No Mo' Money

Big-time radio fears tsunami; 'Dudley & Bob' treads water

As usual, KLBJ-FM's The Dudley & Bob Morning Show has gone public with its contract negotiations, with the hosts venting their anxieties to listeners. "Things bothering me the most tend to get on the air," said Dale Dudley, who has spent 23 years exploring his psyche for the local classic rock crowd with partner Bob Fonseca. While negotiations appear to be moving along, there's definitely an extra edge to this year's talks. Dudley and Fonseca have nine months left on a four-year deal, signed before the radio business embarked on an extended period of war, famine, death, and occasional pestilence.

"It used to be a negotiating ploy" to talk about negotiations on the air, Dudley said. "It's evolved into morning psychotherapy." Around the country, long-established shows like Dudley & Bob are  disappearing from the airwaves. Radio managers hastily reworking the economics of the business see big-salaried morning shows as easy targets. What the hell, the conventional wisdom goes. Any two-bit comic with a zeal for talking about American Idol can do it, right?

At the same time, stations are dealing with a fundamental change in the business: Arbitron's switch to a ratings system based on Portable People Meters, pager-sized devices that automatically measure radio exposure. The meters replace the current system, which asks participants to write their listening activity in diaries, usually from memory. PPM, which is rolling out in Austin later this year, has created dramatic ratings swings in many markets. Some radio managers – a subset not generally known for oversized cojones – have reacted by retreating deeper into their bunkers, looking for lowest-common denominator acts that won't offend the humorless masses. The big money is going to syndicated shows such as On Air With Ryan Seacrest and the wittily named Bob & Tom Show, whose hosts project the personalities of unemployed furniture salesmen.

Fingers Crossed

In a nutshell, morning teams like Dudley and Fonseca are taking it in the shorts. Radio managers have no patience for rambling shows attempting to create a natural conversational connection with an audience. They want quick, perky talk and lots of hit songs, in order to induce a PPM spike.

With all this in mind, Dudley knows the show's strong recent ratings are no guarantee of their future. Similarly, their induction last year into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame doesn't mean squat in the modern radio world (as evidenced by fellow inductee Paul Ray, who was honored a few months after seeing his schedule cut back at KUT).

Dudley declined to offer any details on the negotiations, but said the initial discussions have gone well. "They want us back, and we'll be back," Dudley said. Emmis Commun­i­ca­tions market manager Scott Gillmore, Dudley's boss, wrote in an e-mail, "We hope to have a long and continuing relationship with the number one adult 25-54 morning show – and we are working towards that end."

Hold the Perks

One thing's for sure – around the country, the diva days are over for local radio shows, Dudley acknowledges. No signing bonus this time around. No demand for fur-lined toilets. No threat of a holdout if a sweet pimp ride doesn't appear in the driveway.

In the last two years, Dudley and Fonseca joined other Emmis staffers in taking voluntary pay cuts in exchange for vacation time. Though Dudley declined to discuss specifics, he says it is unlikely they'll get another four-year deal – even three seems dodgy – with so much uncertainty governing the business.

"Everything is in a wait-and-see attitude," Dudley said.

Meanwhile, KUT Buys New Home

Public radio station KUT-FM still needs to raise $5.5 million to pay for its $11 million share of the Belo Center for New Media, the new home for the University of Texas' College of Communications. The KUT wing will be a two-story, 20,000-square-foot ode to public radio, replacing the station's current cave on the UT campus.

One question not discussed during the ribbon-cutting hoopla: Why is KUT being forced to pay for 20% of the new communications building? After all, UT owns the KUT license, and the station is presumably a treasured university asset.

Turns out the station was not part of the initial plan for the building. KUT management was busy pursuing its own plans for a new building, primarily off campus, as management openly explored the idea of separating the station from UT. By the time KUT turned its attention to the UT communications building, it was too late – UT had finished its plans, and KUT was not included.

"Since the board of regents had already approved the Belo Center with a precise budget," said UT spokeswoman Erin Geis­ler, "the only way to expand the project was for KUT to raise all of the funds itself."

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Dudley & Bob Morning Show, KLBJ, Dale Dudley, Bob Fonseca, Portable People Meters, Belo Center for New Media, KUT

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