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Berner Lays Out Hopes for Cumulus Staff

Preaching stability first, she spoke in a private online address to the company's employees

Two months into her position as leader of the second largest radio broadcast group in the country, Cumulus CEO Mary Berner is pointing to 2016 as the turnaround year for the company.

Preaching stability first, Berner spoke late last week in a private Web address to Cumulus employees. According to a person who watched, she said she has collected a lot of good feedback from employees and traveled to 16 radio markets and eight network offices in the first 66 days of her tenure.

Cumulus Media, with 454 owned-and-operated radio stations in 90 markets and nearly 6,000 employees, underwent a top management shakeup in October. Berner replaced founder Lew Dickey as CEO. Last week Berner also announced several new executive appointments.

The company stock – CMLS on the Nasdaq stock market – has continued to slide under Berner. Cumulus stock was down approximately 90 percent year to date to 35 cents per share as of Monday. The broadcaster’s revenues for the third quarter this year were down nearly 7.8% from 2014, according to the company’s earnings statements.

“We are operating under very real and significant financial constraints, which for now as we are turning the ship around, means we can only do what we can afford,” Berner told employees in the webinar. “We first must stabilize Cumulus and then build it into the top-performing audio media company in the U.S.”

Berner is touting her “operations, ratings and culture” strategy to turnaround the company, which includes giving more autonomy to individual markets.

“Each move is designed to provide more organizational clarity and accountability so we can effectively execute on our decisions,” she said. She described the company’s previous organizational chart as the “Cumulus tangle,” one that caused enormous execution issues. She promised more local authority and input with program directors now reporting to market managers.

“Gone are corporate music list mandates,” Berner said. “Programming is the oxygen of Cumulus.”

She also pointed to some positives so far in her short time as CEO, such as the strength Westwood One is showing in the fourth quarter, and said she is expecting a much better up front performance in 2016 from the network that includes 8,200 affiliates. She promised new details on a Cumulus digital strategy at the next employee meeting.

Cumulus has budgeted for merit pay increases in 2016 for employees, with more details forthcoming, Berner said. The company will add two more holidays for employees to its schedule in 2016 to more closely match those of its peers.