Clear channel

 Uncategorized
Dec 032003
 
Authors: Chris Hess

The media has always had its share of fictional bullies on

radio, television and the silver screen. From the bad guys of

“Batman” to Nelson Muntz of “The Simpsons,” there has always been

someone there to pick on the little guy and top it off with a good

old “haw-haw.” And now, the media, and radio in particular, has

their own real-life bully- Clear Channel Communications.

Since the Federal Communications Commission loosened restraints

on media ownership on June 2 of this year, Clear Channel has become

the poster child to show what can happen when the ties that bind

together diversity are loosened and the deregulation of media

begins.

“If this homogenization of the industry continues, I am truly

concerned that the media could end up being controlled by one or

two conglomerates,” said Jaime Switzer of CSU, who teaches the

journalism department’s new communication technologies and society

class. “All of our news and information would come from one

company, one media perspective.”

This one perspective has already begun to come into focus in the

radio industry. In just the seven short years since it began to

gobble up radio stations across the board, Clear Channel has

managed to homogenize the content drastically and cut the number of

live DJs it employs, replacing them with a computer.

The birth of radio’s all consuming giant took place seven years

ago with the passing of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Before the

Act was passed, one company could not own more than 40 radio

stations in the entire United States. However, with the act in

place, the cap on radio ownership was lifted. Clear Channel then

went from owning 40 radio stations in the mid-90s to owning around

1,225 in 2003, pulling in $3.27 billion of revenue in 2002,

according to an article on projectcensored.org magazine.

While this ownership makes up only 10 percent of the total

market, according to clearchannelsucks.org, it is concentrated in

248 of the top 250 radio markets, controlling 60 percent of all

rock programming.

In Colorado alone, Clear Channel owns 16 radio stations,

including five in Fort Collins. However, the long arm of

deregulation does not stop there.

According to the Clear Channel Web site, the company also owns

40 television stations nationwide, over half a million outdoor

advertising displays and over 100 entertainment venues across the

country. Also, according to NOW with Bill Moyers, in 2000 Clear

Channel purchased SFX, the nation’s largest concert promoter and

collected around $1.13 billion in concert revenues in 2002

according to Clear Channel.

“Clear Channel’s vision is to best serve the community we live

in for the reasons we have a license to the airwaves,” said Stew

Haskell, general manager of Clear Channel Northern Colorado.

“We want to inform and entertain our listener base while better

serving our clients and advertisers,” he said.

This is very true. Most people enjoy listening to the Broncos

games on 850 KOA every Sunday, a Clear Channel Station. Clear

Channel also made The Dead’s Terrapin Station 2002 reunion show in

Wisconsin a possibility, acquiring the permits that only a company

like Clear Channel could get.

The company also brings great shows like David Bowie, Sound

Tribe Sector 9 and Sting to the Fillmore in Denver, all of which

are coming through town in the next two months.

However, not everybody sees a plus side to the mammoth that is

Clear Channel.

“I see no benefit to Clear Channel from a consumer perspective,”

Switzer said. “Conglomerates like Clear Channel severely impact the

local flavor and local news flexibility of radio stations.”

According to Switzer, this loss of a local feel is a result of

Clear Channel’s use of a technique called voice tracking, which

involves pre-cording DJ programs that then broadcast on stations

across the nation. With this technique, the DJ banter between songs

on your local radio station may have actually been recorded in a

studio in Los Angeles, making careful reference to local clubs and

happenings.

This sleight-of-hand shortcut backfired, however, in 2002 in the

town of Minot, N.D., where Clear Channel owns the only six radio

stations in town.

In what Richard Simon of “Relix” magazine described as “the

Clear Channel horror story,” a train traveling through Minot in the

middle of the night carrying 10,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia

derailed, spilling its contents and creating a toxic cloud over the

town.

After the city’s emergency contact system failed, officials

attempted to contact local radio stations to get the news out that

residents needed to stay in their homes. However, because the radio

stations were controlled by remote control, nobody was in the

studios to extend the warnings. This resulted in 300 Minot

residents in the hospital.

Haskell, however, argues that voice tracking adds to the

entertainment value.

“With the voice tracking, we input local information. It is an

economic issue and a quality issue. It makes the station better,”

Haskell said.

Haskell also commented that prior to 1996, when the

Telecommunications Act was passed, radio stations were losing

money. To economize and optimize the market, Clear Channel operates

in clusters as a way to improve the health of the industry. He also

said that while the voice tracking replaces some live shifts on

Clear Channel owned stations, the loss of jobs has not been a

problem.

“There are a lot of great jobs for a lot of good people who

really want to work,” Haskell said. “The only ingredient missing in

the studio is a live body talking impromptu over the air. And if

need be, we can break in and dissipate emergency information.”

Clear Channel, however, has not gone unscathed during its rise

to dominance in the radio and concert industries. Even the biggest

bully breaks a bone now and then.

According to an article on salon.com, in 2001 Denver based

promotion company Nobody In Particular Presents filed an antitrust

suit in Denver federal court, claiming that Clear Channel was an

illegal monopoly.

The suit followed rumors of heavy-handed tactics Clear Channel

was using to coerce musical artists to play at Clear Channel

venues.

“The allegations are that Clear Channel says ‘If you don’t play

our venues, we won’t play your songs,'” Jenney Toomey of the Future

of Music Coaltion said in an interview with “Relix” magazine. “I’ve

talked to a number of major artists who all say that’s exactly

what’s happening, but none of them will go on the record because

Clear Channel owns 60 percent of the concert market and when you

talk about major concert markets, it’s something like 90

percent.”

The censorship of artists that Clear Channel plays on its

stations does not stop there. After the incidents of Sept. 11,

2001, the mega-media conglomerate issued a list of songs to its

stations that could not be played on the air and were to be removed

from play lists in order to cater to the sensitivities of its

advertisers and listeners. Songs on the list ranged from “When the

World Ends” by the Dave Matthews Band to “Leaving on a Jet Plane”

by Peter, Paul & Mary to “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens.

While some artists, like Sting, have played it safe and gone as

far as having their entire tours sponsored by Clear Channel, others

have begun to speak out against the corporation and the problem of

media conglomeration in general.

Last month, the Dave Matthews Band put a post up on its Web

site, voicing its concern over the fact that a few large

corporations have entirely too much control, therefore “making it

difficult for musicians to get their music produced or played on

the radio. Inherently, it puts commercial pressure on our culture,

and can sometimes lead to a lousy grade of journalism.”

Switzer echoed the concerns of the band.

“It’s going to end up that you will have to be a part of the

media’s ‘mafia’ to get a break.”

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