"I don't think there is a living to be had in (radio)," says Ana Zimitravich, a student at Georgia State University and general manager of its new-music oriented WRAS-FM. "It is a slowly dissolving business."
Her colleague, WRAS music director Fray DeVore, says that's true for much of the staff, including himself. The Georgia State students they cater to in Atlanta are partial to the Web.
"Now we have a culture of blogging. That's how a lot of (musical) exposure is going on now, through the Internet," DeVore says. "There are so many other resources available than getting in your car and turning on the radio."
The high school and college kids who once craved radio employment -- and trained on their college or local stations -- are finding it harder to get jobs, thanks to the elimination of air shifts. The farm system has been devastated.
"In the old days, if you were a (communications) major or just anybody who was interested in getting into radio, you could find a small- or medium-market radio station and you learned your craft," Syracuse's Wright says. "Now you go into a radio station and there is nobody there. Nobody. There's a computer running the place."
Wright blames the industry leaders.
"The guys who really own this industry are trying to run it as cheap as they can, and that means not hiring any people," Wright says. "And in the meantime they're not laying any seeds for the future of the industry."
Clear Channel's Pittman admits his primary focus now is technology.
One of Clear Channel's major new ventures is IHeartRadio.com, a Web service that features "1,500+ live stations or create your own," its website says, including a Pandora-like channel and several programmed playlists. It's available on the Web or through a variety of device platforms, including apps for iPods, Androids and Kindles.
The idea is to get more stations into more places, whether it's through the Internet or portable device apps. Public transit commuters, for example, can plug into IHeartRadio.com through their smartphones, or people in one market can listen to stations in others.
"What we want is to find more listening occasions," Pittman says.
Digital listening is currently less than 10 percent of the radio audience, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center survey, but Pittman expects it to be a major part of the future.
"In terms of the digital revolution, we're way behind, but we think it's a terrific opportunity for us," he says.
But others call out the clash between Clear Channel's digital plans and its local cutbacks.
"What he says sounds really good. What he does, not so good," says Galaxy Communications' Levine. "He talks about content over here and when you're not looking, lays off 700 people over here. And nobody calls him on it."
He says IHeartRadio will be stillborn without investing in talent and stations.
"(The) IHeartRadio app is not content," he says. "You need living, breathing people to drive this thing called content, and if you keep systematically firing them, like Clear Channel and Cumulus do, you're not going to have much of an industry left."
Del Colliano, the radio analyst, is even harsher: "He's not there at Clear Channel to turn it around. He's there to do what he's done best in the prime part of his life, which is to find a way to package the company so it can be sold to someone else."
A recent post on Del Colliano's site maintains that Clear Channel will start selling off its lesser market stations in about a year and offer the buyers a Clear Channel product called "Premium Choice," featuring voice-tracked talent.
Clear Channel dismisses Del Colliano's criticism. "Jerry Del Colliano's blog is less a tip sheet than a fantasy," says a spokeswoman. "He's been 'predicting' things for years that don't happen and have no basis in reality."
Del Colliano is a pessimist about broadcast radio. Pittman looks at Clear Channel as an "opportunity."
"When people call you an evil empire, what they're saying is, you're not doing anything new and exciting. And I think the opposite side of having a big platform to play with is you can do great stuff," he says, reeling off charitable initiatives, indie band programs and other digital projects.
"That's the exciting thing about being a big platform. The unexciting thing is if we were dull and boring and did what we did 10 years ago or 20 years ago."
'We are so plugged in'
"There is magic at your fingers For the spirit ever lingers ..." -- Rush, "The Spirit of Radio"