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Bob Pittman Is Just What Radio Needs

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The trade press was pleasantly surprised by the announcement by Clear Channel Communications that Bob Pittman had made a personal investment in the company and would be head of its Media and Entertainment Group, which includes its digital and radio operations.

Media stories of the announcement have cited Bob's successes at MTV, Six Flags, AOL, and Time Warner, but have under-reported his successes in radio, which is typical of media coverage of radio, the Rodney Dangerfield of media.

Bob will change that perception and get radio some respect -- and radio already has gained some traction in the respect category just by the fact that a media icon, who Advertising Age honored as one of "Ten Marketers Who Transformed American Culture," has come back to radio.

Interestingly, the initial media coverage had Pittman coming to Clear Channel to oversee digital - radio didn't get any respect - because that was Pittman's perceived expertise due to his AOL success. Media memories are short; they forget that Pittman was one of the greatest programmers in the history of radio. And I can make a reasonable case for claiming he was best radio programmer ever. He won big and quickly in a variety of formats.

Most of the great radio programmers, such as Todd Storz, Bill Drake, Paul Drew, Rick Sklar, Tom Donahue, and Buzz Bennett were one-trick ponies who won in a single format. But Pittman won in many formats: Hot Hits (WPEZ-FM), Country (WMAQ-AM, the biggest and fastest turnaround in major market radio history), Album Rock (WKQX-FM), and Top 40 (WNBC-AM in some demos). He programmed WKQX-FM while he was also Program Director of sister station WMAQ-AM and he also recorded his mid-day shift (the station was automated, which was unheard of for a winning station at that time), and, furthermore, he starred in the TV commercials for WKQX. He did it all -- he knows how to win in radio, just like he knew how to win in TV and on the Internet.

The Pilot Group investment fund, of which he is the founding partner, purchased a relatively small radio group, Double O Radio. So what did Pittman do to try to increase profits for the group? He didn't cut expenses drastically, he didn't try to program the stations himself, he didn't cut rates in order to try to get a higher share of market revenue for his stations; instead he did the smarter and much harder thing - he tried to increase the size of the radio revenue pie.

Bob gave speeches around the country about the value of radio advertising - high reach, high frequency, and low CPMs - an incredible media bargain. It was the same sort of hard-hitting, fact-filled, persuasive, brilliantly delivered presentation he did for the under-appreciated online medium in 1996-2000. Yes, he sold AOL, but he first sold the value of the medium in order to increase the size of the online spend pie. More than anyone else, it was Bob Pittman who sold the Internet as a viable, effective advertising medium in those nascent years.

So, radio is lucky to have him back where his heart, and now his money, is. He will increase the size of the radio revenue pie and the rising tide will lift all radio boats.