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Lew Dickey, John Dickey lose key posts at Atlanta-based Cumulus Media

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Two leading Dickey brothers are leaving their jobs at struggling Atlanta-based Cumulus Media, the nation's second largest radio company.

Lew Dickey, who has been chief executive officer since Cumulus was launched in 1997, will become vice chairman. Mary G. Berner will take over as CEO.

Brother John Dickey, who has been an executive producer overseeing programming and operations, is stepping down as well.

This is from Dickey's memo to staffers:

Nineteen years ago, I laid out a plan to start a radio company. I found a partner to help raise capital and nine months later, Cumulus was born. Since 1997, through more than 150 transactions, we have grown from a pure start-up into the second-largest radio company in America with 460 stations in 90 cities as well as the industry's most important network, Westwood One. We have grown to more than 6,000 employees and almost $1.2 billion of revenue.

Over the last four years, we have seen the transformation of our company with the acquisitions of Citadel and Westwood One as well as the creation of NASH. Our national platform now reaches approximately 225 million people per week and is well-positioned to compete successfully in the rapidly evolving media industry. Importantly, we have recruited some of the most talented people in our industry to lead our business.

After serving the company day-to-day for almost 19 years, with the last 16 as CEO of Cumulus, now is the right time for me to transition from CEO to Vice Chairman of the Board. I'll be working closely with my fellow Board Members to support, guide and oversee our new CEO.

New CEO Berner was was President and Chief Executive Officer of MPA – The Association of Magazine Media (“MPA”), the industry association for magazine media companies. She has also been  CEO of Reader’s Digest Association, and CEO of Fairchild Publications.

Cumulus has been weighed down by debt ($2.4 billion) while revenues and profits have fallen in a challenging environment for traditional radio. The stock price has fallen below $1 a share, closing at 68 cents today. Its effort to turn the Nash country brand into a big revenue generator has yet to bear fruit either.

Tom Taylor of Inside Radio does a nice job breaking down the new CEO's background in Chapter 11 reorganization, a possible route for Cumulus.

I have covered Cumulus mostly from the programming side (as opposed to the business side) over the past 14 years and from a very specific Atlanta angle. I have never talked to Lew and have only occasionally gotten John on the phone. His tone with me always struck me as glib.

Their performance in Atlanta has been less than impressive despite the fact this is their hometown.

Q100, despite the power of the Bert Show, has seen its overall ratings fall behind IHeartMedia's Power 96.1. Kicks 101.5, the once dominant country station when ABC and Citadel owned it, has been behind IHeartMedia's 94.9/The Bull (though the Bull took a dive last month). Its news/talk station 106.7 has not gained much traction against FM 95.5 and AM 750 WSB or 90.1/WABE-FM. And Rock 100.5 is a serious also ran behind the two other rock stations.

Coincidentally,  a radio convention is happening now in Atlanta sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters and the Radio Advertising Bureau. There was speculation that the Dickeys might be in trouble because they typically sign on to be speakers or panelists at this convention and were nowhere on the agenda. This was even odder considering this is Cumulus' hometown.


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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.