Archive | February, 2004

In today’s Salon, reporter Eric Bohlert further deconstructs Clear Channel’s recent born-again decency:

“But the pattern seems clear: Clear Channel turns a deaf ear to continuous complaints about its rampant consolidation and hardball business practices, but when Capitol Hill shows interest, the company springs into action.

‘They don’t want to be before Congress and they don’t want to be an issue in Washington because it’s bad for business,’ says Robert Unmacht, former publisher of the radio publication M Street Journal. ‘I have a tough time giving them credit for this indecency initiative because I think it’s all a reaction to Congress.”‘”

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Hello New Mediageek Readers

As it happens every so often, traffic to the site today is nearly triple the average, mostly due to people doing websearches regarding Bubba the Love Sponge’s firing and Clear Channel yanking Howard Stern off six whole stations.

To those of you encountering mediageek for the first time: welcome. If you came here thirsty for information about Bubba, Clear Channel, and poor ol’ Howie, I suggest you check out some of the archives, especially the media ownership archives. I think you’ll find it enlightening (or at least bothersome).

To the regular mediageek readers: thanks for tuning in, and I won’t let traffice go to my mediageekhead, because this time next week, it’ll just be you and me again.

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Real Broadcast Decency

With all this talk about broadcast indecency, such as the news that Clear Channel dropped Howard Stern from six stations today while instituting on-air decency standards, it gets me thinking about what’s really indecent, and what actually would be decent.

You know what would represent real decency on the part of the big radio giants, like Clear Channel?

It would be truly decent of them to sell off, say, half of their radio holdings. I think it would be truly decent of Clear Channel to look at every market where they have a stranglehold, owning 4, 6 or 8 stations, and decided that it was too much, and then gave away even just a few of those stations to the local community.

Deciding that near-monopoly power to homogenize the airwaves isn’t such a great thing would be really decent of them.

Bare breasts, dick jokes, and discussion about Paris Hilton’s sex life are really minor indecencies in comparison to the wholesale gutting of any creativity or public service in the radio industry that has happened since 1996.

Oh, yeah… and it would be really decent of Clear Channel to syndicate the mediageek radio show, too. Morning drive time would be fine with me.

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FCC’s LPFM Report to Congress Says More Room for Stations

Last year the FCC finally released the Congressionally mandated Mitre report that examined the reality behind the National Association of Broadcaster‘s claims that low-power FM station would interfere with full-power stations. The Commission released the report only under duress–a FOIA request and lawsuit threat.

Now the FCC has officially released the report to Congress along with its recommendation to do away with the third-channel adjacent restrictions that Congress put into law at the end of 2000 in order to placate the NAB’s desire to strictly limit the number of new LPFM stations. The third-channel spacing restriction keeps LPFM stations from being squeezed into spots on the dial that are not suitable for high-power stations (100 – 100,000 watts) because they would create interference with surrounding stations. But, as the Mitre report demonstrates, these spots are unproblematic for LPFM stations, which operate at 10 – 100 watts.

Thus, in essence, the third-channel adjacent restriction greatly limits the number of frequencies available for LPFM stations, and pretty much keeps them out of the largest radio markets.

According to the Prometheus Radio Project, the removal of this restriction would free up spaces for hundreds or even thousands of new non-commercial low-power FM stations.

Unfortunately, unlike most issues of regulatory nuance, this one requires action from Congress, since it was Congress that intervened to put in place a restriction that otherwise is the sole domain of the FCC. And so far only Sen. John McCain has said anything publicly about the report. But he’s a good one to hear from, since he chairs the Senate Commerce Committee and has promised to introduce legislation to take up the FCC’s recommendation.

Of course, the NAB claims the Mitre report is “flawed,” without giving any rationale or explanation of any kind to support this claim. They don’t seem to want to recognize that the report wasn’t even written by the FCC, since Congress mandated that it be an independent report. Its author, the Mitre Corporation, is a respected and established Washington engineering firm and defense contractor — hardly an expected voice for democratizing the airwaves. Even the staid radio journal, Radio World, characterized the Mitre report as “the Seventh Wonder of Broadcast Engineering – the data analysis is deep and exhaustive.”

Prometheus Radio Project’s Pete Tridish is scheduled to on this Friday’s mediageek radioshow to talk about the FCC’s report to Congress. You can read Prometheus’ press release on the report, or read the FCC report yourself (in .pdf format). You can also listen to the Amherst Alliance’s Don Schellhardt talk about the initial public release of the Mitre report last year, on the July 25, 2003 edition of the radioshow.

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A Sacrificial Pig to the Slaughter – Bubba The Love Sponge Fired

My pal Aj points me to this St. Petersburg Times article that reports Clear Channel’s recently fined shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge has been fired.

Clear Channel was slapped with a $755,000 fine a month ago for a series of moronic segments aired on Bubba’s morning program that the FCC found to be indecent. So, now it seems like Clear Channel sees Bubba as more of a liability than a profit center.

While I’m glad to see a bigoted misogynist like Bubba out on the unemployment line, I won’t let Clear Channel off the hook as the truly responsible party. CC used Bubba, knowing full well that he would push the legal standards of indecency, figuring that the company could easily fight the indecency fines or at least tie up the FCC in court. CC didn’t count on the major public and Congressional backlash against broadcast indecency brought on by Janet Jackson’s breast.

Poor Bubba is just a sacrificial pig, just like the one he slaughtered live on-air for sick kicks and amusement.

If the current Congressional interest in broadcast indecency blows over without any major impact, then you can be sure Bubba will get a new job somewhere and Clear Channel will install some other racist moron to take over his old slot.

But the indecency craze seems to be sticking around and having some effect, at least for the moment. According to the Chicago Sun Times, the FCC recently upheld fines it imposed against Chicago station WKQX-FM in 2001 for segments aired on the Mancow program. That article also notes that radio giants like Infinity and Disney/ABC Radio have “issued “zero tolerance” directives on indecency to all programmers and on-air employees in recent days.”

Frankly, it would be simpler for me if all this indecency hoopla could really be boiled down to an issue of free speech. If it really were only about free speech, then I’d have no problem railing against the FCC’s fines and rallying to support Bubba, Mancow and their brethren.

But as I wrote last week, this isn’t a free speech issue. It’s an issue about the responsibility of broadcast oligopolies to their local communities. Clear Channel is not utterly banned from having Bubba talk about his dick on the radio — they’re just simply expected to have him do it after 10 PM. Is that too much to ask in exchange for a monopoly over 1200 radio frequencies that generates billions in revenue?

The free speech issue is that the vast majority of people in the US have no opportunity to ever use the so-called public airwaves to express themselves or have the issues and art they care about broadcast to their friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. Instead, they’re blocked out by jingoist overgrown frat boys who verbally beat down and exploit anyone different or weaker than they are.

I’ll defend the free speech rights of Bubba when he defends the free speech rights of a muslim computer science professor to defend himself and other muslims from reactionary racist attacks. Or when a nationally syndicated “shock-jock” willingly gives over some airtime to a dissenting viewpoint, without argument or ridicule, in the name of promoting free speech.

Clear Channel, Inifinity and their army of regional and national “morning personalities” will deserve free speech protection when they start defening the free speech rights of the 200+ million of us who don’t have prime time slots on their multi-kilowatt radio stations.

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