October 24, 2008
Imagine turning on the radio and hearing news about your neighborhood, or local music, or information about local issues. Now imagine building your own transmitter, broadcasting over the local airwaves information on local politics, interviews with activists and artists, or playing your favorite local music. Sound good? Welcome to the world of low-power radio, a growing national movement of people-powered broadcasting.
Unfortunately, radio stations in most American cities and suburbs play exactly the same songs, chosen by the same or similar DJs and punctuated by the same syndicated newscasts. The average citizen can’t get on air without money and connections, a direct result of the media consolidation that has changed the listening landscape over the past 20 years.
The few corporations that have swallowed up hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations, are largely uninterested in the small and local, or in progressive, critical reporting or new music. In 1996, after media giants lobbied Congress to allow single companies to own more radio stations, the FCC replaced the former cap of 40 or so with almost unlimited ownership. Big media bought up local stations like mad, replacing local shows with standardized formats.
Media Consolidation Harms Music
A 2006 Future of Music Coalition (FMC) study found that just 15 formats describe three-quarters of all commercial radio. While the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) counts “rock” and “arena rock” as distinctly separate music categories, lauding the diversity of the airwaves, FMC notes that much of the music is the same. Indeed, up to 80 percent of songs in those “different” categories are overlap. Radio playlists are hot commodities for major labels that pay for inclusion. Consequently, independent artists have little chance for airplay.
Even without all the payola, if a company’s audience is 10 million, it wouldn’t make economic sense for them to tailor their broadcasts to minority–i.e. local–tastes. These companies have enormous power in the music industry: Clear Channel, for example, now owns almost 1,200 radio stations, effectively controlling the rock market.”
Media Consolidation Hurts Democracy
The radio airwaves are more than just a business platform for content owners, they’re a place where people can create, and engage with, culture and politics. Consolidation limits political and news reporting, too: Commercial radio doesn’t represent the vast range of political and social concerns out there. In the past, the FCC regulated media ownership, with the idea in mind that the country is better off when diverse voices are speaking, debating and making music. Unfortunately, just like with net neutrality, corporate media lobbied to change the rules, and many diverse voices disappeared.