It’s a stupid business move, but it’s fine. Stick with me here…
I first read this posting at The Examiner today and had two reactions. The first reaction was toward WSPD Toledo’s Lew Rockwell, the Ron Paul-supporting program director (and on-air host), for what on its surface smacks of personal pettiness. Rockwell decided to not renew the syndication agreement for The Mark Levin Show, effectively pulling it from the air after 5 years.
Without knowing at the moment what Mark Levin’s numbers are in the Toledo market in his time slot, he is #1 nationally – and by far. There is little reason, short actual numbers in Toledo, to suspect he is not #1 in his Toledo time slot. This would mean that the decision to not renew him had nothing to do with business, profit or advertising dollars. So what, then?
The Toledo talk show host used the power of his Program Director’s position to “re-program” the Levin time slot with someone less likely to criticize Ron Paul.
Levin said that his team received a note from Wilson basically saying that unless Levin apologized for comments made about Paul and some of his supporters and changes his attitudes, he would not be renewed.
“It’s one thing to drop a program and to add a program, and everything in between. It’s quite another to try and censor a program,” Levin said, in order to control what he says on the air. Levin said that rather than wait the 90 days, “we quit,” and excoriated Wilson for using “Stalinist tactics.”
From a business perspective, this is nuts. Especially in a business as tight as broadcast radio, where revenues have always been far less than what most people presume. You don’t just whack the #1 show and its ad revenue generating power. Especially in Toledo.
Unless, apparently, the show offends your political sensibilities.
The second reaction to the posting at The Examiner was towards something the author wrote about the (very poor) decision at WSPD.
But when it came time to renew his contract with the station, Wilson decided to cancel Levin because of his political views, a tactic similar to that used in the former Soviet Union.
Now, he’s borrowing from Levin’s own words, and the attempt at political censorship is indeed that to a degree.
However, demanding an apology or some other action for offending one’s favorite politician under threat of termination is one thing coming from a private business or businessman. It’s “Soviet” and “Stalinist” truly, in my view, when it comes from the government. From a whining twerp like Rockwell, who looks to preserve the Ron Paul electoral PowerBloc of Toledo, Ohio? Eh… not so much.
To further make the minor point, here’s what will happen. Lew “The Shrewd” Rockwell’s brilliant business decision will be justly rewarded when one of WSPD’s competitors scoops up The Mark Levin Show and whatever local advertising dollars it once had for the #1 evening drive slot. Mark Levin will have the last laugh, if there’s anything to laugh about, because his audience – transient to whatever frequency he transmits at – will leave WSPD with him.
What Lew Rockwell did was maybe “Stalinist” on a personal level. But more importantly, what he did was stupid. Perhaps suicidal from a business perspective. What’s most amazing is that there was no broadcast executive at the Toledo station to sit Rockwell down and provide a lesson in distinguishing politics from business. No one stopped him. Not one. As a former program director in television, I find this difficult to comprehend. And as a consequence, the #1 national host in his slot is about to carry his A Game to a local competitor and eat WSPD’s lunch.
And that’s how it should be. A free market – free for hosts to speak their minds, free for program directors to make smart and insane decisions, and free for listeners to consume what they want, when they want and where they want. Listeners determine who is and is not on the air, ultimately. No need for any “Fairness Doctrine,” which in practice is truly “Stalinist.”