Is It Too Late To Save Radio? Feingold To The Rescue.

Right on the heels of my post last week on the sad state of radio, which was echoed by William Safire, yesterday U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) Senate Commerce Committee introduced the “Competition in Radio and Concert Industries Act.”

Feingold's legislation would help consumers and
small and independent radio station owners and promoters by prohibiting
anti-competitive practices in the radio and concert industries. Senator Zell
Miller (D-GA) is an original co-sponsor of this legislation. Tomorrow Feingold will appear as the lead witness in the Senate Commerce Committee's hearing starting tomorrow.

Feingold is certainly the most outspoken opponent of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This deregulation toppled the barriers to multi-station ownership by a single company. And perhaps Feingold's biggest target is Clear Channel which owns 1,200 radio stations and controls more than 70% of all concert ticket sales in the U.S. Clear Channel has recently been the target of anti-competitive litigation. CBS Marketwatch requires free registration. Perhaps Clear Channel is even more guilty of the thing I hate most about radio (Why do they always play the SAME songs?). Frequency baby. Like advertising. Sell. Sell. Sell. Hell, did you know that 46 of Clear Channels radio stations are called KISS-FM. Talk about a case of stolen identity.

As I've noted before, the result is sterilization, homogenization and fornication of radio. In other words, one company has direct control of the music and other programming content heard on the public airwaves today. In what I refer to the glory days of radio a DJ could discover and break a new musical act. A great example in classic Cohen Brothers satirical voice, was the Soggy Bottom Boys in
Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
. Stumbling into a country radio station George Clooney and his crew of chain gang escapees play “Man of Constant Sorrow” live. Before the boys get to their next destination, the song is a hit. Ironically enough, Cohen Brothers and the film's musical director, T. Bone Burnett tried desperately to get “radio stations” to play songs from the film. Despite virtually no airplay, the soundtrack album won top honors at last years' Grammies. Sales of the album were lackluster until it gained national attention through the grammies.

Speaking with Bill Moyer's on PBS, T. Bone had this to say about Clear Channel and Oh Brother:

“Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, does not fit into Clear Channel's
notion of country music. They're not up there saying, 'we want to build a
community.' They're not saying, 'we want to help keep country music vital.'
They're not saying, 'we want to champion great musicians.' That's not their
business plan. Their business plan is to capture as much, as many,
advertising dollars as they possibly can in that marketplace.”

While deregulation is new, the downfall of the music we end up hearing on the radio isn't. In the 80's Neil Young vented his anger toward the excessive commercialism, cookie cutter music and overall abandonment of artistic integrity (selling out, anyone) by many of his peers in his famous parody of Anheuser-Busch's most famous slogan:

Ain't singin' for Pepsi
Ain't singin' for Coke
I don't sing for nobody
Makes me look like a joke
This note's for you

This summer Tom Petty unleashed his anger at the Clear Channel consolidation issue and the sorry state of radio where DJs simply do as they're told and play songs they're told to spin in his latest release “The Last DJ.”

well, you can't turn him
into a company man
you can't turn him into a whore
and the boys upstairs
just don't understand anymore

the top brass don't like him
talking so much
and he won't play
what they say to play
and he don't want to change
what don't need to change

there goes the last dj
who plays what he wants to play
and says what he wants to say
hey, hey, hey
there goes your freedom of choice
there goes the last human voice
there goes the last dj

Point is, there's a lot of great music that the public never gets to hear because it gets no airplay. And while the legend of Alan Freed seems like a distant nightmare, pay-for-play or payola exists in its own unique form today. If you want your song played on radio, it's going to cost you. And that's why musicians across the nation are up actively pursuing support for Feingold's legislation. And if music isn't your passion, here's Hal Crowther on the sorry state of Talk Radio. (thanks for the pointer Doc)

In New Orleans, one of many birthplaces and nurturing grounds for American roots and blues music and home of Jazz Fest and many other exciting live music events, reaches out to local musicians and New Orleans visitors to its online guide to the local music scene to write their Senator urging support for Feingold's bill.

And on the hill, The American Federation of Musicians is calling out to its membership to write letters too. And perhaps even more passionate and coming from a true grass roots position, this website is more forward in its criticism of Clear Channel.

I can see Senator Feingold pounding his fists on the table like Paddy Chayefsky's Howard Beale and screaming “I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” From the classic film “
” explored and took shots at television.

“The time has come for Congress to address the issue of consolidation in the
radio industry,” Feingold said. “Since originally introducing this legislation
in June of 2002, I have seen a groundswell of interest both in Congress and
among artists, consumers, independent radio stations, and local promoters in
restoring fairness to radio. My legislation will reduce concentration and crack
down on anti-competitive practices, such as the new pay-to-play system.”

I guess there's another way to look at this massive media consolidation. Centralization. And if technology and information dissemination can ever realize the promise of decentralization and ideals of many of the speakers at SuperNova last December, then maybe we're reinventing the glory days of the new radio. The new broadcasting model. Yet this is a big “IF”. In the meantime, perhaps we should pick up the phone or write a letter supporting Feingold and his efforts.