Brent Staples criticizes corporate control of radio in a NY Times editorial today. While his angle is the lack of protest music on the radio today and his comparisons to Vietnam are specious, he’s right on about the homogenization of radio under corporate consolidation:
- When a media giant swallows a station, it typically fires the staff and pipes in music along with something that resembles news via satellite. To make the local public think that things have remained the same, the voice track system sometimes includes references to local matters sprinkled into the broadcast.
What my rock ‘n’ roll colleague William Safire describes as the “ruination of independent radio” started with corporatizing in the 1980’s but took off dramatically when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 increased the number of stations that one entity could own in a single market and permitted companies to buy up as many stations nationally as their deep pockets would allow.
The new rules were billed as an effort to increase radio diversity, but they appear to have had the opposite effect. Under the old rules, the top two owners had 115 stations between them. Today, the top two own more than 1,400 stations. In many major markets, a few corporations control 80 percent of the listenership or more.
….Senator Byron Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, had a potential disaster in his district when a freight train carrying anhydrous ammonia derailed, releasing a deadly cloud over the city of Minot. When the emergency alert system failed, the police called the town radio stations, six of which are owned by the corporate giant Clear Channel. According to news accounts, no one answered the phone at the stations for more than an hour and a half. Three hundred people were hospitalized, some partially blinded by the ammonia. Pets and livestock were killed.