Yesterday, Clear Channel sent out two press releases that seemed to contradict each other on some pretty fundamental levels. The first described a "commitment" to a "higher minimum level of service" in the communities in which its stations operate."
There's also a passing bit about "an expanded programming commitment to music from local artists." If you listen to commercial radio, you're probably familiar with stations' graveyard shift local music programs, many of which start at midnight on Sunday. Artists heard on these slots rarely, if ever, make it to regular programming. Does this mean that Clear Channel stations will start slotting local music at other times of day, say, drivetime? Will they also start to spin more indie content? It's tough to tell from this press release.
The second announcement from Clear Channel actually talks about making their programming less local. Yep, it's all about syndicated content — but local stations will be able to choose which syndicated content they want from pre-defined packages. "Local Clear Channel Radio program directors will have total choice and flexibility in choosing the Premium Choice programming elements. They can elect large portions, single pieces, or none of the offered programming. All of the Premium Choice elements were determined in full consultation with the company’s most experienced and trusted programming and operations managers." Lucky them!
Ex radio industry honcho Jerry Del Colisano does a typically good job in describing the cognitive dissonance of these dual releases over at his Inside Music Media blog.
The bait-and-switch that Clear Channel is trying to sell to the public is basically this: we cut back local programming and at the same time announce an empty shell that it touts as increasing local public service programming and outreach. . .It's clear that the massive consolidation in station ownership that followed the 1996 Telecommunications Act has been a disaster, both as a business plan and as a means to serve local communities. But Clear Channel's answer to the problem has thus far looked like more consolidation and automation, with a bone or two thrown at localism.
. . .As we said a few weeks back, Clear Channel has a plan in place to make sure there is a warm body on duty at every studio site -- looking ahead to possible FCC objections to turning their local broadcast licenses into a network that has basically nothing to do with the local city of license. Is this what a license has become -- a license to steal local radio stations from the public airwaves?
FMC has issued two studies that look at the effects of consolidation on commercial radio: 2002's Radio Deregulation: Has It Served Citizens and Musicians? and 2006's False Premises, False Promises: A Quantitative History of Ownership Consolidation in the Radio Industry. We're also about to release a new report that examines playlist composition on commercial stations to determine whether broadcasters are programming more indie content following the "Rules and Engagement" and Voluntary Agreements that came out of the payola investigations of 2003-2007. (No, we can't tell you the results just yet, but just sit tight — it's on its way!)
One thing we can say: if commercial radio isn't living up to its localism obligations and presents significant barriers to indie artists, then we need non-commercial alternatives. And getting more Low Power FM stations in American towns and cities is an important step.
Next week, LPFM advocates from around the country are coming to Washington, DC to demonstrate their support for local radio. At noon on Thursday, April 23, there will be a Policy Briefing on LPFM on the Hill — room 5456 of the Rayburn House Office building, to be precise.
Thursday’s briefing will feature opening remarks from Representatives Michael Doyle and Lee Terry — co-sponsors of The Local Community Radio Act of 2009 (H.R. 1147), introduced in February 2009.
Immediately following is a panel discussion with LPFM producers and policy advocates who will explore the legislation’s potential impact on emergency preparedness, media ownership and arts and cultural broadcasting. Moderated by Parul P. Desai, Vice President of Media Access Project, the panel features singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins, Liz Humes of WRIR-LP in Richmond, VA, Erubiel Vallardes of KPCN-LP, in Woodburn, OR and Cheryl Leanza of United Church of Christ.
That same day, there will be coordinated visits to Congressional offices and the FCC by community radio supporters of all stripes. Sharing information and having some fun is part of what community is all about.
For more information on Low Power FM, check out our fact sheet. And support community radio!