Special Report

The Cumulus War on Conservatives

From Buckley to Sean Hannity, attacks that cannot help but backfire.

By 8.20.13

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“The Dickeys are the single worst operators in the history of radio.” -- Sean Hannity on Lew and John Dickey, the owners of Cumulus Media

So.

What were you really expecting?

With all these recent headlines about Sean Hannity and the business with Cumulus Media owners Lew and John Dickey, what were the chances this could end any other way than was noted here Friday?

With a big clash that had Sean Hannity -- very much contrary to earlier media reports -- firing Cumulus Media and the corporatist Dickey brothers, Lew and John?

Most importantly, it is time to understand that this battle between the Dickey’s Cumulus Media and Hannity is not just about a time slot on radio stations. It is not just about the Dickeys as “the worst operators in the history of radio” -- and Hannity is in fact far from alone in that assessment of the Dickeys.

This is about yet another battle -- and a critical battle it is -- in a half-century plus War on Conservatives. A War that first exploded into the open with two overlapping historical events: the 1951 publication of William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale and then-Congressman Richard Nixon’s successful pursuit of the Liberal Establishment acolyte-turned-Communist spy Alger Hiss. Both men, the conservative Buckley and the anti-Communist Nixon, unsuspectingly touched the quivering nerve of an increasingly exposed liberal nerve, and we will come back to Buckley in a bit.

But.

First things first. Let’s start with the Dickeys, shall we?

Let’s start with some stats in a piece over at Newsbusters by the very perceptive Noel Sheppard. The title: “Hannity's Right: Cumulus Managing Its Radio Stations Into the Dirt.”

In which Sheppard provides a detailed update to a question raised in this space all the way back in May: “Cumulus Media: Suicide of a Company?”

Sheppard’s update gives an unsparing look at the Cumulus numbers in various markets, as follows:

• New York WABC down 45.3 percent

• Los Angeles KABC down 61.9 percent

• WLS Chicago down 47.6 percent

• KGO San Francisco down 57.4 percent

• WJR Detroit down 50.9 percent

• Kansas City KCMO down 52.9 percent

• Nashville down 33.3 percent

• Memphis down 50 percent

• Albuquerque down 20.8 percent

The kicker here? Sheppard notes that Hannity’s numbers are much better than those of Cumulus.

A classic illustration of this is the New York market, where WABC -- once a legend in the radio business, at an earlier time for rock and roll and today for talk radio -- saw its ratings plummet.

Here’s the comparison between WABC’s numbers and Hannity’s:

WABC Per Cent Drop: 45.3%

Hannity Per Cent Drop: 3.2%

And in Los Angeles, on KABC? Sheppard gets the numbers since September 2011:

KABC Per Cent Drop: 62%

Hannity Per Cent Drop: 13%

And oh by the way, Sheppard also notes:

Meanwhile, in July 2013, Hannity’s three hours on the air in New York and Los Angeles are ranked #1, #2 and #3 for all broadcasting on each station.”

What does all this mean?

Two things.

First, no wonder Hannity fired Cumulus. And make no mistake, this is not some spin. Hannity in fact did fire Cumulus, not the other way around, because as the hard numbers show Cumulus was a drag on Hannity. As the numbers demonstrate, Cumulus is becoming the radio equivalent of an anchor, dragging its stars down to the bottom faster than that hole in the Titanic.

It is further evidence of what was cited back in May in this space.

In which was detailed from all manner of sources that the Dickey brothers were seen as creating all manner of problems for Cumulus.

The Dickeys were portrayed in places as disparate as the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, the Toledo Blade, the Atlanta Business Journal, the Birmingham Business Journal, Chicagoland Radio and Media, and more as, in one fashion or another, exactly as Hannity is quoted currently -- “the single worst operators in the history of radio.” Precisely as those numbers from Noel Sheppard now illustrate.

There were complaints about Cumulus from people in the radio business across the country. From sports radio people, disk jockeys, liberals in radio, conservatives in radio, a black radio host and more. None of which had to do with conservative talk radio or any of its stars, Sean Hannity included.

The complaints centered on accusations that under the Dickey’s reign there was a contempt for the Cumulus customer base -- be that base sports radio, music radio, talk radio or any other kind of radio. That the much ballyhooed Dickey slogan of “more conversation and less confrontation” for talk radio was hooey. Cited in this space at the time -- this being in May of this year long, before the current news of a Michael Savage/for Sean Hannity time slot deal with Savage was announced -- this specific point, reprinted verbatim:

The “More Conversation and Less Confrontation” Ploy: Having made much of Rush Limbaugh’s controversial Sandra Fluke episode, why hire the distinctly controversial Michael Savage, who was out of radio when they brought him back? If “more conversation and less confrontation” was really the Dickey goal, they wouldn’t have signed up Michael Savage in a million years. Yet sign Savage they did, calling the signing a “milestone.” Thus hiring the man who is so controversial the British government (infamously, wrongly, and laughably) banned Savage from entering their country.

