“The FCC is our hapless industry-indentured real estate agent that gives away the spectrum.”
I don’t listen to the radio too much anymore, but every now and then I spin the dial just to see what happens. When I do I hear the same tired, recycled rip-off trash poisoned with grocery store pop music. Most corporate stations have a format; a predetermined “play list” of songs. The station is told what songs to play (as well as how many commercials to air) by their parent company. What I did not know is that most radio stations in my cold hometown are now owned by the same outside company. This seething multimedia giant is called Clear Channel; and they are taking away Americas airwaves and with it our music and voices.
In 1996 Congress passed the Telecommunications Act. The idea of this bill was to promote competition amongst phone, cable and internet providers, but a rider within the bill expanded the limits of how many radio stations any single company could own. Previous to the bill Clear Channel owned 28 radio stations nationwide. Today, Clear Channel Communications Inc. is a multi-corporate conglomerate that owns 1,225 radio stations in all 50 states- about 10% of the nation’s total. They also own more than 250 stations in 65 foreign countries, 770,000 billboards, and 350 malls. For me Clear Channel owns and operates the classic rock station, three pop channels, one “oldies” and one new rock station on the FM dial, plus four channels on the AM side and our local NBC TV station. All this "competition" in a town of 30,000 doesn’t leave much room for the little man trying something new.
What, one may ask, is really so bad about Clear Channel? Well, aside from the rather shady practices of dividing formats with other companies to avoid competition and firing local radio employees then recording voice-overs at sister stations, Clear Channel buys out or leverages local radio stations and independent promoters known as “indies.” Indies are the middle men between record companies and radio stations. Every time songs by their artists are played on the radio the indies get a cut of the profit. Clear Channel signs exclusive deals with indies who, in turn, insist record companies deal solely with them. Therefore, they make money and the only music played on the radio is owned by corporate giants that don’t care about the quality of the music, only the revenue it produces. This is why crap pop gets overplayed and new or independent artists do not. As Clear Channel CEO, Lowry Mays, once said, “We’re not in the business of providing news and information. We’re not in the business of providing well-researched music. We’re simply in the business of selling our customers products.” Clear Channel is in the business of making money- not helping communities or listening to their listeners.
Recently Clear Channel Communications “donated” $120 million in advertisement time and space for the Ad Council’s public service announcement campaigns in the upcoming year. This partnership will utilize all of Clear Channels media properties: radio, TV, outdoor, internet and special events to support PSA’s. Clear Channel will also create original PSA’s for Ad Council campaigns, thusly controlling even more of our airwaves.
After learning all this I found myself wondering what the hell I could do. And there are several options. I could write my congressman to tell him my opinion of airwave monopolization. I can apply for a LPFM license from the FCC (www.nlgcdc.org for more info) and/or start/join a non-profit radio station. Or I could devote myself to running a pirate station (note: it is illegal- www.radio4all.org/how-to.html) a la ‘Pump up the Volume’. Or just support my local and community based radio. Of course the easiest thing to do is to turn off the offender… but I have never felt good about living in silence.