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.

Advertisements