Skip to comments.Clear Channel programmer rules radio in Cleveland (Pig Virus Destroying Cleveland Radio)
Posted on 09/27/2002 6:26:49 AM PDT by PJ-Comix
If you don't like the constant barrage of yackety commercials, staticky traffic reports, predictable prattle and the same song being played 97,000 times on your radio station, blame Kevin Metheny.
As the director of programming for Clear Channel's nine Cleveland-area stations, Metheny has more control over what you hear on the air than anyone else in town.
Well, that is except for Jim Meltzer, Clear Channel's big cheese in Northeast Ohio, and the powers at Clear Channel corporate, which owns more than 1,200 stations (and counting), including some of Cleveland's best known and most profitable: WMJI, WGAR, WTAM, and WMMS.
And even though he is a talented, ratings-getting programmer with 30 successful years in broadcasting, including stints at MTV and VH1, Metheny will be forever known for his intense battles with radio bad-boy Howard Stern.
When Metheny was the program director at WNBC in New York in the early 1980s, Don Imus was the morning star and Stern was the renegade afternoon man.
Stern famously skewered Metheny in his book "Private Parts," in which Metheny was called "Pig Virus," and the subsequent motion picture, where the stinging sobriquet evolved into "Pig Vomit" because, Stern said, "he looks like a pig and makes you want to vomit."
In the film, Paul Giamatti played program director Kenny Rushton, the quintessential uptight, obsessive micro-manager. (The oily character was actually a screenplay composite of Stern's run-ins with Metheny and former general managers John Hughes and Randy Bongarten.) In his book, Stern wrote of Metheny, "I wanted to kill that creep, but I later realized that he was just a pawn in this whole game. The NBC brass was putting heavy pressure on him to get me in line and he was just doing his job."
Just doing your job is one way to survive in radio, especially if you are doing the bidding of upper management.
Just doing his job in Cleveland has meant carrying out Clear Channel's dirty work of slashing budgets and people, pulling the plug on longtime Cleveland voices, including Danny Wright, Scott Howitt, Denny Sanders, Bob McKay, John Webster and Ed Richards.
Consolidation has meant the six Cleveland stations, once scattered about the city, now share a single, giant office in Independence. John Lanigan and Jimmy Malone on "Majic" are just a sheet of plaster board away from Brian and Joe on "Mix," who are just down the hall from the blustery Mike Trivisonno of WTAM. It's like a food court of radio, with McDonald's, Burger King and Taco Bell.
Critics charge that Clear Channel is dulling down radio, creating a generic army of clones. It owns so many stations in so many cities, and has such a wealth of syndicated programming that it can plug them in anywhere, making Cleveland sound like Chicago sound like Dallas.
As boring and predictable as mainstream radio often sounds, behind the scenes it is a most tumultuous time. The lifting of regulatory restrictions led to a frenzy of acquisitions while technology was exploding with Internet and satellite radio. Consolidation has meant the few own many (21 Cleveland-area stations are owned by four companies).
Metheny does not consider this bad.
"The consolidation of ownership is still far less than it is in the automobile business, the television business or the newspaper business," says Metheny. "Where's the competition in the newspaper business? There's the same number of radio stations available to people in Cleveland, but, damn, I love that afternoon newspaper."
In the modern model, DJs from California and New York do morning drive in Cleveland; one program director handles five, 10 or dozens of stations. Instead of independent warriors, the stations are cogs in a corporate cluster. WMJI does not want to kick WMMS's butt, WMVX doesn't want to obliterate WGAR - because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. The money all goes into the same bank account.
Metheny is defensive about the Clear Channel model and mission.
"It's human nature to view the good old days as superior to the here and now," he says. "People railed in protest when radio stations stopped offering live, in-studio orchestras. Change is painful. Some of us are no more enamored with it than the detractors. You can ride the bus, or get under it."
That would make a nice T-shirt slogan for people chewed up and spit out by Clear Channel: "Ride the Bus, or Get Under It!"
Metheny, 48, is a very bright, funny guy, capable of speaking for hours on myriad topics. And like all radio-lifers, he can't name a city without dropping a few call-letters, names of DJs and ghosts of formats past.
His father was a DJ, programmer, general manager and owner, who moved the family to each new opportunity, but Metheny is mostly from Oklahoma City.
That's where Pat O'Day discovered him in 1972. Metheny was working weekends on WKY. O'Day, who founded Concerts West, was in town promoting a Three Dog Night show. "I heard him driving back from the concert," recalls O'Day. "I could tell this was an extraordinary talent."
O'Day hired him to work at the station he was running in Seattle, KJR. But he had to wait two months while Metheny finished high school. Only 18, he became Kevin O'Brien, one of the "KJR All-Stars," and was a hit in the 6-9 evening slot. "His impact was immediate and enormous," says O'Day.
Since Seattle, Metheny's radio travel voucher has been stamped in New Orleans, San Diego, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, New York, Dallas, Savannah, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Jacksonville and, finally, Cleveland.
In the early '80s, when a few AM stations were still clinging to the notion that they could make money playing Top 40 music, one of the few dinosaurs left was 66 WNBC in New York, flagship station of NBC, the company that invented radio networks.
Its young program director was only 26 when he came to town to try to build a station around morning man Don Imus. It was a dream job.
But the dream became a minefield of nightmares. First he had to deal with Imus' now well-documented bouts with vodka and cocaine.
"Imus at the time was not a practicing alcoholic-drug addict," says Metheny. "He had perfected it."
Imus did not respond to interview requests.
WNBC went in search of an afternoon man to match Imus' morning ratings, and they found an outrageous talent at "DC 101" in Washington, D.C.
Howard Stern was rocking and shocking Washington with his unique style of gross-out jokes, sex talk, lesbian games and weather reports delivered by God.
