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Monday, July 16, 2018

No ‘Free-Market’ In Talk Radio: Our Public Airwaves Have Been Rigged

On Friday, as the news was breaking, and even as the unannounced flip was occurring before it had otherwise been planned, I detailed the outrage of Bain Capital-owned Clear Channel killing KPOJ, the only commercial progressive talk radio station in Portland, one of the nation’s most progressive cities, while leaving their two “competing” Clear Channel-owned right-wing stations in the same market intact.

They flipped the station, one of the first and most successful progressive talk stations in the nation, over to the Fox Sports format, which, I have since learned, is also syndicated by Clear Channel-owned Premiere Radio, further underscoring the unenforced antitrust issues that seem to be in violation of, among other things, the 1948 U.S. v. Paramount Supreme Court decision.

In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Paramount Pictures was in violation of antitrust laws because it was unfairly leveraging its chain of movie theaters around the country to keep films made by competing movie studios from being exhibited. The vertical integration, controlling both the production and means of distribution, was the very definition of a monopoly. In this case, as I’ve argued, Clear Channel is using the very limited public airwaves broadcast licenses that it receives for free from the government—in exchange, supposedly, for serving in the public interest—in order to push its own Premiere syndicated programming, even when other, non-Clear Channel owned shows and formats both garner higher ratings and, arguable, are far more in the public’s interest than a third sports talk station in the very same market.

That’s exactly what Clear Channel did when they replaced the popular Stephanie Miller Show with the right-wing Glenn Beck program on San Francisco’s progressive Green 960 earlier this year, despite his much lower ratings in the same time slot, on the same station, ever since.

More to the point, as I have noted many times in the past, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed companies like Clear Channel and a handful of other mega-corporations to buy up control of licensing rights to theoretically “competing” stations in the same market — Clear Channel, for example, owns both the right-wing and progressive talk radio stations in many major markets—assures that there is no real free-market competition in the talk radio business. While right-wing talk radio is allowed to propagandize over our public airwaves in favor of supposed “free-market” competition, there is no such free-market competition in the talk radio business itself. The game is as rigged as it would be if Coca-Cola had the sole distribution rights to both Coke and Pepsi in the same major market.

Last Friday, I was informed by someone inside the business who in a very good position to know, that “the Seattle station is next.” They were referring to Seattle, Washington’s KPTK am1090 Progressive Talk station, owned by CBS-Viacom. On Monday morning, Stephanie Miller, whose very successful show is heard on that station and many others (as well as on Current TV), told listeners the same thing, that the progressive Seattle talk station, in another very progressive market (in a state that just approved the recreational use of marijuana, for Chrissakes) was expected to flip to the newly introduced CBS Sports format on January 1…

On Tuesday, industry outlet Talkers Magazine repeated the same rumor, without confirmation. And, on Wednesday, Talkers noted that “local blog reports that KLAY, Tacoma is planning to add some of the progressive talk shows—reportedly WYD Media’s Stephanie Miller and the Ed Schultz show—currently heard on KPTK to its program schedule.”

“As numerous CBS Radio and Cumulus stations prepare to flip to sports talk in January, KPTK is just another victim of the companywide desire for affiliate stations,” Talkers writes. “While consumers and the consumer press bemoan the proliferation of sports talk (“How many sports stations do we need in this market?”), the answer is that CBS Radio and Cumulus need to have affiliates in as many markets as possible to be able to sell a national sports talk product to national clients.”

Well, isn’t it nice that mega-corporations like Clear Channel and CBS and Cumulus—the three largest media outlets in the nation—feel they can leverage their free licenses to broadcast over our public airwaves in order to help improve their bottom line, even if it has nothing to do with serving the public interests for which they are granted those licenses in the first place by we, the people?

KPTK Program Director Carey Curelop responded to our request to confirm the rumors of the station’s January 1 flip to CBS Sports by replying via email: “I have no comment on KPTK’s format. If that changes, I will contact you.”