Tin Shop Tartan - Randolph County Alabama's Own Snarky and Surly Scot Gets All Native

Blogging from the suburbs of the Tin Shop community, Captain Plaid brings Progressivism, and a share of Quixotic angst, to the ridges and hollows of Randolph County, Alabama. Hardly a booster yet rooted here enough to fight, Plaidsters can perhaps find like cause in trying to build local solutions to global concerns. Education, environment, economy, entertainment, engagement ... Trust the Tartan!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Any Localism From Our Local Media?

I posted today at Captain Plaid on the Telecom laws yet to come. Back in the mid 90s, and really even from Reagan's 80s, deregulation became a trend. From a national perspective, a healthy and vigorous free press is certainly necessary in a democracy to inform competent citizens. Here locally the issue of local information is also a concern. While The Randolph Leader and especially The People's Voice provide some activism in tackling issues, the reality is that neither circulates with the power and regularity of broadcast media. Radio and especially television is where many of the average local person gets "informed", using that designation in the most generous manner. And there is much to know as in fact so much information is now available.

Local radio stations (WELR AM & FM and WLAG AM) of Eagle's Nest, Inc. seem to have a right leaning orientation (Jim Vice is presently helping out Mike Rogers for instance.), as do many country geared outlets. Jingoistic and Christian songs (Jesus Take the Wheel" for instance!) and those telling us not "get above our raising" are regularly heard, although I'm not especially troubled by most. Paul Harvey often spings GOP talking points. James Dobson can at times give sage advice yet also shovel Republican "outrage" in their "culture war" strategy. Overall our direct local outlets are tolerable although I might offer some suggestions at a later point.

Here's the deal on regional media. A few groups control most of the content. The Future of Music Coalition conducted a study in the recent past. I'm copying in below a portion of their Executive Summary with my comments added parenthetically.


1. Ten parent companies dominate the radio spectrum, radio listenership and radio revenues. Deregulation has allowed a few large radio companies to swallow many of the small ones. Together these ten parent companies control two-thirds of both listeners and revenue nationwide. Two parent companies in particular, Clear Channel and Viacom, control 42 percent of listeners and 45 percent of industry revenues. (In Alabama CC controls 30 stations with 45 in Georgia. Viacom has split off CBS with CBS Radio having 179 radio stations, the majority of which are in the nation's top 50 markets. From a quick glance I’d think most locals might be more influenced by Clear Channel as they have a big presence in Columbus. Clear Channel is closely tied to the Bu$hCo administration.)

2. Consolidation is particularly extreme in the case of Clear Channel. Since passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Clear Channel has grown from 40 stations to 1,240 stations -- 30 times more than congressional regulation previously allowed. No potential competitor owns even one-quarter the number of Clear Channel stations. With over 100 million listeners, Clear Channel reaches over one-third of the U.S. population.

3. Oligopolies control almost every geographic market. Virtually every geographic market is dominated by four firms controlling 70 percent of market share or greater. In smaller markets, consolidation is more extreme. The largest four firms in most small markets control 90 percent of market share or more. These companies are sometimes regional or national station groups and not locally owned.

4. Virtually every music format is controlled by an oligopoly. In 28 of the 30 major music formats, nationwide, four companies or fewer control over 50 percent of listeners.


5. A small number of companies control the news Americans hear on the radio. Four parent companies control two-thirds of the nation’s News format listeners. Two such firms, Viacom (now CBS) and Disney’s ABC Radio, also control major television networks. Locally WELR I think uses ABC.)

6. Format consolidation leads to fewer gatekeepers. A small number of companies control what music is played on specific formats. Coupled with a broad trend toward shorter playlists, this creates few opportunities for musicians to get on the radio. Further, overwhelming consolidation of these formats deprives citizens the opportunity to hear a wide range of music. (I hear the same few songs over and over! Also, I miss the Dixie Chicks! They in fact could be Exhibit A in the power of consolidated companies to keep music or views off the air!)

7. Increased format variety does not ensure increased programming diversity. …

8. A “twin bottleneck” limits musicians’ access to radio. Radio’s oligopolies interact with a five-company recording industry oligopoly, hurting musicians and citizens. Eighty to 100 percent of radio charts are dominated by songs released by the five (previously six) major label conglomerates. This “twin bottleneck” makes access to the airwaves even more difficult for musicians – and reduces choice for citizens. (I continue to be amazed at talent that I have stumbled across despite the fact that we'd likely never hear them on consolidated, corporate radio. Again, these are our public airways that have been licensed off to investors! Profits probably are placed way before anything even approaching Progressivism.)


9. Radio reaches a large portion of adults on a weekly basis, but time spent listening is at a 27-year low. (I’ve looked at XM or Sirius and will soon pull the trigger, especially if they can deliver it via a portable for me to listen to as I work about the Ponderosa.. I also listen to various online deliveries such as Radio Paradise or AccuRadio or .... I-Pods and MP3s and … new media are maybe saving the music yet free publicly owned airwaves ought to better serve the public as far as news and information and culture and …)

10. Citizens favor preservation of independent and locally owned stations. …

11. Radio listeners want less advertising. Industry wide, the amount of advertising per hour has grown significantly over the last several years. …

12. Radio listeners want to hear a wider range of music that includes local musicians….

13. Radio listeners want longer playlists with more variety. …

14. Citizens support action to stop “indie” promotion. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed support congressional involvement to curb the use of payola-like systems that use third parties to let record companies pay radio stations for airplay.

15. Citizens support efforts to grow low power FM radio. Seventy-five percent of survey respondents said they would welcome low power radio stations into their communities.


The radical deregulation of the radio industry allowed by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has not benefited the public or musicians. Instead, it has led to less competition, fewer viewpoints, and less diversity in programming. Deregulation has damaged radio as a public resource. (I love NPR! Woulda, coulda, shoulda from back in the early 20th century where we could have some approach like the BBC!)

This research makes an overwhelming case that market consolidation intended by the act does not serve the diverse needs of Americans citizens. Substantial ethnic, regional and economic populations are not provided the service to which they are entitled. The public is not satisfied and possible economic efficiencies of industry consolidation are not being passed on to the public in the form of improved local service.

Long post! The bottom line is that national decisions do influence us here. I am in no way suggesting that local media is seeking to do our community harm yet I naturally would like to see more Progressive ideas presented in all forums. That desire is of course why I blog. Peace ... or War!