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Radio AM to FM: October 8, 1999

Radio requiem. What hath deregulation wrought?

No sooner had AMFM Inc. taken control of KFI (640 AM) and KOST (103.5 FM) October 1st then Clear Channel Communications concluded negotiations to take over AMFM, making for a media company worth $56 billion that controls over 800 radio stations in the United States, along with operations in 31 other countries.

The deal is still subject to what is still laughingly called "FCC approval," but under current deregulation, it appears that choice in radio will soon be history.

In Los Angeles, AMFM owns or operates KBIG (104.3 FM), KCMG (Mega 100.3 FM), KFI, KKBT (92.3 FM), KLAC (570 AM), KOST and KYSR (Star, 98.7 FM) .

Clear Channel owns KACD (103.1 FM), KIIS (102.7 FM), and KXTA (1150 AM) in Los Angeles, along with KXMX (Mix 95.9 FM) and KEZY (1190 AM) in Orange County.

Of course, the FCC doesn't allow a company to own an unlimited number of stations, it only seems that way. So a few stations will have to be spun off, and that most likely means the loss of Adult Alternative KACD, Star/KOST/KBIG competitor Mix and perhaps a few other small stations in the vast new local Clear Channel empire. KACD and Mix are two of the most listenable stations in Southern California, but their low signal strength and inferior transmitter sites mean that they probably won't survive the takeover.

In a merger like this, only the strong survive. So the weak, poorly-located or under performing stations like KACD, Mix and KXTA are sold at fire-sale prices in order to win FCC approval. What happens next is unknown, but you can expect to hear more brokered foreign-language stations with no listeners in the near future.

The blame lies fully with the FCC, which relaxed ownership rules years ago and started this buying and merger frenzy that is still in infancy. Soon every city in the country will be like Los Angeles: three major corporations controlling every major radio station in the city. Is this a good thing? Decide for yourself: the first change rumor to come out of the AMFM purchase of KFI is the possible dismantling of KFI's award-winning news department, to be replaced by a news "service" -- Metro or Shadow -- that can't even compare to the high quality standards for reporting set by KFI. And both Metro and Shadow are owned by Westwood One ... How's that for hearing a different viewpoint?

Does a major group owner really need more than one general manager per city? More than one programmer? More than a handful of people total working in their overpriced chain of stations? Probably not, in this day of bottom-line Wal-Mart broadcasting. Pre-deregulation, stations strived for quality. Now they strive for mediocrity, since they are their own comptetition and they figure, why bother?

This takeover, and the ones to follow, is arguably the worst thing to happen to radio in the history of radio. And again, the blame lies fully with the FCC and its push for deregulation and consolidation at the expense of everything but the bottom line. Soon both AM and FM will be nothing but a vast wasteland of useless programming all engineered to appeal to the drones that we have or will become.

Is there any way to sue the FCC for breach of duty to protect OUR airwaves?


John Swaney, the former KFWB (980 AM) reporter who was the unfortunate recipient of televised news coverage earlier this year when he had to have his apartment disassembled in order to be moved to the hospital, died of cardiac arrest last Saturday morning. His condition had been improving, but he had some setbacks in the week before his death.

Pat Davis, who covered California politics as a Sacramento reporter for KNX (1070 AM) and a few other stations throughout the state, suffered a heart attack and died while on his weekly 20-mile bicycle ride last Friday.

No memorial service plans had been released at press time for either Davis or Swaney, both of whom will be remembered for their professional and accurate reporting as well as their kind demeanor.


Copyright © 1999 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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