Industry Views

Sabo Sez: Five Predictions

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media Implementers
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, “Sterling On Sunday”
Talk Media Network

im1. Financial solvency laws. Consolidation is not the problem; it actually saved the radio industry. The problem is the 1986 rule change that dropped financial solvency requirements for station ownership. Prior to 1986, stations could not be purchased with debt. A potential owner had to prove that they could meet the expenses of a station through the duration of its license. Once the financial efficacy rule was dropped and stations could be purchased with debt, the industry was financially decimated. Prediction: Financial solvency laws will be re-instated.

2. Ratings change. Ratings giant Nielsen will change its system of measurement of audio. The PPM was created over 20 years ago by a company that no longer exists. For a station to earn proper audience levels, Nielsen must measure all audio distribution platforms including radio sets, in car, cell phone streaming, computer streaming, satellite, public address systems and ear pods and whatever comes next. Now you choose one – over the air or the stream. This will change or more companies will follow the recent lead of Good Karma Brands radio which just cancelled Nielsen.

3. New leadership. Who’s in charge? Most radio companies are run by very sharp and very senior CEOs and Boards. The Boca effect — I don’t want trouble, just get me to my retirement and condo on Boca. The primary reason FM grew from 10% household usage in 1968 to 60% in 1981 was the “kids” were put in charge – and caused “trouble.” Allen Shaw at ABC FM, Walter Sabo at NBC FM (forgive me), Jerry Lyman at RKO FM and the sons and daughters of the owners of thriving AMs paired with orphaned FMs (think Beau Woods at WEBN, Cincinnati and Bart McClendon in Dallas) were given free range to create and implement brand new formats. While the AM management played golf, those 20-somethings aired daring, new, shocking, amazing radio that drew listeners to FM. No, not stereo or low commercials, it was the FM package of subversiveness. For radio to level up and serve the joy of an audience born with iPhones in their cribs, it will be led by today’s 20-somethings without suffering interference by bosses sharing really interesting stories about their time at CBGBs.  The essential leadership will come from younger programmers and executives who have only known a world with online video stars, a thousand cable channels, and on-demand video and audio entertainment.

4. New sales paradigm. Digital entertainment companies – audio and video – are fueled by stupid money. Venture capitalists launch new businesses with the goal of claiming a stake and then selling the business for their ROI. VCs have no interest in operating profit. Really. That means start-up media companies pay much more for sales executives than radio companies. Start-ups are shinier goals than radio stations to a media advertising seller. There will be a revolution in the way salespeople are identified, recruited, managed, and paid or the decline in radio revenue will accelerate.

5. Renovated voice tracking. Voice tracking is not horrible, it’s an opportunity that has not been realized. Today voice tracking is a poor imitation of being live – without benefits. No time, temp, urgent news. Here’s the miss: Every station has a stunning, amazing production library. Don’t have one? Swipe from YouTube. Rather than pretending to be live, admit to being recorded. Use that production freedom to produce. Tap the production library to create a running drama, comedy, mood, listening environment. Make the show between the songs to be as compelling as Taylor Swift. That’s the future of music radio.

Walter Sabo has been a C Suite action partner for companies such as SiriusXM, Hearst, Press Broadcasting, Gannett, RKO General and many other leading media outlets. His company HITVIEWS, in 2007, was the first to identify and monetize video influencers. HITVIEWS clients included Pepsi, FOX TV, Timberland, Microsoft, and CBS Television. He can be reached at

Industry Views

Better Than a Tornado – What You Can Control

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling on Sunday

The whining is non-stop. Many in radio mourn the advent of consolidation, corporate dictates, staff cuts. They miss the way the industry was – before.

A few reminders about – before. Half the radio stations in the U.S. lost money. Voice tracking? Yes, it was called automation, analog automation and it was a technical nightmare. The meta forces that control our industry today were not created by your current boss. They were created by irresponsible venture capitalists who only looked at the fifth-year projections. A budget projected to the fifth year is at best a guess, but it is most probably a lie.

What can you control? If you are a host, you can control your next show. If you are a program director, you can control your next promo, next break, next collection of shows. You control the product and that makes you the most powerful person in the radio ecosystem. You control the product. Let’s improve the product right now. Listeners know or believe that all radio is live. Live means surprises, the unexpected, the urgent!

— Prep the surprises. Rather than sourcing the New York PostDaily Mail and your local newspaper, try throwing them away for just a day and tap brand new, unexpected sources. Search “Siberia news” and “Alaska news.”  You will be stunned at the unique menu of stories and fresh material. Surprise! Did you know the biggest challenge in Siberia is rampant forest fires? How about the fact that melting permafrost has given up well preserved woolly mammoths and new breeds of humanoids? Live means surprise.

— Build the stage. Your station or network has a vast, digital production library that you don’t use. Take the time to sit with that library for a whole day and let your creativity explore the sounds and SFX. You will discover new beds, sounders and dramatic effects to build your show’s image and present the unexpected. Already use production? Scrap it and start fresh.

— Water in the basement is the most urgent news in a listener’s life. Not the debt ceiling or January 6. Water in the basement! Other urgent news is: The moving van is two days late. The mother in-law is speaking. Logan died on “Succession.” Give yourself permission to talk about what happened to you over the weekend rather than what happened in Washington, DC.

Your current list of topics is old news, no surprises, nothing urgent. Stop, it’s not working. The typical talk radio topics reach people who typically cannot stand up to change the dial. Surprises, the unexpected and the urgent could boost the survival probability of the AM band — better than a tornado.

Walter Sabo was the youngest Executive Vice President in the history of NBC. The youngest VP in the history of ABC. He was a consultant to RKO General longer than Bill Drake. Walter was the in house consultant to Sirius for eight years. He has never written a resume. Contact him at or mobile 646-678-1110. Hear Walter Sterling at www.waltersterlingshow.comMeet Walter Sabo at TALKERS 2023 on Friday, June 2.