Les and Howard

I just don’t get it.  I just don’t understand how Les Moonves continues to play into Howard’s hand.  I don’t understand how Les can have such a blind spot.  The way to compete with Howard is to IGNORE HIM!

That’s how Howard made it.  On self-promotion.  Oftentimes SHAMELESS self-promotion.  Hell, take a look at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards for instruction.  Howard creates a train-wreck, the media covers it, people tune into his show and…money is made.

But the act was getting old.  Howard got divorced.  People had seen the movie.  Howard did not dominate in every market like he once did.  Pulling a rabbit out of his hat, Howard decided to move to satellite.  It made the front page of the "New York Times", the diviner of what’s important to the news media at large.  And the media has been covering the story ever since.

But there’s a dirty little secret.  Now that Howard is ensconced at Sirius.  Nobody’s listening.

Sirius has three million subscribers.  And over a hundred channels.  Not to mention the fact that not everybody is tuned in 24/7.  If the press stopped covering the story.  If Les never mentioned Howard’s name again.  Howard would fade into the sunset.  At least for the foreseeable future.  Until Sirius truly hits its stride subscriber-wise.  And whatever the service tops out at, it’s still only a PORTION of the market, since it’s competing against the much-larger at this time XM.

What’s the cliche?  What if they held a parade and nobody came?  If a tree falls in a forest, does anybody hear it?

Make no mistake, CBS Radio is hurting in the wake of Howard’s departure.  But only a SMALL FRACTION of his audience has migrated to Sirius.  The key is to HOOK THESE PEOPLE WITH SOMETHING NEW, not remind them of what they once had, driving them into the arms of your competitor, Sirius Radio.

Whoever came up with the idea of David Lee Roth as a Howard replacement never spent an evening in a hotel room with him.  Sure, DLR is a tireless self-promoter.  But the emphasis is on HIMSELF!  That’s why his bandmates in Van Halen hated him.  Howard bends over backward to heap praise, or at least attention, on his supporting players, who love him.  It’s a completely different ACT!  David Lee Roth is/was a star.  Howard Stern is a schlemiel.  And that’s his appeal.

Now in L.A., Adam Carolla is someone we’ve all been exposed to.  On "Loveline", on cable TV.  There’s no SIZZLE!  And, instead of showing innovation, the highly intelligent Mr. Carolla is DUMBING HIMSELF AND HIS SHOW DOWN!  Whereas there’s not a listener alive who doesn’t think Howard is smart.  They look up to him.  They take his advice on political matters.  Do you expect anybody’s going to follow ADAM CAROLLA?

KLSX has Tom Leykis.  His show plays on one note whereas Howard reigns over a symphony, but Tom’s got an intriguing act.  Leykis 101 intrigues and infuriates the same way Howard Stern does.  CBS Radio needs something akin to Leykis, who’s new, to build their business back up.

It’s like a sports franchise.  You might win the Super Bowl, but then Elway retires and you have to rebuild.  It’s a level playing field.  Those with smarts triumph.

Les Moonves is knowledgeable about television.  But this potential lawsuit re Stern makes me wonder about his insight into radio.  His old cohort, now running the other side of Viacom, Tom Freston, would never do this.  You never want to alienate talent.  Especially when they have other options.  You want to WOO talent.  Sharon Osbourne fucked with MTV in a way nobody else ever has.  Did you see Tom carping in the press that Sharon had never signed the original contract and screwed him?

It’s not too late Les.  Howard’s just begun.  The Street is already forgiving you for CBS Radio’s poor performance.  Use this respite to rebuild.  Come up with something left field, like you did with "Survivor".  Take a chance on a renegade, who can capture the public’s imagination.  Rather than focusing on what you’ve lost and trying to rebuild with a product that’s a shadow of what you once had.

As for Howard…  If you’re not listening to Sirius, you’ve got no idea how good he is, as good, if not better, than ever.  But almost nobody knows this, almost nobody talks about his show anymore, because as stated earlier, almost nobody HEARS IT!  I’d say this is problematic for Howard, but he’s gone on record that escaping the FCC was enough, he doesn’t need everybody listening (not that I wholly believe that.)  But that’s Howard’s plight.  Terrestrial radio is a different ball game.  They hold the cards.  They own the market share.  They own the dominant incompatible format, just like Apple does with the iPod.  The key is to CAPITALIZE ON IT!  Not to complain about what you once had or what your competitors are doing.

Shit, if CBS just said it wished Howard good luck.  And focused all its press on its new talent.  There would be no story.  The furor would die down.  They’d have room to breathe.  CBS now has the ADVANTAGE, they mustn’t SQUANDER IT!

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a radio show on KLSX from 9-11 every Sunday night.  And, ultimately, Les Moonves signs my checks.

This is a read-only blog. E-mail comments directly to Bob.