Friday, March 26, 2010

The Corporate Golden Boy Worked His Magic

By Frank Absher

Here in St. Louis, we had a ringside seat to watch the wisdom of the New York media brain trust. It was not a pretty sight.

There is no disputing the fact that the ratings of KMOX had begun to fall long before GM Robert Hyland passed away in 1992. The man was not without fault, and he made some ill-advised hiring decisions, but we might also assume there was a lot of pressure coming down from New York, where the slash-and-burn management style of Lawrence Tisch was raging at full speed.

It was also no secret that a group of hungry execs in New York were jockeying to replace Hyland. These people really believed they could do a better job of running KMOX and, in the process, bring the gospel of CBS corporate to a market where it had been successfully ignored for decades.

The Golden Boy who was anointed to replace Robert Hyland was a true company man. He came to St. Louis with a machete and slashed just about everything in sight.

There was the story about how he cancelled the contract Hyland had for billboards all over the market, saying the station didn’t “need” them. Hyland had used those billboards for so long that he was grandfathered into the prime locations. Some of the signs simply said “KMOX,” because back then, nothing else needed to be said.

So Golden Boy cut the outdoor promotion. He also cut a lot of “waste” from the payroll. He looked at the long, long list of “talent” who were being paid – some getting as little as $100 a week – and said it wasn’t good business to operate a station that way.

But the “business” Hyland was thinking about wasn’t how much it cost. He knew that those payments kept the “talent” in his stable.

I remember hearing an ESPN sports feed coming into the control room once and commented that I had never heard any cuts from those reporters used on the air. “Nah,” said the engineer. “The old man just subscribes to it so no other stations can have access to it.”

I could go on, but you get the idea. Hyland spent a lot, but he also made a lot for CBS. Golden Boy did what he was supposed to do. He suffered through a stint in St. Louis bringing the management wisdom of CBS corporate to our fair city, and the ratings sank and sank.

How did his bosses react? They promoted him to a management position he had coveted in another market. And KMOX never recovered from the wisdom of CBS management.

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