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for June 24, 2003


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Close Coffin, Insert Nails
by Stiffy Biceptz

Recently the FCC decided to further loosen the rules regarding media outlet ownership, that is, the number of stations (TV or radio) that a single company can own in a single media market, say NY metro or LA. This is a continuation of the FCCís policy towards deregulation of the airwaves, opening them up to more free market control, which started back in 1996.
 
It's time to turn off the radio for good.
 
Before that time, radio and TV ownership was tightly controlled by the Feds, who were driven by the FCCís charter goal of keeping the airwaves as diversified as possible. The idea behind this was simple. Since there was a physical limit to the number of possible radio frequencies in any given locale, safeguards had to be in place to avoid monopolization of the radio channels, since a diversity of ideas, be they political or cultural, was indispensable to a free and open society. Therefore the Feds severely limited the number of stations any one entity could own in any market. This ensured that no matter where in the country you lived, you had access, at a minimum, to a large variety of media sources.
 
Nowadays, single corporations such as Infinity and Clear Channel dominate the radio airwaves. Not only do they own thousands of stations nationwide, but they also typically own several, if not a dozen stations in a single market. If youíve ever wondered to yourself why so many radio stations you listen to sound so alike, thatís because they are likely all owned by the same company.
 
As with any large industry, the economies of scale dictate homogenization, commonality and a general one size fits all mentality. Most of use would agree this is fine and even necessary in manufacturing. After all, if it werenít for mass centralized production, we would not have access to or be able to afford the lavish material lifestyles we enjoy so much. Stiffyís all for bloodthirsty, take no prisoners, only the strongest survive type competition when it comes to business in general, but in the marketplace of ideas and culture, the more diversity the better.
 
And the problem is, those sound economic principles mentioned above donít work well in the market place of ideas. On the contrary, the market place of ideas demands more diversity, not less. Unfortunately, the FCC has forgotten what its true mission is. FCC chairman Powell essentially said that the rules had to be loosened to allow companies a chance to be profitable. But that only allows for large corporations. What he doesnít seem to understand is that radio stations can be profitable, regardless of how big or small they are, and that they were for sixty years. If the rules dictate there should be many small media companies (like before 1996), there will be many small media companies, mostly with only one airwave turning a profit in proportion to their size. Our favorite example is WHTG FM 106.3. They were small, worked out of the back of a house, but made money. And because they were independent, they delivered a very unique product! And we are all very grateful for it.
 
Any true radio fan knows it was the change in media ownership philosophy that killed radio. The kind of rules that allowed small stations like FM 106.3 all across the nation to survive as businesses, while delivering a wonderfully rich diversity of music and information, are gone for the foreseeable future. And if things were to change back, which I believe to be unlikely, most of us who are old enough to have known and loved great radio will have long (but reluctantly) moved on to satellite or internet radio. At least with these sources there is no limit to the number of channels and diversity, so no one company or philosophy will ever be able to dominate. Famous last words...
 
Itís quite possible that those new technologies would have killed small time radio as we knew it anyway, but Stiffy doesnít think so. Radio delivers a human warmth and a local feel that global media such as the internet and satellite canít.
 
Nonetheless, whatís done is done. And with this article I officially declare the age of independent radio dead and gone forever.
 

©2003 Stiffy Biceptz

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.

 







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