Tales from the Jugular

Clear Channel - Why the Radio Sucks

By: Frank Hill
Published: Thursday, April 15, 2004
A while ago companies could only own a certain number of radio and TV stations, so the media landscape had plenty of independent groups running stations with DJs spinning real records that they chose or recieved payola (link) to play. Stations actually competed to get your ear.

The gov't dropped many controls and allowed more consolidation and station ownership. Say hello to Clear Channel and goodbye to choice.

Clear Channel owns over 1,200 radio stations and 37 television stations, with investments in 240 radio stations globally, and Clear Channel Entertainment (aka SFX, one of their more well-known subsidiaries) owns and operates over 200 venues nationwide. They are in 248 of the top 250 radio markets, controlling 60% of all rock programming. They outright own the tours of musicians like Janet Jackson, Aerosmith, Pearl Jam, Madonna and N'Sync. They own the network which airs Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura, Casey Kasem, and the Fox Sports Radio Network. With 103,000,000 listeners in the U.S. and 1,000,000,000 globally (1/6 of the world population)... --ClearChannelSucks.org

In the 70's, if record companies wanted songs played they slipped cocaine (link) to the promoters and DJs. This was of course against the law and now companies have to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to middle-men "consultants" who "recommend" what Clear Channel should play.

Don't start weeping for the record companies yet especially the ones who ripped off artists for decades and fixed CD prices for the last 10 years because there's a bit of a symbiotic relationship of mutual back rubbing here.

About 20 years ago, some smart radio guy noticed that you could put out an average song with simplistic, unchallenging elements, play it over and over and over and over and beat listeners into a coma-induced buying state. This is why great commercial music died around the late 70's and that guy was promoted from the mailroom to the boardroom.

Where does the artist who puts his sweat and blood into songs fit into this?

First a company has to think you're marketable, since they are investing the cash. It's least risky to stick with the proven sellers, so if you're not a clone of somebody else you'll probably get looked over. If you don't sign the company contract then your band will get no studio money and no money is put into advertising so people know you exist outside your home area of Podunk, Arkansas.

The record company then has to pay CC, so you'll be heard on the CC-owned radio 27 quintillion times. If you tour, you'll need to play in the CC-owed venues and use CC-owned promoters or your radio play will be cut. Local promoters now get to join in on the beating and we get to say bye-bye to another little fish in the pond (link). Keep your mouth shut and don't get too political either or your support is gone as we shall soon see.

How can we make this even uglier? Let's throw in some gov't connections.

Secretary of State Colin Powell's son, Michael Powell, is the head of the FCC and its five commissioners are holding hearings--a 1996 law said they must--to study whether decades-old media ownership restrictions are suitable for a marketplace that has been transformed by satellite broadcasts, cable television and the Internet. They have to reconsider the regulations that limit the number of media outlets that a single corporation can own. Don't think that CC isn't swinging from his wrinkly, Republican nutsack. Powell said, "that if the commission can't justify a media ownership restriction, the rule will go away."

Can you say--"expansion into newspaper ownership", folks. Here's some fun reading material if you aren't cynical enough yet: (fun links)

The Dixie Chicks were removed from CC stations for exercising their anti-Bush free speech rights and Howard Stern was removed from CC stations under the guise of cleaning the airwaves up. Howard supports Kerry and his show is owned by competing station owner Infinity, by the way. CC has supported numerous "patriotic rallies" and has some noted Bush ties (link).

It IS a political world.

All hope is not lost because some are taking notice though: U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) today introduced the "Competition in Radio and Concert Industries Act." (link). Feingold held a press conference with representatives of the artist, consumer and labor communities to outline his legislation which would help small and independent radio station owners and promoters, and consumers by prohibiting anti-competitive practices in the radio and concert industries. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee is supposed to be a co-sponsor.

Maybe we should just let traditional radio die like a gutted beast and move on to new technologies like satellite radio? CC is buying into that also.

Certainly, one could argue that CC is just increasing market efficiency, but the situation we're in is like in any industry that goes unchecked--those with money gobble up the smaller fish and try to control all aspect of the industry generally with some very questionable tactics like intimidation and illegal means. Eventually, you end up with watered-down products and generic choices.

It's distictly un-American, but y'know, I have hope...

For every push in one direction, be it far left or far right, there are others who will pull us back to the middle again. For every politition that tries to take away our personal rights, there is another that will fight to get them back. For every Congressman that supports corporate interests, there is another who looks out for the little guy.

Over time, our social beliefs, policies and mores tend to sway up and down like waves on the water, but underneath the agitation is a calm level that we always return to and you know what...greed fucks everybody in the long run.

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