Note that we linked in the column to this story on the Savage signing from Al Peterson’s NTS Media Online (“NTS” as in “News, Talk, Sports”). While linking and quoting the word “milestone”, for space reasons we left out the larger quote from Peterson’s story on the Savage/Cumulus alliance. Attributed to John Dickey, it read:

As we aggressively create radio’s most compelling mix of show hosts the addition of Michael Savage is a milestone in our determined efforts to provide our listeners nationwide with the best programing in the business. 

Savage too was quoted, saying:

“Cumulus and Savage will make radio history. The turbulent times we live in give Talk radio a new power. This is the biggest move of my radio career and I look forward to reaching many millions of new listeners on their flamethrower signals.”

Again. This was months before the Savage-for-Hannity business was in the news. As we noted in our “Hannity Fires Lew Dickey” blog post (here), the 72-year old Savage (now there’s a curiosity -- the so-called all-important 24-54 demographic is being targeted with a 72-year old?) has had repeated run-ins with serious controversy. As we noted on Friday:

One doesn’t have to spend five seconds Googling to come up with a short list of Savage controversies. Autism is a “fraud and a racket” (here). Here’s the televised incident in which Savage launches on a caller as a “sodomite” — and got fired as a result.

Left out in my quote above was Savage’s follow-up line to the caller that “You should only get AIDS and die. You pig! How’s that?”

Ah yes. There it is. The real Cumulus idea of “More Conversation, Less Controversy.”

And the Dickeys think this garbage is more saleable than Sean Hannity? Who never in a thousand years would utter this kind of vile -- and yes it is vile -- poison?

It would appear the Dickeys are either the most cynical radio station operators in the business -- or the dumbest. Hannity will be gone from 30-very-replaceable Cumulus stations that in fact are not a big part of his audience. Meanwhile the Team of Dickey, Dickey and Savage will make “radio history” -- Savage’s words -- without doubt. Although one can be reasonably sure that “radio history” will not be the way it was

As one radio source (who does not have a talk show) told me months ago, the Dickey aim is to own all of radio. At this moment they are trying to buy CBS Radio, thereby combining, in the memorable words of Inside Music Media’s Jerry Del Colliano, “the worst radio company with the best.” Hint: “the worst” does not refer to CBS.

The Dickeys are, in the thoughts of the above-mentioned source, a one-trick pony. They buy a station or stations, then immediately set about cutting costs -- firing popular (read: expensive) hosts and good staff, regardless of whether it wrecks popular formats and angers the audience. This has been, says the source, their operating modus operandi wherever they go. The only difference with conservative talk radio is that the hosts and the format are so visible on the national level.

This has made the Dickeys, naturally and obviously, wildly unpopular with radio professionals from one end of the country to the other, as witness the “worst radio company” comment above from Del Colliano.

What they are about is nothing more than sheer corporatism. These guys aren’t, say, somebody like Donald Trump or Steve Jobs or Rupert Murdoch. People whose genuine love for real estate or computers or newspapers and media leads them to build entrepreneurial empires. This is, says one radio source, about nothing more than the Dickeys using radio to squeeze it dry and take the profits. That’s it -- that’s all. Which, if true, can easily lead to those dismal Cumulus numbers cited by Newsbusters and inevitably to Hannity’s statement that “the Dickeys are the single worst operators in the history of radio.”

As also reported here on Friday, the announcement by Savage that he would take over Hannity’s time slot raised a question. A question that was asked this way:

Did Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey write the literal script for radio’s Michael Savage recent announcement?

Savage took to the air waves and, as reported in Mediaite, said:

“I predict, right here, right now, that I Michael Savage and the Savage Nation is going to take over The Sean Hannity Show time slot by the end of the year,” Savage said. “He’s probably a nice guy, but his time is come and his time has gone,” he continued, and “I am the heir apparent to afternoon drive on the east coast and around America on Cumulus stations, which have the most powerful stations in the radio world.”

Hmmmm. Notice this line? This one, bold print for emphasis:

“I am the heir apparent to afternoon drive on the east coast and around America on Cumulus stations, which have the most powerful stations in the radio world.”

The question arises because months ago a source in the world of talk radio who had, as they say, taken a meeting with Lew Dickey, told this columnist that he had heard Lew Dickey say some version of exactly that. The bit about “the most powerful stations in the radio world.”

Then…last night….Michael Savage sits down before his microphone and sounds like…Lew Dickey.

Coincidence? Vulcan mind-melding?

