Dan Mason’s Radio Show

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Dan Mason chose the first day of the National Assn. of Broadcasters spring convention to announce his retirement as president/CEO of CBS Radio, but many of my specific memories of his second tenure at CBS involve seeing him at the fall NAB/Radio Advertising Bureau Radio Show.

The first time was at what was then the NAB/R&R Radio Show in 2007. Radio wasn’t yet in the panic mode of a year or two later, but the strains were showing, and the hallways at NAB were rarely crowded. Mason was then in the second honeymoon of his return to CBS (as well as the return of WCBS-FM New York) to the oldies/”greatest hits” format. Mason’s Friday afternoon address sent me home on an up note, partially because he revealed himself as still a programming wonk, and made me feel that it was okay to still be enthusiastic about radio.

There was Radio Show 2012 in Dallas. Mason was on a panel about label/radio relations sparked by the announcement of the deal between the then-Clear Channel and Big Machine Records a few months earlier. That panel was really Tom Poleman’s show as Clear Channel (now iHeart Media)’s head of national programming platforms. Mason seemed uncharacteristically subdued, and CBS came off as less dynamic by comparison.

Then there was last year’s Radio Show in Indianapolis where Mason appeared with iHeart chairman/CEO Bob Pittman at a session that began with airchecks of both from the ‘70s. I was already perhaps predisposed to declaring the battle of the jocks for Mason, but I particularly appreciated something he said toward the end of the panel, chiding those broadcasters who congratulated themselves too much on public service at times of crisis—something that should have just gone without saying.

I’ve never been entirely onboard with the trade press deification of Mason, not something he’d want for himself anyway, or the vilification of his predecessor, Joel Hollander. Mason didn’t have the thankless task of finding Howard Stern’s successor. He had the advantage of leading a CBS charge for “greatest hits” and CHR at a time when PPM made both more feasible. And no broadcaster with more than three radio stations is right all the time—not even good broadcasters.

But Mason did help shepherd oldies back into another decade of viability. On his watch, CBS did lead the charge in making CHR a format of multiple major-market broadcasters – not the one-owner show that it had been for the previous decade. More important, it operates major-market stations that support new music, in seeming defiance of PPM law, as important a strategy for working with the labels as any broadcaster could offer.

Most important, I never had to resolve any cognitive dissonance on Dan Mason’s behalf. It was easy to come out of a Radio Show group heads panel wishing that the ideals espoused once a year really existed in year-round practice. Mason’s CBS Radio was a programmers’ company at all times.

Dan Mason’s career has been intertwined with that of Scott Shannon over the years, most recently when Shannon successfully ended a short-lived “retirement” to become morning man of WCBS-FM. Mason’s own retirement had been vigorously predicted by certain trades for several years. For a broadcaster in his early 60s, that’s a safe prediction, but I hope some of the accompanying rumors about CBS getting out of radio don’t bear themselves out any time soon. And I’m not expecting Mason to follow Shannon into un-retirement in three months, but if it happens, it won’t be unwelcome.

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