Monday, October 1, 2007

The Changing Face of Radio

I wrote this story a few years ago for Planet Weekly. Since it is now deceased, I don't think anyone will mind if I post it. There have been some minor changes. Clearchannel sold SFX Entertainment and just approved a takeover offer. The ratings are dated but you get the idea upon reading them. This story was written in 2000 and the practices used by Clearchannel are followed throughout the industry today.

Hugh Henderson, a local attorney who travels frequently, no longer listens to music on the radio. Mr. Henderson, who likes classic rock, instead listens to his extensive CD collection or talk radio.
"Z106 and similar stations are playing the same music no matter where I travel. I hear the same songs that Madison Avenue uses to sell me hamburgers, cars, and tacos," he says. In a stinging rebuke of the radio industry, he says, "Rock used to be dangerous, now even rebellion is packaged."
Mr. Henderson is not alone in his criticism of the radio industry, which has grown since Congress substantially de-regulated ownership of radio stations in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Prior to its passage, ownership of radio stations was limited to one station each on the FM and AM bands in each market. The new law eased these restrictions so that up to six (and even more depending on market share and FCC approval) stations in the Jackson area could have one owner with a limit of four on each band. The result has been much consolidation of ownership among local radio stations. The companies listed below now own 14 of 23 local commercial radio stations.

Clear Channel Communications: WMSI, WSTZ, WDBT, WJDX, WZRX,WQJQ
Inner City Communications: WJMI, WKXI(AM&FM), WOAD, WYJS
New South Communications:WYOY, WUSJ, WJKK

In the Jackson area, these companies have a total market share of 67% based upon Arbitron ratings. However, market share is even more lopsided in their favor when one examines the more popular and music- oriented FM radio stations. Of 16 local FM radio stations, 10 are owned by these three companies for a whopping 83% combined market share.
A good example of such consolidation is the path followed by Clear Channel Communications, which did not return phone calls seeking comment for this article. Clear Channel is the Goliath of the radio industry, owning almost 1200 radio stations nationwide (approximately 10% of U.S. radio stations) while earning 20% of industry revenue.
Clear Channel states that its mission is to "broadcast the best programming to the broadest possible audience providing the best value to its advertisers." (Clear Channel Web-site). It owns Premiere Radio Networks; the largest producer of syndicated radio programming with a stable of talent that includes Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and Jim Rome. Clear Channel also owns SFX Entertainment, the largest concert promoter (The upcoming 'N Sync concert in Jackson is one such promotion.), and owns 120 live entertainment venues nationwide. So confident is Clear Channel of its success that on its web-site it brags "If we have anything to say about it, newspapers will soon be useful only for training puppies."
However, Clear Channels behavior as the industry leader has sparked much controversy. In Orlando and Tampa, Clear Channel moved talk radio programs it produces such as The Rush Limbaugh Show from non-Clear Channel affiliate stations to those it owned. Local industry insiders say that such actions will become the norm, leaving non-Clear Channel affiliate stations to scramble for a decreasing amount of popular programming not produced by Clear Channel. Others fear that stations not owned by Clear Channel will become de facto Clear Channel affiliates because Clear Channel will own a majority of the programming available to them while competing with them.
One critic of this trend is Benji Kurtz, Operations Manager for WYOY (which is owned by New South Communications in Meridian) in Jackson. He said "The biggest beneficiary of the major consolidation is the shareholder. The victim (of this trend) is the listener because the quality of the programming plummets. Attention to the local listener flies out the window."
One development of these mergers has been the standardization of playlists. With companies such as Clear Channel and Infinity owning hundreds of radio stations nationwide, some functions such as programming have become more centralized. Consequently, local control of programming is being replaced in favor of a Brand Manager that is responsible for several stations or regions that have the same format such as Country or Classic Rock resulting in playlists that vary little from market to market.
The days of the DJ selecting his own playlist have gone the way of fifty-cent movies and cars with tail fins. At many of these stations, every minute that is broadcast is accounted for and scripted with little room for deviation leaving the DJ with little time for listener requests and Public Service Announcements. In many stations, CD's have been replaced by computerized databases, sharply limiting the music available to the DJ. Some stations even go so far as to hire firms that monitor broadcasts so as to ensure that the DJ follows the playlist. Even the DJ has become a casualty in this era of de-regulation. Radio stations such as Miss103, Beat95, and Z106 (all Clear Channel stations) are increasingly using DJ's that broadcast from other states (not to be confused with syndicated DJ's). Syndicated radio shows such as "Open House Party" and "The John Boy and Billy Show" are replacing local programming as well. One station manager speculated that local DJ's will eventually disappear, leaving a single DJ for one format broadcasting to several markets. Such programming leads listeners such as Brenda Bullard, a local insurance agent, to complain that on a recent drive to Texas, "There was a 'Beat' station (referring to Beat95) no matter where I was, playing the same songs."
Some also fear that individual stations may suffer as well. "Companies may focus on overall market share instead of individual stations. Consequently, the quality of that individual station may suffer." said Stan Carter, Operations Manager of WJNT.
De-regulation of radio has been deemed a failure by Dr. Robert McChesney (Robert, a Media Professor at the University of Illinois and author of the critically acclaimed book, Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times. He said substantial changes were made in telecommunications law in 1996 with little coverage by the media, leaving the public ill-informed on de-regulation. He said de-regulation has been great for Clear Channel, Infinity, and other major media corporations. "It gives them greater leverage with advertisers and record companies while enjoying lower costs. The advertisers like it (consolidation) because one customer offers them a variety of markets and formats. However, there has been no benefit to the consumer."
Paul Gallo, General Manager of WFMN, agreed that the airwaves are public property and agreed that they have been poorly managed. "Consolidation is one of the worst things to happen to radio if your goal is to serve the local area," said Mr. Gallo. He said that radio station are no longer required to serve the public by broadcasting PSA's. Prior to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a radio station was required to broadcast a minimum number of PSA's in order to retain its license.
Some change may be occurring in the near future. While some people think Internet radio will change the radio industry, Dr. McChesney said there is no evidence it will work. However, some experts predict the future to be dominated by satellite radio. Satellite radio provides over a hundred channels through a quarter-sized receiver for a small monthly fee. Each channel plays only one format such as Irish or Alternative. It is projected that satellite radio will see widespread use within a few years.
While de-regulation has substantially changed the landscape of radio, it is not clear what the future of radio will be. Some expect a backlash against consolidation will occur. Mr. Gallo said "We have to return to serving the needs of the local communities, which is not being done by music radio stations." Others predict that new technology will mitigate some of the changed caused by de-regulation. Regardless of what the future holds for radio, it is quite clear that the radio we grew up listening to is in the past along with our memories.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS