The Straight Poop
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Seeing Through
The Fog of Clear Channel

Continued from page 1

If Clear Channel's leadership wasn't so historically close to the Republican government and if Michael Powell didn’t lead the FCC, these comments may not have seemed too controversial, especially in light of the topics normally covered on Stern’s show. Clear Channel CEO Lowry Mays is a staunch Republican and Bush supporter. Mays and Clear Channel are major contributors to Bush’s campaign. When the elder George W. gave Texas A&M his presidential library, Mays, one of the school’s regents, became a major donor. The elder George W. and Mays also shared a stage when they were both inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 1999. (Boehlert)

Tom Hicks, a Clear Channel board member, is a major Bush donor who has been greasing George W.’s palms since the 1990s. As the governor of Texas, Bush privatized the $13 billion of financial assets of the University of Texas and put them under the control of Hicks. In exchange, Hicks hooked up Bush supporters with investment deals, and bought the Texas Rangers from a group of investors that included Bush, earning Bush $15 million of his initial investment of $605,000. (Boehlert)

The head of the FCC, Michael Powell, was appointed by the current president and is the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell. Michael Powell has never seen a merger he didn’t like, and has pushed deregulation even further than the 1996 Telecommunications Act

 
 

that helped Clear Channel become one of the biggest media companies in America.

When Clear Channel took Stern off its stations, they incited Stern into a personal campaign to enlighten his audience about the connections between Clear Channel and the Bush administration. Stern said in his March 3 show, "I gotta tell you something, there's a lot of people saying that the second that I started saying, 'I think we gotta get Bush out of the presidency,' that's when Clear Channel banged my ass outta here. Then I find out that Clear Channel is such a big contributor to President Bush, and in bed with the whole Bush administration, I'm going, 'Maybe that's why I was thrown off: because I don't like the way the country is leaning too much to the religious right.' And then, bam! Let's get rid of Stern. I used to think, 'Oh, I can't believe that.' But that's it! That's what's going on here! I know it! I know it!" (Boehlert)

Stern has attacked Bush’s National Guard service, his stance on stem cell research, his use of 9/11 images in his campaign ads, and labeled him an enemy of civil liberties, abortion rights and gay rights. Stern rules among men, the category of voter Bush has lost more votes from than any other. Some callers to Stern’s show are saying they don’t usually vote, but will vote this year against Bush.

"George W. Bush is going to be out of office in November thanks to me," Stern told his listeners March 19, describing Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney as "two drunks who found Jesus." He also voiced his support of John Kerry, saying he may have a fundraiser for the democratic candidate, "I'm sure I'm going to campaign for the guy," he said. (Boehlert)

On March 18, Stern and Infinity Broadcasting felt the heat from the FCC for the first time, and not for a show that had been aired recently. The FCC fined Infinity Broadcasting $27,500 for a program that aired July 26, 2001, when Stern described slang words for raunchy sex acts and body parts. (Boehlert)

On April 8, Stern was finally fired by Clear Channel after the company was levelled with a half-million dollar fine for a program that aired on April 9, 2003. Even prior FCC leaders are puzzled by the governments puritan assault on radio free speech. (Boehlert)

"At the present time I don't understand the rules, nor can anybody else. They're obscure," complains Reed Hundt, who served as FCC chairman under President Clinton. "I don't defend Howard Stern. But I am saying in the absence of any kind of clarity of rules it looks like a political exercise. Even Howard Stern deserves some element of fairness. Because for the first time in decades the FCC now has enough power to put stations and people out of business and can do it on a whim. And it's not true that once you unleash government in an arbitrary manner [to monitor speech], you can confine it to the topic of indecency." (Boehlert)

Since Clear Channel has been swallowing companies like a starved dog since the 1996 Telecommunications Act, having the FCC and the president on its side is very important when fighting off the slew of lawsuits levied against the company in the wake of deregulation. The company has been investigated for punishing artists with reduced radio airplay if they chose not to play at a Clear Channel venue. The company was also investigated for its payola practices. They were accused of receiving money from indies, who are promoters from record companies, to play certain songs on their stations. Before the congressional hearing on the payola scandal, Clear Channel attempted to save face by making a company policy against working with indies. (Boehlert)

Before passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, a company could not own more than 40 radio stations in the entire country. With the Act's sweeping relaxation of ownership limits, Clear Channel grew from 40 radio stations to approximately 1,240 radio stations in 300 cities, and now dominates the audience share in 248 of the top 250 radio markets, according to Clear Channel's corporate fact sheet.

The company, with over 100 million worldwide listeners, dominates 60% of rock programming. Clear Channel is also invested in over 240 radio stations globally and has a major position in the Hispanic Broadcasting Services, the largest radio network for Latinos in the US. It is the leading radio broadcaster on the Internet and owns 37 television stations. It owns 700,000 outdoor billboards worldwide, second only to radio rival Viacom, who is also the largest syndicator of Stern's show.

Over the past four years, the number of independent music promoters in the U.S. has shrunk from several dozen to just ten. Most of them merged or sold out to SFX Entertainment, which was acquired by Clear Channel for $4.4 billion in the summer of 2000, adding 200 music venues to Clear Channel’s massive holdings. In 2000, SFX represented more than 40 tours and produced 26,000 live events, or about 70% of the total market, according to Clear Channel's entertainment fact sheet.

Clear Channel has the ability to control programming on their stations, and to regulate who gets on and who doesn't. The Chicago Tribune and Salon.com released a "banned playlist" of songs Clear Channel radio DJs were told not play following the Sept. 11 disasters. Over 150 songs were on it, including John Lennon's "Imagine," Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World," and R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World (As We Know It). The company even banned the Dixie Chicks from being played after their anti-Bush statements regarding the Iraq war. The company then organized pro-war rallies, called “Rallies for America,” where people crushed Dixie Chicks cds, held up signs about the damn liberals and cheered for the war. (Barrett) Even though it was the first time in the history of the United States that a broadcasting company had sponsored a pro-war rally, it may not have surprised the Republican-controlled FCC.

Clear Channel has industrialized the broadcast industry with its vertical and horizontal integration. They own marketing firms, radio consultants, an airplay monitoring system (competing with Arbitron), local radio news networks, program production and syndication, even trade magazines. They own and dictate every phase of music production, thereby eliminating the amount of variety in the scene. Clear Channel stations, based on their formats, pretty much all play the same song titles at the same time dictated by corporate offices, making them the same throughout the country. This homogenization has led to a 15% decline in radio listening in the past seven years, according to a Future of Music Coalition study that evaluated the state of the industry,

Stern has educated his listeners about the business practices of Clear Channel, the FCC and Bush administration, and has paid the price for it. If he has his way and aids in Bush being defeated in November, the new democratic powers-that-be may tackle the deregulation of the broadcast industry, which the democrats feel is responsible for the growth of what the FCC would call indecent material. But that may not prove beneficial to Stern, whose radio show’s largest syndicator is Viacom, one of the four largest media conglomerates in America. Whether Clear Channel’s firing of Stern was merely a moral and money issue or a political issue, it is certain that his influential voice will be a factor in the November elections. Clear Channel may be cursing the day they decided to take Stern off a measly six stations if the newly elected democrats take a closer look at deregulation and Clear Channel’s business practices. But Stern may also pay a heavy price if his presence on a radio station is too much of a monetary risk for a syndicator under the watchful eye of the FCC.

 


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