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Radio AM to FM: June 21, 2002

Effects of Consolidation

U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) wrote an interesting statement to President Bush regarding the concentration of of ownership in the radio and concert industry earlier this month. In it, he gives some interesting data regarding just how much concentration there is within the industry.

"In 1996, prior to the passage of the Telecommunications Act, there were 5133 owners of radio stations," he said. "Today, for the Contemporary hit Radio/Top 40 formats, four radio station groups -- Chancellor, Clear Channel, Infinity and Capstar -- control access to 63 percent of the format's 41 million listeners nationwide. For the country music format, the same four groups control access to 56 percent of the format's 28 million listeners.

"The concentration is even more startling when we look at radio station ownership in local markets.

"Four radio station companies control nearly 80 percent of the New York market. Three of these same four companies own nearly 60 percent of the market in Chicago. In my home state of Wisconsin, four companies own 86 percent of the market share in the Milwaukee radio market."

Sounds like monopoly to me. The speech is an interesting read; the entire text is available in the archives of and at The senator plans to introduce legislation addressing the concerns of consolidation and the resulting anticompetitive behavior in the coming weeks.

Darth Vader Speaks

Randy Michaels, head of the Evil Empire also known as Clear Channel Communications, spent some time at the Radio and Records Convention last week in Beverly Hills defending his company as misunderstood, definitely not evil, and generally just a bunch of great radio guys.

"The evil intentions attributed to Clear Channel are not true at all," he said to a packed ballroom. "Because we are leading change, we are perceived as evil."

And therein lies the problem: the leader of the largest radio company in the world has no clue -- or pretends to have no clue --why his company is so hated. He wants to to put an interesting yet deceiving spin on the actions of his company to make it look like those who are against it are just competitors jealous of its success.

Not a word about people like me who just love good radio, and see none of it coming from his company, which just happens to own or control over 1200 stations across the country. Or the fact that his company is directly responsible for the loss of arguably two of the best formats Los Angeles had seen in years when it refused to sell KXMX (95.9 FM) or KACD (103.1 FM) to anyone who would keep the formats intact. Instead they sold to religious and spanish broadcasters who would not compete with remaining Clear Channel formats.

Nothing on the cookie-cutter Clear Channel sound that emanates from the company's station's worldwide, all playing the same songs at about the same time in five different (though essentially the same) music formats, a talk format and a sports format. With the use of technology, Clear Channel stations even have the same disc jockey in numerous stations at once, saving the company a pretty penny in payroll. Why pay a local personality when you can pipe one in from somewhere else?

"There's more variety than ever" on the radio, claims Michaels. Sure Randy. In your mind.

No, Randy, the reason people think your company is evil is because ... it is. It programs extremely bad radio, it stifles competition, and there are allegations of payola and antitrust violations that the company will have to defend in court. No wonder radio listening among young people is at its lowest point in the history of the medium.


Copyright © 2002 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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