ONCE UPON A TIME there was a "new industry" called radio. At the time it started there were not many radio sets available because few Americans could afford these big tube-based wooden cabinets with speakers and wires. It took electric power, which would cost the average family quit a few pennies if it were used all day long and into the night. Times were tough back then, but the industry slowly grew, as the "listeners" grew along with the number of stations, advertisers, and performers who were scrambling to get their entertainment form of singing, playing music, performing plays and poetry, or simple spoken word "on the air" at one of the radio stations. Networks quickly sprang up and there were nationally broadcast shows. Sponsors were quick to sign up for these shows whether local or national just to get their products in front of the growing public. Although times were still lean and the technology was still relatively new, by the 1930s there were many radio stations --- and radio sets were everywhere. Some of the electronic component manufacturers began building radio sets that fit into a car console and allowed travelers to listen to radio stations far and wide as they drove across the countryside to see family or friends or just take a vacation --- another relatively new idea.
As the years went along, radio stations developed more, programs were more focused, FM was added, shortwave radio and amatuer radio gained some interest, television came on the scene and became an increasing competitor, and the overall industry --- once simply "radio broacasting" became known as "broadcasting", with radio and television being separate.
The American dream was more complex than ever, as was the industry of broadcasting by the time "rock and roll" radio personalities came along in the 1950s. Radio stations were bought/sold and traded by owners who were increasingly looking for a better deal for themselves. But most radio station managers remained forward-looking and hopeful that they could lead their station or stations (sometimes there was one AM and one FM owned in the same market by an owner) to be a competitive money-maker --- or, at least, survive financially.
With the 1980s and a down economic picture, some radio station owners complained that they were no longer able to be competitive against TV and cable broadcasting. Computers came along and by the mid-1980s had started to take a piece of the pie away from some who were interested in newer technologies. Radio was still a strong piece of the every day American pie. Listenership was not challenged all that much because there were "portable" radios with transistors, "personal" radios like the Walkman, and automobiles and vans and trucks all had AM/FM tuners --- even the Over-The-Road trucker and the local delivery vans had radios. But there were some radio station owners who thought that the best years still were ahead and made promises to keep enhancing what they had. So they lobbied for some deregulation with the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D. C., and asked that they be allowed to start buying up competitors. Somewhat surprisingly, after a few years of the debate, the FCC eventually allowed corporate owners --- ones with enough money to do so --- to own 2 FM and 2 AM stations within the same LARGE market, expanding the overall limits of ownership so that some of the "big" companies would grow. Among those early adopters of the 2 and 2 limits were CBS, Westinghouse, and ABC. They were big already, but under the new rules that kept increasing the "national limit" for stations owned, they were increasingly given the ability to purchase competitive stations in markets where they already were powerful.
By the time the 1990s were fully engaged, ENDING the national limits seemed to be the target of these and many other broadcasting companies. The national limits increased from 12 to 18 to 20 in a few years, under the guidance of the FCC and Congress with rules they continued to develop allowing more deregulation.
By 1996, the FCC and the U. S. Congress were giving the green light for companies who had reached the upper limits of the "national limit" to begin participating in further buyouts.
Radio, in part, was seeing some decline because of other new technologies. Cable broadcasting had increased its overall audience by expanding what was offered to subscribers: CNN, Weather Channel, HBO --- were all just a part of cable offerings as HGTV, USA, FoxNewsChannel, FoodNetwork, ESPN2, ESPN3, Fox Sports, and many others popped up and took another chunk of time away from regular broadcast TV and radio. And the computer age was in full force by the mid to late 1990s, with the internet, cellphones, and videogames all competing for everyone's time, money, and energy.
So --- radio ownership got what it wanted. Maybe I should say "shareholders" of radio companies got what they wanted. In the board room, owners were under increasing pressure to be one of the companies that would buy out the neighboring competition. CBS and Westinghouse "merged" into a bigger company. Clear Channel bought whomever was selling, including some companies who were reporting losses or were bigger than they were but had some financial problems because of the competitive nature of the entertainment and advertising dollar.
Smaller broadcasting operators found out that their stations were worth more on the market and put them up for sale --- not really caring that they were already making money against competitors who were cheapening what was being served to the public and losing money to the stations who had full on-air staffs and were seen in the public eye at "live remotes". So, by the time some of the "good" broadcasters started selling off their assets, the lesser broadcasters had already started adopting policies of "voice tracking" or "satellite service" --- both which only increased the erosion of listenership to that station or stations and only helped the bottom line of the owner. What did that mean? Job losses. There were people who were employed full-time at radio stations in small, medium, large, and major markets who lost jobs to new technology and newly adopted ways of making the bottom line "more competitive" with disregard to the listeners or the professionals who brought those listeners to the stations. These new technologies included the computer-assisted satellite, the computer itself playing the majority of music and commercials throughout the broadcast day, and stations which used computers as its SOLE way of broadcasting to the listeners. Job losses increased as the technology improved, but moreover the job losses increased as owners of stations decided that the bottom line of "savings" was far more important than having listeners 24 hours a day. Overnight listeners found out that there were no live bodies in many American radio stations --- if they bothered to ask at all. Employees of these stations who were eliminating positions scrambled to find jobs --- only to find that the owners of most radio stations were not going to be hiring. And what made it worse was the fact that the ownership "national limit" was dropped altogether. Full deregulation of the national limit meant that there were legal conglomerates who were and are allowed to broadcast using a public license as a tool to have only a few employees for an entire market. Where a group of stations --- let's just say "6" radio stations may once have housed 72 full-time employees doing on-air work, 11 would be sufficient for Clear Channel in 2010. This does NOT take into consideration the number of employees who worked part-time or off-air. That number would be reduced by a considerable amount in proportion to the overall count of stations in the market. Voicetracking was a substitute --- and if you don't know how to be voicetracked in two or more markets, you could not work for Clear Channel as a personality. Oh --- and if you wanted a salary that matched what someone made in 1995, you may as well forget it. Salary levels for those fulltime employees were more like that of 1990 --- and there's the no-compete clauses you are forced to sign, the right-to-work rules that were in place in numerous states which allowed the employer to terminate you "at will" for anything they wanted to do --- including cost-cutting. In this economic climate, others followed suit, causing permanent layoffs to literally tens of thousands of people who had been in an industry that EVERYONE USES. Even naysayers didn't think radio ownership would stoop to such a low-life level. But those naysayers thought deregulation of radio broadcasting would run its course much sooner.
