The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

15 August 2008

Amid Cutbacks, Citadel-ABC Throws Lavish Celebration


While Company Struggles, Citadel $pends Big On Wild Party


Within the radio industry, watching Citadel-ABC Radio slowly croak has become a spectator sport. With a heavy debt load, shaky revenue outlook and stock price stuck under a dollar, how long can the owner of some of the nation's largest news-talk stations survive?

Between their ultra-liberal executive management ranks (which nearly caused Sean Hannity to leave the company), financial difficulties, layoffs and personnel issues, we've covered Citadel (NYSE:CDL) extensively.

Programming decisions have been bizarre: while dumping successful hosts like former KSFO talker Melanie Morgan, they've taken out the checkbook to bring fossil-talker Don Imus back from the dead.

But even your Radio Equalizer wasn't prepared for Citadel's latest controversy, an extravagant party held earlier this week at San Francisco's Four Seasons Hotel. It has had outraged insiders eager to spill the beans.

Intended to celebrate KGO 810 AM's number one ratings, several inside and industry sources place the cost at between $100,000 and $150,000. It is said to have included cast members of the city's long-running Beach Blanket Babylon production.

According to one insider, KGO President and General Manager Mickey Luckoff "hired a ventriloquist for entertainment and provided a live band for more than 200 guests, including local politicians, KGO staff and alumni from the past thirty years. Champagne was served as a parting gift for party-goers who danced past midnight."

Previously, we covered Luckoff's wish to rehire disgraced former host libtalker Bernie Ward, who now faces sentencing in his child pornography case.

In addition, the observer noted widespread employee dissatisfaction with the message it sent: "always the big spender, Luckoff’s poor choice did not resonate well with many current and former staffers who complained that while many employees are losing money and jobs company-wide, KGO continues to act as if budget constraints are not an issue. With more cut-backs expected at Citadel stations next week, Mickey Luckoff may be wishing he invested the party expenses closer to the real bottom line."

Another staffer (who also spoke on condition of anonymity) expressed dismay that many rank-and-file staffers weren't invited to the party, while San Francisco politicos and former execs were included.

With more layoffs coming soon and the company's prospects so dangerously poor, how does Citadel justify spending this kind of money? Is it because they don't care about who might lose their job to cover this kind of extravagance, or have they simply given up on the future and would to go out with a bang?

Either way, Citadel CEO Farid Suleman deserves a grilling from already- angry investors on this latest excess.

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Hotel images: Four Seasons San Francisco, Party images: Kenny Wardell


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