It's OK to raise fists and bay at the moon, but that won't change the moon. Antitrust laws have been
gutted since the 90s, so megaglomeration of ... everything is inevitable.
As far as the FM broadcasting industry, I think you're looking back fondly with very rosy glasses.
The FM band is NOT a reliable "security" asset due to limited range and sometimes fussy transmitting
and receiving gear. It never was some haven of profitability, in fact there was a very short window
in time where a few album-oriented rock stations and, even more so, a few formula-automated easy
listening stations were mega cash machines. So of course the first- and second-generation owners
were all too happy to sell to CC and Evergreen and others. The FCC had no business allowing ANY
owner to have multiple frequencies in any market, but as I said there was a change in antitrust laws
following the end of the Cold War ("Global Marketplace" and all, ya know). CC and its like got
theirs anyway because it turns out that if you put 5 copies of the same lame formula in a
marketplace, none of them get listened to. I've noticed that an FM frequency has become so
value-less for music broadcasting that religious talk-radio and even poltical talk-radio have
started to pop up on the FM dial all over the place. Sports radio moved over there several years
As far as "culturally relevant" (as decided by whom???) radio, the FM band was sabotaged by
tax-subsidized NPR. What commercial station wants to try and fight that? So in many markets, the
"higher brow taste" model was completely surrendered to the NPR empire. In my opinion, they do a
mostly middling job, although the technical quality evolved from amateurish in the early days to
superb in many cases today. As far as content, by being obsessed with political correctness,
"inclusiveness" of every oddball "viewpoint" and trying to do anything they can think of "not of the
masses," they alienate large swaths of the market (and one day will pay in the loss of their tax
subsidy). I say this even though I listen to NPR far more than any other radio content, it is nearly
100% of my over-air listening because everything else is so terrible. I also note that NPR worked
very hard to kill low-power Community FM, which would have been a blessing of true democratic (SMALL
d) variety everywhere it flourished (Community FM was one of the few good ideas to come out of the
FCC in the past few decades, and it was killed by massive pressure from the CC's of the world joined
by NPR biting the hand that feeds it).
FM radio was already heading down the tubes when I was in high school in the early 80s. I was
complaining about the lack of variety among the several differently-owned rock stations I could
easily pick up in the NYC suburbs. One of my friends joined in the lament and said, "hey man, the
best radio station on the planet is your turntable." He was so right! I'm very glad I always
invested in records, CDs and tape recorders rather than tuners.
An interesting discussion is, should radio have been left alone much more so from the get-go, with
the FCC in place only to monitor modulation levels and frequency (technical stuff). The only caveat
I would have put in place from Day 1 would be -- only one frequency per market per owner, and
strictly enforced that every step of the way. From there, let public taste and market economics
decide what's popular, what formats work and what's profitable. Stay out of the way and let the
folks run their own entertainment tastes. Under my system, you're potentially giving Joe Blow who
bought a frequency cheap after WWII the same chance to be "Must Hear Radio" as NBC or CBS networks,
as long as Joe Blow knew his market and could deliver something the big boys weren't.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Carl Pultz" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, July 02, 2013 10:23 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Folk Music in America
> Airwaves do matter. No wish to be argumentative, just that radio has played a big role in my life,
> so it's important to me to question this common wisdom. There are a lot of people who still 'use'
> radio for music and more who would if offered a better product. Many depend on the old delivery
> system and, given the anti-competiveness of broadband providers and the high cost of wireless,
> many will for a long time. It's just that to the press, radio is old tech, and therefore over.
> And, crucially, this blaming of the customer is perfect cover for the rapaciousness and
> incompetence of the captains of the industry. Let me share a relevant story...
> ...It was already 50,000 watts hot on that September morning in 'Vegas, but coolness prevailed at
> the yearly Captains of Radio confab [NAB, or something like that]. Most were phat. And, if not
> happy, were keeping their misgivings to themselves. By eleven, at least one cigar chomper was
> already getting restless and starting to picture the leggy servers waiting for him at the Pharaoh
> Room pig roast. Almost there, sweaty palms. Just gotta live through the droning of the stat man. A
> wafer-thin bowtie wearing an Adams Apple approached the mic. He'd left his cool back home...
> This was about 10 or more years ago, when Clear Channel had pretty much finished its feeding
> frenzy, but had yet to begin its decade of nausea. The speaker was, IIRC, the VP of Research for
> Sinclair Broadcasting, or one of the other large ownership chains, newly dwarfed by CC. Somebody
> to listen to, and with a serious message. The industry faced a risk, he told them, as
> consolidation and centralized programming eliminate an important source of information that music
> formats had lived by for years. Trends, tastes, styles are local and regional in their
> development, often arising where least expected. Who in New York anticipated Nashville, or
> Memphis, or Detroit, or Seattle, or Greensborough? Or any of that highly-profitable noise the kids
> dream up? By losing the intelligence developed by local radio, the industry will be blinded to the
> emergence of new talent and sounds, unable to exploit them. This can undermine the relevance of
> radio to a whole generation. Meanwhile, the medium could face serious challenge from new gadgets
> just as its audience steadily ages. This will hurt the performance not only of radio, but effect
> its traditional role in supporting the eco-system of the music business as a whole, concerts and
> Looking back on it, there couldn't have been a suit in the room who wasn't aware of the
> implication of CC's binge of leverage. Properties would be gutted, programming nationalized. They
> knew, because they had done it, setting this devolution in motion. But here was a monoculture like
> never before, with the power to ruin the whole game. Mr. Sliderule just told them of their end.
> Please, Clear Channel, gobble up one more. And let it be mine.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf
> Of Tom Fine
> Sent: Tuesday, July 02, 2013 2:10 PM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Folk Music in America
> My bet is, the cycle will come around and the airwaves will matter. Perhaps not for broadcasting
> music, but the owners of the frequencies will get the last laugh.
> What I can't understand is, given that we live in the age of streaming music, iPods, YouTube,
> Pandora, etc -- who CARES what's on the FM dial???
> -- Tom Fine