Posted by Billyjam, April 3, 2008 10:50pm | Post a Comment
The recent business news story reports on the $27 billion sales figure deal by radio station-owning company Clear Channel Communications to Bain Capital and THL Partners have focused on how the two big investment giants had, as of last week, sued a cadre of major Wall Street banks to force them to finance the extremely large dollar takeover.   You see, with all the recent drama and fallout and uncertainty of the US economy, the Wall Street bankers who were supposed to finance the takeover (initially agreed to in 2006) basically got cold feet.

In court Bain and THL said that the banks supposed to pony up the cash essentially had "buyer's remorse" when they realized that, with the recent turns in the US economy, that they would not rake in the profits they once foresaw.

 Anyway, all of this news merely blurs, or perhaps further highlights, the real news story here:  The story of the slow decline and final death of (commercial) radio, once upon a time a vibrant creative media form which in the last decade and more -- thanks in great part to Clear Channel, along with other like-minded, huge but soulless entertainment conglomerates -- has been drained of its former glory and destroyed essentially.  This new deal is just the final nail in the coffin.

Of course there are still amazing non-commercial radio stations (especially if you are lucky enough to live in the Bay Area) as well as oodles of great specialized streaming online music feeds, not to mention your iPod's collection of your favorite fifty thousand songs. But long ago commercial radio also satisfied that same need to hear good music, new music, different music, and presented by DJs who personally programmed (and loved) what they played.   But the days of fun, freeform creative commercial radio stations - a la the fictional WKRP Cincinnati or the real KSAN San Francisco- are long long gone.

The reason adventurous commercial radio like that no longer exists is simple.  When those envelope-pushing FM commercial stations of olde were around the stakes were not as high. Radio stations didn't cost millions and millions of dollars, hence the overheads were not so hard to cover.  But that changed a long time ago.  And in direct correlation with the increasing sales figures of radio stations there has been a distinct decrease in creativity.

While the actual erosion of creative commercial radio had already begun by the beginning of the eighties, it really caught hold by the mid-nineties, thanks to one important factor: the FCC's devastating Telecommunications Act of 1996. That one act changed the rules of the game and instantly allowed any entity permission to enter any communications business.  Any businessman could buy up radio stations so long as he could afford it.  Didn't matter that he didn't know jack about music.

Hence, ever since the Telecom Act, it has been a free-for-all with big companies (none with any passion for music as an art or radio as a creative outlet) gobbling up radio stations, and with Clear Channel leading the pack for many recent years.  As they bought everything up, they drove up the prices, and streamlined their formats into bland redundant mush that they hoped would get the best possible ratings and generate the most ad revenue - with the emphasis always on money and never on music or creativity.

In many cases, even in major markets like San Francisco, Clear Channel laid off as much of its stations' staff (office and on-air) as they could get away with, replacing announcers with computer fed streamlined voices that broadcast identically similar feeds (just with different station ID and city names replaced) on radio stations all over the US.  That's why that station you heard driving round in Dallas or Detroit sounds exactly like the one you hear in LA.

So the real story of this recent buyout of Clear Channel, who gobbled up over 1200 US radio stations, is not so much how two companies are having difficulty finishing their deal to buyout a radio conglomerate but rather how companies like Clear Channel, who essentially put the final nail in the coffin of radio as an art form and completely destroyed it, are now just up and walking away and leaving the mess that they created behind. 

So I spill a lil on da curb for the faded memory of once decent commercial radio in the US and say thank God for stations, both FM and streaming, like (but not limited to) KALX, KUSF, KXLU, KPOO, KFJC, KPFA, KZSU, WFMU, and (enter your favorite station name here).

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Radio (21), Clear Channel (2), Ksan (1), Wkrp (1), Kusf (15), Wfmu (34), Kxlu (3), Kalx (20)