by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & RADIO CONTROL
Last Friday, KYRS showed Before the Music Dies, a documentary about the state of record labels and radio stations in America. The filmmakers argue that industry consolidation is killing music. Between the four huge corporations that own most major record labels and the four other huge corporations that own most radio stations, everyone is listening to way more Akon and Rascal Flatts than they should have to.
Good point, though the audience's reaction -- hand-wringing and Revelation-grade teeth-gnashing -- was a bit much. The dread that those intelligent, educated KYRS listeners feel isn't misplaced, I just think there's a solution. In an earlier column, I talked about how major labels are increasingly mimicking indies, giving people more choice. The Internet, intelligent consumers and the will of a fair market will only continue this trend. The near-monopoly held by labels is crumbling.
Radio hegemony is not, however. For that, we need new laws. Until a decade ago, each company could only own a couple stations. Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 essentially lifted ownership restrictions, four companies have risen up, seeking to buy every station in every town in America. Now, two companies own the majority of stations in Spokane (Clear Channel and Citadel Communications), each rotating the same 30 (country or pop or "adult alternative") songs every couple hours on their dozen or so stations. Thus, radio sucks. Further, regulations make it hard as hell to get new stations up and running, and radio isn't terribly profitable to begin with, so the landscape is discouraging for start-up stations looking to offer more diversity.
Bad state, but there's a solution: push for legislation reinstating ownership caps. Companies who have near-monopolies on air time in markets like Spokane would have to sell off assets. These stations would have much of the broadcast infrastructure in place already, giving interested parties a less expensive entry into the industry. Same airwaves, more voices. It's a simple solution, but not an easy one, requiring huge grassroots push to overcome millions in special interest cheddar. Nothing changes, then, unless you call someone and make it. So do that.