As new Cumulus CEO Mary Berner officially starts on the job tomorrow, one of the biggest questions on the minds of many in the industry is what is really up with the NASH division that was the primary focus of Lew & John Dickey over the past couple of years.
After a Tom Taylor report last week that the Nash initiative was to “lose prominence” under Berner, Cumulus quickly came out with anonymous denials to other publications while Senior Vice President of Content & Programming Mike McVay took to Twitter to comment:
Someone asked me today "Is Cumulus committed to NASH." The answer isn't just yes. It's HELL YES.
— Mike McVay (@MikeMcVay) October 8, 2015
That was followed by press releases late Friday about the “massive” online engagement the Nash Next online talent contest was receiving and Sean Parr’s “Nash Nights Live” crossing the 100 affiliate mark. The Nash Next release touted 57,00 online registrations, 241 million impressions the last three months on social media, at least 6 page views per visit, and 47% of traffic being first-time users. Of course numbers like that can also be construed to say that people are visiting once and never returning, but at least the project is getting some attention. Getting back to the topic at hand, though let’s look at what’s really been going on with the primary Nash brand.
The last station to be rebranded as “Nash-FM” by Cumulus was nearly a year ago. Many of Cumulus’ strongest Country stations such as KSCS Dallas and WKHX Atlanta continue to operate without the NASH branding in place. Growth since then has been mainly with the “Nash Icon” brand, but even that has mostly been with non-Cumulus owned affiliates via Westwood One. The record label partnership with Big Machine continues to show growth, but nearly every other initiative associated with the Nash brand has gone unnoticed by the general public. A press release about promotions within Cumulus’ Country programming hierarchy made following the Dickey firings failed to mention “Nash” even once.
Then why did Cumulus quickly strike to shut down the rumors regarding NASH? What choice do they really have? The company isn’t going to spend money to rebrand or flip all of the stations they converted to Nash over the past couple of years or hire local talent to replace those based at the Nash Campus in Nashville. A move like that would negatively affect the company’s already damaged stock. Growth within the Nash radio brand has already trickled to a stop so coming out and saying that the company is committed to it is like saying the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning. Keeping status quo is commitment. And if Berner and McVay do make adjustments to repair the flaws in the programming in most markets then there are revenue gains to be made.
If Cumulus was fully committed to NASH they would finish converting the remainder of their Country stations to the branding, launch a massive marketing campaign outside of the print and online properties they’ve launched inside the brand, and figure out how to make America’s Morning Show a must-listen to program for Country fans within Cumulus markets and online for those outside. The half-formed concept that the company has run for the past two years has not succeed and will continue to remain that way.