Now think of that. As the apparent “opening” in the new partnership of Dickey, Dickey and Savage this story says in essence that Savage will do what he’s told by the Dickeys.

Wanna bet?

Based on Savage’s history -- and the Dickeys -- one can only wonder: How long will this partnership last before the firm of Dickey, Dickey and Savage either implodes -- or explodes?

Spectacularly?

And based on Savage’s long history the odds are it’s not going to be the kind of history -- however long it lasts -- that Cumulus stockholders are going to like. One suspects Cumulus stockholders will quickly be taking the title of Woody Allen’s classic movie to heart: Take the Money and Run. As the saying goes: We report, you decide.

Make no mistake. The last has not been heard in all of this. We will keep watching.

Which brings up a larger point.

The treatment of Sean Hannity by the Dickeys is not just a matter of Hannity. As noted, one of the issues noted by others is the seeming contempt that Cumulus has for its listeners -- and in the case of Hannity, that means conservatives. Whether they are contemptuous of conservatives or simply refuse to understand the conservative audience, they clearly have no idea -- none -- as to how well regarded Hannity is in conservative quarters across the land.

So whether they understand what they are doing or not, the Dickey, Dickey and Savage assault on Hannity on Savage’s show the other night is guaranteed to inflame Hannity’s audience -- conservatives.

Well aside from the inside baseball of talk radio, there is no doubt that this is connected to a desire to feed a contempt for conservatives at large that is in the DNA of liberalism -- and yes, corporatists like the Dickeys. In fact, as was noted here on Friday as well, the talk radio insiders at Talkers were suggesting that there was a deliberate attempt to “devalue” Hannity, thus playing into the hands of the Hannity haters.

So let’s ask the question.

How fixated are liberals with Sean Hannity, anyway? What kind of fire have the Dickeys been playing with?

Google “Hannity fired” and one finds…ready?... 2,460,000 results from desperate -- and I do mean desperate -- Hannity-hating liberals.

Over there at Media Matters they’ve run 15 Hannity-hating stories in the last 28 days alone. Say again….15 stories in 28 days. Media Matters has become so obsessed with Hannity they make the word “fanatical” into an understatement.

One of my favorites is this one, from a galaxy far, far away in the nutty la-la land of liberalism that confidently tells us Hannity has been fired by Fox News and that he will be leaving the network at the end of the year.

Apparently they know more than Fox chairman Roger Ailes, who says "I must quickly say that all of our stars will be back"… and citing Hannity by name.

Oops.

One of the definitive trademarks of the modern conservative movement, doubtless born of its longtime minority status as it was aborning, is the instinctive urge with many to rally for one of our own when under the guns of left-wing attack. As it were, one for all and all for one.

Not to mention when that attack is aided and abetted by someone posturing as a conservative who’s apparent animating motivation is merely that he covets Hannity’s radio time slot. Ahem. That means you Michael Savage.

For the Dickeys to mess with conservatives by launching such a virulent attack on Sean Hannity, the guy whom Roger Ailes of Fox described as “the nicest guy in the building” when commenting on the fact that yes indeed, contrary to all the liberal spin, he had happily re-signed Hannity to another four year contract -- is just asking for trouble. Big trouble.

But is it Sean Hannity who is really the target here? Or is it the Hannity audience? Conservatives.

More to the point, why is Hannity under such ferocious assault in the first place?

This attack on Sean Hannity is, in historical fact, only the latest in a very long line of attacks on conservatives. The distance in time between the arrival on the scene of the 25-year old William F. Buckley, Jr. in 1951 -- with the publication of his blockbuster God and Man at Yale -- and this latest attack on Sean Hannity may be over 60 years, but the attacks on the two men and so much, much more in between are of a piece.

Buckley openly challenged liberalism -- at Yale and then everywhere it appeared in society -- only to be greeted with an acid bath of furious charges that he was a fascist, a Nazi, a Klan member yada yada yada. There was an effort right off the bat not simply to disagree with the young Buckley -- but to ruin him. And even then, the small -- make that tiny -- cluster of conservatives in the day rallied to Buckley’s side, the attacks backfiring badly -- and giving Buckley the ability four years later to launch National Review. Not to mention so much more -- the Reagan Revolution included.

What the Dickeys clearly do not understand is that in their treatment of Sean Hannity, conservatives aplenty will see this as merely the latest assault in an ongoing, very active list of battles in what can more than accurately be called the War on Conservatives.

Does the name “IRS” ring a bell?

Of which more at a later time.

But make no mistake.

What the Dickeys have done here in going after Sean Hannity is the political equivalent of a clueless child playing with nitroglycerin.

With dynamite.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that the chances of this exploding on Cumulus in the style of Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius (as here -- think of Hannity as the train) -- on both the Dickeys and their Cumulus investors -- are high.

Make that very high.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.