A Clear Channel With Nothing On

"There goes the last DJ who plays what he wants to play.... There goes your freedom of choice. There goes the last human voice."
—Tom Petty, 2002

A generation ago, as Tom Petty well knows, radio was one of the great joys of the mythic American cross-country drive. Barreling across the continent, you could hear the accents and musical preferences change with the landscape outside your car window. Today it doesn't matter if you are in Springfield, Missouri, or Springfield, Massachusetts. The music, the voices, and even most of the ads are the same. The airwaves are one big interstate strip of chain stores, and Petty's "last DJ" is muttering to himself on the unemployment line.

That fact, which any casual listener has noticed, was thoroughly documented in a recent study called "Radio Deregulation: Has It Served Citizens and Musicians?" conducted by the Future of Music Coalition in Washington, D.C. For six decades there were limits on how many stations any single company could own, nationwide or in any given market. This kept radio locally based and relatively accessible, at least compared to network-dominated television. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 repealed all limits on station ownership. Since then, 10 companies have come to control two-thirds of the radio audience share and revenues. Two of those companies—Clear Channel and Viacom—control 42 percent of the radio audience and take in 45 percent of the radio-related dollars. Clear Channel is the Wal-Mart and McDonald's of radio monopolization. Since 1996, the Clear Channel chain has grown from 40 stations to 1,240. Meanwhile, in any given week, between 80 and 100 percent of the songs on the various radio charts (pop, r&b, country, rock, etc.) are released by only five major record companies.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2003
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