Freedom for Expression

December 5, 2012

Studio of Finnish local radio station "Ba...

Studio of Finnish local radio station “Basso radio” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got busy around the election and had lots of time to digest the outcome.

I’m sure Romney was sad with his loss and as such, Clear Channel Communications, controlled by Bain Capital, pulled the plug on Portland’s local commercial progressive talk radio.  That station had been on the air for over 8 years but according to ownership, was pulling in a small audience.

I’m licking my wounds missing our local liberal broadcast and have some thoughts on monolithic ownership of am/fm and over the air television stations.    In the loss of this talk radio station, I see the echo of the loss of other rich and diverse local radio stations over the years.

I am a gen Xer from the mid 60s.  I grew up tasting the remnants of the heady 60s and 70s ideas and culture.   In a time without Itunes, the culture of radio was rich and vibrant.   Cities had many choices for programming because local ownership was required to receive a broadcasting license.  There was a lack of uniformity , but also there were wide swaths of completely different musical culture simply because of geography.

In some ways, the internet has changed that.  In other ways, national corporate domination of the am/fm and tv airwaves has come to the fore after the local ownership rules were eviscerated in 1996.  Now from town to town, everything is the same on the radio.  All of the stations have been bought by a select group of owners who control it all but for a small fraction of the airwaves.

There is so much that is wrong with the current state of terrestrial am/fm broadcasting.

Years ago, the DJ in the booth could choose the music and shows even had live requests and callers on the air in between songs.  Now more often than not, music playlists are programmed the same across the country by a handful of people.  I  believe it is this fact more than mp3 file sharing technology that has stymied the music industry.

This McMusic approach to radio broadcasting has really made the business about nothing more than money.   Gone are the days that most stations have the freedom to put some love out to their audience and pull in a local crowd.  At this point it is hard to argue that any of Clear Channel is in service to the public except to provide a format that satisfies the lowest common denominator across the country.  Sirius and XM have customers because most of the airwaves are dominated by lame schlocky programming.

I am lucky to live in Portland where there are several alternatives for radio programming, one is dedicated to local bands and musicians even.   I have seen these kind of stations come and go.  The stations with the higher power to have a strong signal over larger area ultimately get sold out to larger corporate owners.   If the broadcast is kind of weak, it is not as attractive.  That is why if you hear anything interesting on the radio these days, it’s on the noisy station with a weak signal.

Ultimately Portland’s former liberal talk station was a business venture that the ownership did not wish to promote or grow.  Nothing personal, it’s just dollars and cents right?  To me it seems like the McTalk approach to engaging an audience at work.

We live in a country with around 50 progressive talk radio stations on low powered stations.  They try to balance out the over 900 conservative talk radio stations, many are high powered strong signal.  The playing field is far from fair and it is this massive megaphone to broadcast lies and illusions that keeps us mired.  It is why, with such a decisive electoral victory for the Dems,  the GOP has failed to react to the election results.  They live in their loud, controlled, self absorbed bubble, to the hazard of all that contradicts their upside down view of the world.

There should be a new guarantee by the FCC to allow diverse and local ownership of television and radio across the country.  It will allow greater diversity in programming, create many jobs in broadcasting, allow for greater freedom and exchange of ideas and create a new flowering of American musical culture.   It will get rid of some of the plutocracy and bring back some Democracy to the airwaves.

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El Rushbo Speweth Over?

March 6, 2012

Rush Limbaugh - Caricature

Rush Limbaugh - (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

I was just graduating from college in the Midwest  in 1991 when I remember becoming aware of Rush Limbaugh.    A good friend of mine listened to him regularly and had become quite partisan to the right back in the days when politics were almost like cryptography, the era for me when anything to do with politics was ‘wonky’.   I checked in with El Rushbo then and sampled his offerings and it did not take long before I was thoroughly disgusted by the content that was alternately misogynistic, racially degrading, menacing, self aggrandizing pomposity and never ending foul tasting ?humor?  Further, the ‘news’ and opinion was full of easily debunked mendacity.   Never truly challenged, Rush’s conservative brand of ‘entertainment’ apparently was embraced by a mostly white male audience.   Being a new graduate, I was moving around through out the Midwest as I started my own career and was able to sample various radio markets while looking for work.  Exploring the radio dial across the midwest was a pasttime and I was amazed by the reach Rush had established already and the lack of any true counterpoint to all of his outrageous claims.

Being curious about this new exciting conservatism and whether there was a fair debate available on his broadcast, I personally spent time calling in to his show to present points in contention with his arguments of the day.   It took only two attempts before I realized there would be no fair debate with liberals on his show.  Anyone who made it to the airwaves was cut off as soon as was convenient and then thoroughly excoriated and marginalized.  Most liberals will never get past the call screener filtering callers so Rush doesn’t have to face the ‘unwashed unruly’ masses with inconvenient and embarassing questions.

Rush established a platform and echo chamber in which only right conservative ideas were allowed and no rigorous debate with consensus beyond that of the right wing could form.  He is an architect of the polarized political environment we now find ourselves in where neither side can have a fair discussion with the other.   He allowed and encouraged conservatives to believe they do not have to concede anything in a debate with the left and that they do not even need to engage in a debate at all with counterpoint from the middle and poverty stricken classes.

In turn, conservatives came to worship at the platform he created and maybe even mistook it for a town square of sorts.  Rush became so elevated in their eyes, that there is nothing the the Rushbo can do that could be wrong or indefensible.  Megadittoes became the code word for everything you say is true and we surrender our critical thoughts over to you Rush.

I say Rush deserves to be able to speak his mind freely, as loudly and as noisily as he wishes — on a street corner.  He should be able to go out on the internet and blog all he wants and podcast all he wants even.  I do not think he deserves however, the benefit of the American public’s am or fm radio air waves.  There is nothing in the bill of rights about the freedom to speak on the radio.  We have something in the US called the FCC that settled that years ago.