Radio used to be a local commodity, created by the local community to serve local needs. That's changed as radio stations across the nation got bought up by large corporations and became mere pieces of massive media conglomerations. Diverse music choices and local coverage of news is at stake because of the increased consolidation of radio ownership.
They keep growing and growing
For many years, radio companies were limited to owning 20 AM and 20 FM stations. But the Telecommunications Act of 1996 lifted that cap and only restricted to eight the number of radio stations any one company can own in a local market. Since then, Clear Channel, the largest owner, has amassed over 1200 stations (and manages more) and others like Viacom (Infinity Broadcasting) and Cumulus own several hundred each.
Many large conglomerates program their stations in a central location in order to drive down costs. Unfortunately, this system sacrifices their ability to produce locally relevant content. It is no wonder that people all across America are complaining that radio sounds the same everywhere they go. PBS's Frontline recently interviewed several music industry players about the current state of radio in America.
Cross-Promotion of Products
Conglomerates can use their radio stations to cross-promote other properties, like a new CBS television program on an Infinity radio station, or a Clear Channel radio station promoting a concert that Clear Channel produced at a venue Clear Channel owns.
Both Rolling Stone and Salon have written lengthy articles on Clear Channel's impact on the music industry.
The Future of Music Coalition (FMC), a group working on the issues surrounding music and technology, published a report on radio consolidation. Radio Deregulation: Has It Served Citizens and Musicians? shows that "the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has led to a loss of localism, less competition, fewer viewpoints and less diversity in radio programming in media markets across the country."
Congress Tunes in to Complaints
In 2003, the Senate Commerce Committee held hearings on radio ownership and focused on radio playlists and cross-promotions and the impact on minority broadcasters. Chairman John McCain, Ranking Member Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, and Senator Russ Feingold all made statements on the issue. Congressman Howard Berman also attended the hearing and presented testimony.
Two artists, Don Henley and Jenny Toomey, testified on consolidation's impact on artists. Robert Short, President of Short Broadcasting, explained how consolidation hurts minority broadcasters, such as when he had to sell his previously independent radio stations.
Another Senate Commerce hearing focused on reactions to the Federal Communications Commission's rules to further deregulate the media industry. Simon Renshaw, manager of the Dixie Chicks; Jon Mandel, Co-Chief Executive Officer, MediaCom, an ad buying agency; and Alex Kolobielski, President and CEO, First Media Radio, each brought new perspectives to the debate.
Find Out Who Owns Your Media
The Center for Public Integrity's Media Tracker can help you find out who owns the media — including radio stations — where you live Also take a look at their radio concentration rankings — a different set of data — that calculates how few companies own the radio stations in your area.
The Columbia Journalism Review has a very detailed Who Own's What media in this country.
To learn more about the affects of media consolidation, make sure to read the Media Ownership section and see other issues inside the Television, Radio and Cable What's at Stake.
While radio consolidation affects your listenig choices, you might be intertested in learning about new services such as Digital and Satellite Radio. Is low-power Community Radio an alternative? Learn more about the issues facing radio inside What's at Stake. Then Get Involved and let your voice be heard.