July 12, 2016
A little over a year ago, Dan Mason decided to call it a career after a lengthy, successful stint as CEO/Pres. of CBS Radio. But he didn't leave radio entirely. He simply segued to the Chairman post at the Broadcasters Foundation of America, the industry group that helps those stricken by disease or tragedy. And more recently, he took on some advising work for iHeartMedia. Here, Mason discusses the Foundation, who and how it helps, and his new part-time gig at iHeartMedia.
When did you first decide to get involved with the Broadcasters Foundation and why?
Jim Thompson approached me as a donor at first. I did donate, happily, to the Broadcasters Foundation after I discovered their mission. About two years later, he asked me to be on the Board. I accepted and got an even closer look at the passion of the people here and the work they've done. I really believe in the cause; I'm excited about our mission and totally support the cause of helping broadcasters in need.
Has the Foundation's mission changed in any way since you came on board?
It hasn't changed at all. We've been remarkably consistent for the past 65 years - to find those who have been stricken by disease or tragedy and can't support themselves or work for themselves. Our charity takes care of our own. No qualified person who has applied for aid has been turned away. That has been consistent. We're here for those in unfortunate circumstances such as catastrophic health events or tragic accidents. We're not an unemployment agency and not for people who want to switch careers, but for those stricken by unforeseen serious tragedies.
What are the main challenges facing the Foundation -- and those it helps -- today?
From my own viewpoint, many years ago I thought we had cancer on the run. As the years passed and the decades gone by, I've had a closer look at it. In the last five years, cancer has reared its ugly head and taken so many people in our industry. You look at all the careers that were cut short and the people who have been knocked off their feet. Our organization is there, not only for those with cancer but for those with many other diseases. We're here to help those who can't help themselves. Our job is to find people who need that help. That's the message we're trying to get out.
Are you satisfied that the broadcasting community is fully aware of the Foundation and what it offers - or do you feel you need to reach out to them more?
More effort is needed. Interviews like this will help spread the word and raise the general awareness among people under 50. This organization has been here for more than 65 years and let's face it, as younger generations come around, we have to keep spreading the word to alert them. We're constantly looking for those in need, as well as for new donors to help support the cause. We really can't use our own airwaves as broadcasters to spread the word; that would come off as self-serving. This type of interview with the radio trades seem to work the best.
How many people have been helped by the BFA, and approximately how much money has been donated?
In the last five years alone, the Broadcasters Foundation has distributed close to $4 million in monthly and emergency grants to hundreds of broadcasters across the country.
Because of the shrinking size of the industry, personnel-wise, is it more difficult to get new donors?
I don't see many changes there, I believe every time we do an interview and every time a trade publication puts out something on the Broadcasters Foundation, we tend to see a new wave of people who need help, as well as people who want to donate. That's why it's important to keep the message going, but it does come in waves ... peaks and valleys. When the messaging goes down, so do the grant applications. That's why it's important to keep spreading the word in any way we can.
Does your medical care also cover psychological afflictions such as addictions?
Every individual's situation is different, so yes, I'm sure we would provide help in those situations. We've also helped broadcasters who were impacted by the flooding in South Carolina. We've provided emergency grants to broadcasters who have been taken away from their homes due to catastrophic events caused by natural disasters, such as the tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri and Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, over 250 emergency grants were distributed.
What does the Foundation offer that goes above and beyond what the radio groups' health plans have?
We don't work with the groups' insurance benefit plans. As I've said, every case is different; every individual's case is unique. So when a broadcaster comes to the Foundation and fills out the standard forms, that information will decide his or her qualification. We certainly don't work with insurance companies or their packages.
Are there any new areas you'd like the Foundation to help our broadcasters?
No, because we're not just supplying aid for medical issues; we already help those who've had tragic accidents or any number of things. Even with all that we do, we have a very focused mission and a charter we adhere to.
In general, what's the biggest challenges radio faces from here on out?
Radio has to stick to its mission: Our medium is a local-based medium. No matter how you cut it, it's very local and always will be local. It's much unlike radio in different parts of the world, where it's a national-based medium. Many countries have nationally broadcast stations. That's not American broadcasting, which is very localized. That's the beauty of our broadcasting - both radio and TV are local-based media. That's what American broadcasters do.
You recently took a job at iHeartMedia as Senior Advisor for Broadcast Relations. What does that job entail?
I'll be a sounding board to Bob Pittman and Rich Bresler on certain issues. It's certainly not a full-time position, but I will be there as an advisor for the management team, to assist them in any way possible. I can add another voice in the mix, to be able to work alongside them on government issues such as the FCC, possibly the NAB. I'll work on big-picture items and not necessarily be involved in others.
How has the consolidation trend impacted a local-based medium such as radio?
Looking back at the sheer number of stations involved in the transactions, there's a tendency to cover many of them with one brush. Yes, some companies went that route and had a significant impact on local broadcasters, but some broadcasters played the consolidation game differently than others, so you can't say it was all good or bad.
Looking back, I don't think consolidation was wrong. You could possibly argue that some of the rules be rewritten regarding the total number of radio stations one company can own, but overall it need not be totally rewritten. Consolidation, per se, was not wrong, as the sheer volume of transactions created both positives and negatives.
In a recent interview, Wall Street consultant Bishop Cheen described radio as a "mature industry." Do you agree and if so, should radio operate itself any differently because of that stature?
Radio goes with the beta of its local economy. Should the local retail economy grow by double-digits, radio will, too. This is a retail-based business, and as long as the group of whatever the retail is in the market grows ... as the GDP grows by a certain percentage, radio should have an advantage to grow right along with it. It's kind of ridiculous to expect radio advertising growth rates to quadruple the local retail rate; you can't put those big expectations on the radio industry.
If you had your druthers, what would you recommend that radio stations do to successfully compete against all the digital and online services?
They have to remain local and keep in mind that in every advertising dollar, the Googles and Facebooks take about 75 cents of that. It's important that the rest of the radio industry not fight each other over what's left. We have to realize it's better for all of us to be united as a local-based medium that can do a lot of great things. The beauty of radio is that it's a call-to-action medium. A lot of pureplays and online services can't do what we can do - and that's what we should concentrate on.