NBC hired him but wanted to rein in his references to semen, menstruation, defecation and masturbation. They failed.
"The contract was very clear regarding the number of songs per hour, newscasts, traffic reports, the time constraints imposed by NABET [the engineer's union], the personnel we would and would not hire from Washington, and NBC's standards and practices," says Metheny. Pretty much from the moment he got there, he broke all of those things."
Stern became No. 1 in the afternoon and Metheny became Pig Virus.
"The two of us spent the year in psycho-emotional-physical misery," says Metheny. "But then I finally had this enormous epiphany. I realized this guy's talent and what he has to say is far more important than doing the traffic on time. I was clearly wrong."
Inquiries to Stern were referred to his agent, who did not return phone messages.
As for being lambasted in a best seller and movie, Metheny bends over backward to be gracious.
"It is based on a book that is based on Howard's recollections. I don't blame him. It was done to keep with his rebellious, nonestablishment persona." Metheny also puts great stock in the Hollywood disclaimer, "Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental."
Stern still gives Metheny headaches. His syndicated morning show on WNCX is No. 1 in Cleveland, beating all of Metheny's stations.
After you've survived Stern and Imus in the pressure cooker of the nation's No. 1 radio market, how hard could it be to ride herd on Lanigan and Trivisonno in the 24th market?
Your initiation is essentially indifference.
"If you're a John Lanigan or a Mike Trivisonno, you don't invest a lot of capital in the new programmer, because we usually last about 45 minutes," says Metheny. "But for all the grief we take for being the evil empire and all the cookie-cutter criticism, we certainly do a lot of care and feeding and protecting of creative personalities."
Much of the successful momentum of Clear Channel's stations was already in place when Metheny hit town, and the company enjoys a cozy monopoly on Cleveland sports, broadcasting the Browns, Indians and Cavs. But one tarnished former gem still remains: WMMS.
Once Cleveland's dominant monster, soundtrack of a generation and one of the best known FM stations in America, WMMS has been floundering for years, especially inept at installing a permanent and successful morning show.
In hopes of resuscitating 'MMS, Clear Channel moved the Browns games there this season from WMJI. Revenue goes to the Browns Radio Network, but Metheny hopes the games will bring new listeners to the station who might stick around during the week. But there's only so much you can do. Former music powerhouses all over the country are limping along or switching formats. They're under the bus.
"People want WMMS to be relevant again," says Metheny. "I don't think we can blow it up and reinvent it too many more times."
As for Metheny's position in the Clear Channel universe, ask his boss.
"He's the smartest person I've ever worked with," says Jim Meltzer, regional vice president for 26 Clear Channel stations. Meltzer first brought Metheny to Cleveland in June 1998 as operations director at WTAM when they both worked for Jacor, later absorbed into Clear Channel.
"He's the only person in the company who yells at me and gets away with it," adds Meltzer. "He knows how to manage up."
Although he's been described as a screamer, desk pounder and thrower of telephones, he's found a way to survive. After all of the multiple moves, Metheny, who is married with two young daughters, says he's happy in Cleveland, and has rebuffed job offers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago to stay here.
He was just promoted to regional vice president of programming, adding another 17 stations to his watch.
"I still think I have a better idea than most about getting ratings," he says.
And don't think for one moment they'll continue -- for too much longer -- letting Limbaugh do his own *thing,* either.
The lovable fuzzball continues to become addicted to a quarter-billion dollar paycheck paid him over *X* number of years.
Until one day?
CCCs can safely (& will) tell this guy, "We OWN you lock, stock, & barrel; since, we OWN the stations you're heard on. So, just shut-up & do as you're TOLD 'lest we pull your PLUG."
Keep advocating further deregulation & see what happens; because, this quisling punk already has some kind of reporte' with McGrath at MTV.
Know what that implies??
Moreover, given what this loser's up to on behalf of CCCs??
Would be absolutely facinating to check & see whether or not CCCs has any interests whatsoever in these satellite radio providers *like* XM, Sirius, or Delphi.
Might just be *surprised* who we'd find lurking just behind the curtain intent on pulling the levers for that venue, in our near future, eh?
Now for Landru's, "Pot Calling The Kettle Black" award of the year!!
Celebrating only the *best* in ironic statement over the year in this, our fair nation.
"Stern famously skewered Metheny in his book 'Private Parts,' in which Metheny was called 'Pig Virus,' and the subsequent motion picture, where the stinging sobriquet evolved into 'Pig Vomit' because, STERN SAID, 'he looks like a pig and makes you want to vomit.'"
...Stern said, eh? ;^)
It's a much smaller market than Cleveland, but the same thing's happening in Buffalo. I suspect from the gist of this article that it's happening everywhere.
Not so long ago there were two News/Talk stations - WGR55 and WBEN 930. They were competitors - slightly different formats (55 was more sports oriented) but each had their own personalities - a news talk junkie could find things to listen to at both stations. And they would jibe each other - in turn the competition made each one better.
No more - each is owned by the same conglomerate (don't know if it's Clear Channel or not, but it doesn't matter.)And the edge is gone. You're right - the market doesn't want this.
In my case, for my 45 minute drive to work each day I've installed a 10CD changer in my car.
Now THAT would be a true loss to conservatives everywhere were it to happen, and I don't believe for a minute it couldn't happen. How many millions of listeners would lose their only window into the Rat's nest???
As for me, the only radio I listen to is a station out of Lufkin that carries Janet Parschel(sp) and Marlin Maddux in addition to religious programming. Thay seem to struggle making ends meet most of the time, and I do what I can to help out. I wonder sometimes how much longer they will be able to stay on the air. Ain't lookin' good is it buddy?