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 SeaTacRadio.com 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.”
Since we ran our story on Friday night, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the issue—on Internet radio—with Nicole Sandler, the regular guest host for Premiere Radio’s only progressive program, the Randi Rhodes Show, as well as with Peter B. Collins, a longtime radio and radio industry veteran. If you’d like to listen to those discussions—both enlightening, I think—they are here…
• Peter B. Collins Show (11/12/12) – Download MP3 or listen online below [appx 30 mins]…
• Nicole Sandler Show (11/12/12) – Download MP3 or listen online below [Appx. 10 mins]…
(Note: On both shows we also discussed continuing concerns about election failures and tallies across the country, particularly in Gov. Rick Scott’s Florida, in Maricopa County, AZ, as well as in the FL-18 U.S. House race between Rep. Allen West (R) and Patrick Murphy (D). The clips above include only our discussions about KPOJ and progressive radio, etc. See the links above for the complete interviews on each show.)
Since Friday, petitions have been circulated in an attempt to take action and push back against the usurpation of our public airwaves by major corporations who are not serving in the public interest, but rather, only for their bottom line.
One petition, urging Clear Channel management to restore progressive talk to Portland is at SaveKPOJ.com and another, broader call to President Obama and the FCC to “initiate legislation or new rules that repeal the Communications Act of 1996 so ‘the public interest, convenience, and necessity’ can be served on our airwaves”, has been set up under the name “Restore the Airwaves to the ‘Public.”
The BRAD BLOG endorses both efforts and urges you to sign the petitions.
In the meantime, another industry insider, who did not give us permission to include his name here (highlighting, again, just one more problem with the near-monopoly control of our public airwaves by a few huge mega-corporations: the fear by those who work in the industry that their free speech responses to this most important of issues will be leveraged against them on other company-owned stations) offered a more optimistic outlet, of sorts, in response:
Voter suppression did not succeed in Florida or Ohio. The ability for Americans to hear progressive political talk radio, and to share their viewpoints, will not be stopped either. There are other radio stations and group owners in Portland and other markets that realize it is better to deliver a unique talk format to at least 50% of the citizens they serve vs. being the third or fourth sports station sharing the same local ad revenue pie there was when there were just one or two sports stations in that market. As President Clinton said…”it’s arithmetic.”
And, finally, there was this response, worth highlighting here, from BRAD BLOG commenter Charles Letherwood, who shared these thoughts among the many excellent comments from the public and broadcasters alike in response to our Friday article:
Several people have mentioned boycotting the new KPOJ’s clients, but that’s going to be useless… they won’t care. However, there is something useful we can do instead. I work for Tom Dwyer Automotive Services, and if you listened to KPOJ you know who we are. To the local businesses that USED to advertise on KPOJ, the loss of the station means a loss in business. If you ever considered using the services of the old advertisers, don’t wait… now is the time. And word-of-mouth is the best way to send your friends to local companies that will appreciate you. Buy an anniversary gift from Katy at Trade Roots, or get your Christmas cards printed at Morel Ink, or update your frames at Eyes on Broadway. We’ll still be glad to get your car ready for winter, Better World Mortgage can still refi your house, and Stephen Hendricks can still handle your legal work. There’s so many more companies out there, but you get the idea. It’s almost impossible to punish the big companies that don’t care what kind of content they support, but it won’t take much to matter to the companies that put their necks on the block to support rational information sources. Progressive Radio will return to Portland in some form, but we don’t have to wait… our support NOW for these companies means they’ll still be there to support Progressive Radio when it DOES come back.
Good points all, and ones that progressives in Seattle, in particular, may also wish to begin heeding right now.