Although newspaper and television companies (and in many cases, why bother to distinguish between the two?) got the milk and cookies from the FCC last week, at least we have the small mercy of Clear Channel feeling screwed as radio ownership rules weren’t generally liberalized:
- Despite the sweeping deregulation the F.C.C. enacted by a 3-to-2 vote along partisan lines, however, one medium was left out of the celebration: radio. Not only were radio ownership caps left in place, some of the restrictions were effectively tightened.
How radio got left out of the party is more a tale of politics than of business. And the story almost exclusively centers on Clear Channel Communications, the company that began rising from obscurity in 1996, when radio ownership caps were raised, to amassing nearly 1,250 stations. As it has grown into the nation’s largest radio company, owning more than 10 percent of the commercial stations in the United States, Clear Channel has drawn the wrath of musicians, who accuse it of using its concert division to strong-arm musicians, and the scrutiny of Congress, where many members contend that the company has engaged in anticompetitive practices.
….”Everyone, regardless of party, is running away from Clear Channel as fast as they can,” said John Dunbar of the Center for Public Integrity, who has put together a searchable database of media ownership at www.openairwaves.org. “They’ve had a terrible run of publicity.”
The company opened a Washington office only last December – more than a year after it started drawing criticism for homogenizing radio programming across the country, particularly in smaller markets, where the company sometimes broadcasts disc jockeys who may be thousands of miles away.
….Clear Channel did not fare well under the glare. When Lowry Mays, its chief executive, testified at the Senate Commerce committee in January, he had to listen to harsh rebukes from the Senators. His defensive replies to questions about the company’s policy on payola and its commercial monopoly in Minot, N.D., failed to resonate with the inquisitors.
….So what exactly do last week’s F.C.C. actions mean for the radio industry? One effect involves the maximum number of stations a company can own in a single local market – a number that in many cases will shrink under the commission’s new methodology. Under the old system, which defined a local market by the reach and overlap of radio waves from adjacent markets, Ithaca, N.Y., was considered to have at least 32 commercial radio stations, which allowed any one company to own up to 7 stations there. But under the new method of counting, Ithaca is considered to have only 9 commercial stations, and any single company can own no more than 5. [NY Times]
However, since Clear Channel is so far ahead of its nearest competitors (six times as many stations as #2), the tightening had the probable effect of locking them into their position of dominance.
Since the way the big chains work is logical from a business standpoint in terms of maximizing profit per station-owned, commercial radio as you hear it now isn’t going to change much. If you hate the narrowcast, repetitive, monotonous, commercial-laden sound of today, you are going to have to look elsewhere for your musical entertainment and education.