Clear Channel Regional Engineers to Take Full Responsibility for Consolidations
COVINGTON, Ky. Are big radio buildouts done in the United States? No, but facilities definitely are not being consolidated at the furious pace of the last two years, according to directors of engineering for several of the major radio groups.
The discussion was prompted by news that Al Kenyon, Clear Channel Radio’s senior vice president for projects and technology, is looking for his next position. His job has been eliminated.
Following the successful completion of several projects, “I worked myself out of a job,” he said.
Kenyon, 53, had reported to Jeff Littlejohn, senior vice president of engineering for Clear Channel Radio, which will now turn over all the responsibility for buildouts to its 10 regional engineering managers, Littlejohn said.
“Their experience and knowledge of the markets will allow them to work more closely with the market staff. The regional engineering service managers have been involved in the projects before, but now they will be running them.”
“Rather than assigning 20 projects to one person, we’ll be assigning two projects a piece to 10 different regional engineers,” he said.
Steve Davis, senior vice president engineering and capital management for Clear Channel Radio, would continue to oversee the budget implications of any related projects, he said.
Additionally, Littlejohn said, the regional managers “have always overseen the RF projects for a market and the cap-ex budgets as well.” The additional responsibility is a “natural extension of those duties,” he said.
Kenyon oversaw office and studio consolidations, from 15,000-square-foot buildouts in small markets to 100,000-square-foot projects.
Clear Channel has told the investment community that project capital expenditures would decrease as the consolidation process matures and acquired properties are integrated into operating units. The action was a reflection of those cuts, Littlejohn said, although he said it doesn’t mean there are no big consolidation jobs ahead for the company.
As time passes, an ever-smaller number of Clear Channel’s markets operate non-consolidated multiple location facilities. The radio company has gone from dozens of consolidation projects annually to fewer and fewer projected for future years, said Kenyon.
“The new consolidation projects principally reflect potential savings in operating expense through elimination of multiple leases, and are often driven by existing lease termination dates,” he said. “It becomes difficult to continue to offset one’s compensation through savings resulting from project management of an ever-decreasing number of projects.”
Projected budgets for studio and RF projects under Kenyon’s oversight dropped roughly 50 percent for 2005, said a source close to Kenyon, from roughly $100 million in 2003 and 2004.
Littlejohn said he could not comment on any figures.
Kenyon’s job may have been unique to Clear Channel, sources said. Lead engineers for other radio groups who spoke to Radio World for this article said their companies did far fewer consolidation projects a year than Clear Channel, and none had a person specifically in Kenyon’s position.
Cumulus Media Inc. and Susquehanna Radio Corp., for example, have teams of people responsible for various portions of consolidation builds.
Susquehanna involves regional and local engineers in the process. “It’s a great training and learning experience for our engineers because every build is different,” said Norm Philips, direction of technical operations for Susquehanna.
“Consolidation projects generally fall on me and the regional engineers,” said Cumulus Media Corporate Director of Engineering Gary Kline. “We have different people who plug in at different points in the project.”
That team includes real-estate personnel overseeing tower rental income, regional and local engineers as well as Executive Vice President John Dickey, he said.
“If they’re 1,200 stations and their average number of clustered stations is six, that’s over 200 cities,” said one director of engineering for a major radio group, who asked not to be identified. “If you’re in your average building 20 years, it would look like every year you’re going to have 10 places relocating.
“I can’t see the job going away. There’s still plenty to do. But it may be, you just start building new versions of what you already had,” the source said.
Watching the slowdown of purchases and sales as the industry awaits a final decision on the FCC’s new media ownership rules, Philips of Susquehanna believes the major consolidations are done for a while. The small and medium markets are still seeing consolidation, but these are smaller projects that require less construction, he said, not as big a project as say, five stations in one building, requiring a buildout of 30 studios.
Kenyon got his first taste of radio in high school at a 10-watt station, WSPE, in Springville, N.Y.
“To transmit a signal, a GE Phasetron excited a 10-watt transmitter in a 48-inch cabinet driving a single-bay ring antenna on a 30-foot tower on top of the high school, located in a valley,” he said.
“I read a chapter a day from ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips,’ played Air Force transcriptions and engineered home basketball games. As a public service, we didn’t radiate very far.”
The console was a Gates SA-40 “Speech Input Console.” As chief engineer, he learned to troubleshoot the console by touching the preamp grid caps and listening for the buzz. “I learned not to touch plate caps about the same time,” he said.
Kenyon’s professional broadcasting career began in 1975 as radio chief for Taft Broadcasting’s WKRC/WKRQ, Cincinnati. In 1976 he went to WDAF/KYYS, Kansas City as radio chief engineer. In 1988, he returned to Cincinnati to work with GM Dave Martin as CE for Jacor’s WLW(AM).
By 1999, Kenyon was vice president of engineering for Jacor when Clear Channel bought that company.
He was in his latest position for a little more than two years.
Kenyon also represented the company on the Ibiquity Digital board of directors and the FCC’s Media Security and Reliability Council. The company hopes to name the individuals who will represent Clear Channel before those two groups before the end of the year.
Kenyon was based in the Covington office. Sources said no other positions were eliminated in that office.