by Chris Davis
Clear Channel, the nation’s largest radio broadcaster, has finally done what Air America, Mayor W.W. Herenton, and all the forces of liberalism combined could not accomplish. They have silenced Mike Fleming. He was laid-off from WREC radio on Tuesday, April 28, 2009.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Clear Channel cited the bad economy as its reason for laying off Fleming and more than 2,300 additional employees since January. Like floundering daily newspaper chains that also tend to blame the economy for their current woes, Clear Channel is mostly making excuses for its own overreaching. Although the global economic crisis has certainly exacerbated the situation, the real problems were created when the Dow was soaring and credit was cheap and plentiful.
In February, one month after slashing 1,800 jobs, Clear Channel announced that it would seek an additional $1.6-billion in credit. In March, Clear Channel's debt rating was slashed by Moody's Investor Service due to a “high probability” that the company couldn't meet debt obligations. At that time Neil Begley, the senior vice president of Moody's told the New York Times that if the company can't meet its covenants with Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Morgan Stanley, Wachovia and other lending organizations, it may be forced to seek Bankruptcy protection. “With a capital structure that was highly speculative from its inception, the company’s ability to continue as a going concern is completely dependent upon remaining in compliance with its covenants,” Begley was quoted as saying.
Clear Channel is often referred to as a “media empire” an accurate description that is too often mistaken for a metaphor. Like most empires the company overextended itself and took on extraordinary debt in order to own more stations that could be treated like exploitation colonies. Even in good times the company—like all media giants— squeezed out local talent and replaced it with cheap syndicated programing. Now the economy has taken an ugly turn, stations have already been cut to the bone, and what was already crippling debt has become crushing debt. And Mike Fleming got squashed in the process.
Former Rock 103 morning man Tim Spencer, now Clear Channel's director of operations in Memphis says he's not at liberty to say whether or not Fleming 's evening drive-time slot will be replaced by local talent or by syndicated programming.