's performance, since 2007 he has added approximately 100 new affiliates. But much of that growth was likely linked to Beck's emergence as a Fox News cable TV star, which dramatically widened his national exposure. Fox abandoned Beck last year though, and his profile as a national political commentator has dimmed dramatically. How Beck will be able to grow his affiliate base without a cable TV partnership remains to be seen.
Yet Clear Channel just doubled Beck's contract.
And did I mention not many people have been getting 100 percent pay raises at Clear Channel in recent years? But lots (i.e. thousands and thousands) have been getting pink-slipped:
* Clear Channel Cuts 1,850 Jobs [January, 2009]
* Clear Channel Layoffs: Radio Giant Cutting 590 Jobs [May, 2009]
* Year-end layoffs hit Premiere Radio Networks [December, 2010]
* Hundreds Cut By Clear Channel Yesterday [October, 2011
* More Layoffs at Clear Channel Radio Stations [March, 2012]
Note that the endless rounds of Clear Channel layoffs are directly tied to the extraordinary debt the company operates under. "Simply put, Clear Channel has a negative net worth of nearly $8 billion. And that is thanks mostly to its $20.3 billion in debt," as Forbes wrote.
For most employees at the ever-shrinking Clear Channel, simply keeping their jobs passes for a professional achievement these days. For right-wing talkers like Beck and Limbaugh though, Clear Channel now doubles as their personal ATM.