“I believe they helped ruin the radio industry,” says La Jolla’s Marc Paskin, a former radio station owner, about iHeartMedia, the media group that owns billboards, promotes concerts, and owns 850 radio stations nationwide, including seven in San Diego.
On March 15, iHeart, formerly known as Clear Channel, went bankrupt. It was not a surprise to many of the 100-plus local employees who work at the seven iHeart stations, Rock 105.3, KGB, Channel 9-3-3, My 94.1, Jam’n 95.7, XTRA Sports and KOGO. “They told us in a video conference call not to worry, and that none of us would lose our jobs,” says one of the local employees. “But of course they aren’t going to tell those of us they think are non-essential that we won’t be here in 30 to 60 days.”
The Chapter 11 filing was due to a debt of over $20 billion that the San Antonio-based company had carried for almost ten years. Paskin was a Top 40 DJ in radio’s golden years in the 60s and 70s before he built a sizable residential real estate portfolio. He says he would love to acquire one of the iHeart stations if America’s largest radio group ends up spinning off some local assets.
Paskin bought an FM station in Denver three years ago called Smokin’ 94.1. “It was basically a classic rock station with a cannibis gimmick. Pot had just been made legal in Colorado.” Paskin put himself on the air as afternoon DJ Gary Ganja. He wore a dreadlock wig when TV cameras dropped by. “Most of the Denver TV stations did a piece on us. The New York Times did a story on us.”
But a stroke , which impaired his mobility but not his mind, compelled Paskin to sell Smokin 94.1 six months later. “I sold it for $850,000 to iHeart. I made about $50,000 on the deal.”
Now Paskin says it may be a good time to retake some local radio real estate if a bankruptcy judge tells iHeart to divest. “Properties of radio stations have really gone down. The Loop [WLUP-FM] in Chicago just sold for $21 million. Ten years ago it was worth $250 million. That’s a 90 percent drop.”
Paskin says he would be interested in a local station if it was available for $5 million or so. If he were to retake the airwaves, he says, he may launch a ‘60s oldies station. “No one else locally is playing the Beatles, Stones, and Beach Boys... I’d like to bring back fun and local personality. The reason DSC [Dave Shelly and Chainsaw] do so well in the ratings is because they are live and local.”
Paskin says his hoped for ‘60s station may use retro Top 40 DJs like Shotgun Tom Kelly. But he admits the oldies-but-goodies may not make him rich. “As a businessman, of course I would like it to make money. But if I did this, it would be more like a labor of love.”
He’s certain he couldn’t do any worse than iHeart. “The reason music stations are doing so poorly now is partly because of technology... Pandora and Spotify. Especially with younger people. They are building some cars now without a radio. You get a computer screen with 500 options. But another part of the reason radio sucks so bad now is because of iHeart.”
He says iHeart is famous for replacing live DJs with automated voice tracks. “They took the creativity out of radio. They are all a bunch of zombies. But people still want to hear local DJs.”
Paskin, who was known for posting a billboard in Barrio Logan in 2012 looking for a Latina girlfriend, doesn’t hold back his feelings. “In Denver I would stand on the corner [in Gary Ganja drag] with a sign that says ‘Honk if you hate iHeart radio.’ I’d get honks and high fives for hours. The fact is, iHeart is a shitty company, and it’s good if they just go away.”