Have you read enough of this to understand that Clear Channel is one of many conglomerates who operates their stations NOT IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE PUBLIC --- BUT ONLY IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE SHAREHOLDERS??? This is contradictory to what the radio station was supposed to be --- and was --- from the 1920s to the 1990s.
Not only am I not the first person to point this out --- but there are so many columnists who have worked in broadcasting or as professors who have pointed these facts out as the facts they are that I could decide to do a web search and cull from their work. I have taken one piece of information which cites FCC rules and regulations --- a piece from the book "Radio --- the forgotten medium" published in 1995 --- and incorporated my own language and not quotations from the book. Yet, I give them a credit due because they cited certain rules that the FCC had enacted, and I knew those to be accurate as of the publishing of that book.
So, what does this mean in the scheme of things in 2011? It points out major flaws in corporate ownership --- conglomerate ownership --- as well as Congressional allowance of conglomerates; FCC commissioners not fully challenging the congressional laws and that lessened the commissioners' authority to continue enacting rules that kept ownership limits at a reasonable level; a judicial system that was given too much power to cause regulations to be dropped in the interest of ownership over the public interest; and a public which does not speak out against such injustices.
It's 2011 and the thing that must be done is TEARING DOWN THE IRON CURTAIN OF CONGLOMERATE OWNERSHIP in radio broadcasting.
I dare say the "iron curtain of conglomerate ownership" goes well beyond just broadcasting. Corporate America benefits too much from American workers who won't sit up and make sure the shareholders suffer the same kinds of losses that the workers have suffered.
When was the last time you heard about the "average Joe or Jane" getting the chance to be the star of the evening network newscast because he or she was put on the spot by their congressional representative or senator, and followed by the television cameras and radio station microphones as they told of how their industry was decimated by deregulation and greedy ownership? It doesn't happen often enough, does it?
Clear Channel shareholders are going to find out the hard way soon. CBS/VIACOM shareholders are going to find out the hard way soon. Cumulus and Citadel shareholders will find out the hard way soon.
Radio company stock shares for the "GREAT CONGLOMERATES" are about plummet.
The "great sell-off" of radio was thought to be in the 1990s. But the "greatest sell-off" of radio stations is about to commence in 2011. Radio stocks are going to fall below $0.01 in record numbers --- and huge conglomerates like Viacom are going to take a hit that makes their stocks worth about 65% of what they were just a couple of years ago. And they can't do a thing about it --- because they caused it, they earned it, and their going to learn that they screwed up the system by thinking they were immune.
Banks once thought they were immune to the great falls of the stock prices. That industry is plagued by a sell-off and a slower than expected economy --- it will take decades for some banks to recover from their own stupidity. And that's how business MUST BE in order to be fair and equitable --- some will just have to "hold" long enough to come back to where they were before they screwed up.
Radio is about to have this major sell-off because they did some of the same things that banks wanted them to do --- "buy, buy, buy" and drop the employment levels/jobs to an unsustainable rate. Stations cannot operate with no employees --- as much as Clear Channel and Cumulus want workers to believe they can --- because once they sell them off, others will have to employ people just to get listeners and advertisers back. This means --- the price of a radio station will come down even more than it has in the past five years --- conglomerate American radio station owners are about to take a DIVE into the red. Not a dive they haven't already had once or twice since they bought up others in the deregulatory period since 1996, but a dive that they would love to argue shouldn't happen --- BUT WILL happen in 2011.
Clear Channel employees --- I'm not trying to scare you out of your jobs. You're lucky to have jobs when 60 to 70 percent of your former co-workers no longer have jobs, yes. But you're subject to finding out that the corporate conglomerate for whom you are working is even more destined to fail than their boards and upper managers want to believe. Clear Channel is about to falter. Cumulus is poised to fail along with Citadel. CBS/Westwood One/Viacom --- losses of gigantic proportion are heading to your corporate HQ in NYC, too. The shares of each of your stocks is about to plummet.
What will happen in the coming months after many of the major broadcasting entities fail? Banks will be suffering even more. The stock market will adjust downward. And the economy will be poised for a return to glory.
HUH? The economy will rebound after all that?
Let me explain this line of thinking --- it is a theory that you can track back to the 1920s. As radio goes, so goes the economy.
Once broadcasting conglomerates have been decimated, the Congress and the FCC and the judges will see that "national limits" to radio station ownership were always there as a protection, not as a fight against the rich and wealthy. Soon after the fall, real broadcasters will once again be allowed to make the radio stations work in a positive manner. Jobs will return to radio, and listeners will hear the difference. The rest of the economy will follow, and the picture may not be a Currier & Ives plate, a Saturday Evening Post picture from Norman Rockwell, or even that of the "dot com boom" years --- but it will be more structured and level out.
In radio, where the no-compete clause has been in effect for a long time, there will be a new clause. And it will seem like Santa brought it to the world, soon.
Yes, Virginia, there is a rebound clause. The positive news is: it's about to be invoked.