iHeartRadio Bankruptcy Rumors Emerge

The transformation of consumer media continues, and it just seems to be gaining steam. This time, the target is on terrestrial radio. The two largest owners of radio stations in the United States recently filed for bankruptcy.

iHeart Radio Files For Bankruptcy

iHeartMedia operates 850 stations, and it filed for bankruptcy protection last week. Cumulus operates 445, and it filed several months ago. While each company faces unique personal challenges, the overarching problems are shared across the entire industry. Namely, a lot fewer people are listening to radio, and that makes the entire concept much less profitable.

And, where’s there’s less profit to be had, there tends to also be mounting debt. There’s only so much rope creditors will give you. Sooner or later, “maybe next month” is not going to cut it. You have to restructure, or you have to close your doors.

iHeart, especially, is under the gun with debt. The company started in the red after taking on serious debt to acquire Clear Channel Outdoor in 2008. It was an unsustainable situation, and analysts knew it. iHeart hoped for a radio Renaissance, or they hoped to gobble up enough of the market to put the books back in the black. That didn’t happen.

Satellite media, iTunes and, now, streaming media have conspired to continue building their market base by bleeding off former radio listeners. And it didn’t take much convincing. The old radio format of playing the same group of paid-for songs and peppering this repetition with talk and commercials just didn’t compare with being able to build your own “stations” on streaming media… especially for the Millennial and Z generations, who were not “raised on the radio.”

Negotiations in Place

iHeart may have a light in the tunnel still. The company has, reportedly, been able to successfully negotiate with creditors to restructure more than $10 billion in debt, which accounts for about half of the current debt load of the company.

That’s good news, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to dealing with the major issue. Radio is losing its audience, and it has yet to find a way to stop the bleeding. Talk radio and format flipping has been successful to a point. There’s definitely a locked-in audience for certain brands of talk, as well as for demographics who were, in fact, raised on the radio, and love the nostalgia factor.

But as more and more Boomers and Gen X consumers are discovering Pandora, Spotify and Apple Music, not to mention podcasts, the market for radio will continue to shrink, making the competition for listeners even fiercer. Companies like iHeart must not only find a way to get their debt under control, they have to figure out a new or altered business model that allows them to transition from the current business to one that today’s consumers demand.

About Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations. He is an experienced leader in the public relations industry with over 20 years of experience. Ronn Torossian has been named as Public Relations executive of the year by the American Business Awards, and has run countless award-winning Public Relations programs.


Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and Chairman of 5WPR, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 25 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America’s most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company’s growth, overseeing more than 275 professionals. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named “PR Agency of the Year” by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world’s most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine’s Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Torossian is known as one of the country’s foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations,” which is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.

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