Serving the Public Disinterest, Inconvenience, and Depravity

The old adage that Clear Channel represents the “Evil Empire” in terms of media conglomerates was getting a little stale. The windfall profits reaped from industry consolidation following the Telecommunications Act of 1996 have collapsed; the company went from private to public and back again; and, has been well noted by others, just about every major radio conglomerate is now in the same dire straits.
Clear Channel’s ways of dissing the public interest to preserve a buck have been well-documented by Eric Klinenberg and Alec Foege, but lately the company’s gone above and beyond many of its past transgressions.
First was the Grand Rapids, MI concert debacle in June, where Clear Channel scheduled an outdoor show in a floodplain and, well, without accurate weather information, the inevitable happened. (This is not an isolated incident – many “repeater radio” conglomerate-owned stations have reportedly missed a bevy of severe weather alerts this summer. This would be worth formally quantifying.) Instead of apologizing and making right by its listeners, Clear Channel turned its back on them.
But that’s just a promotional event. Clear Channel just alienated the entire city of Philadelphia. The story: for some 30 years, the community holds an annual “Unity Day,” of which Clear Channel has been a sponsor. This year, due to funding shortfalls, the company can’t chip in a dime. But it’s a community celebration, and so the show goes on, right?
Not so fast: Clear Channel claims to hold the trademark to “Unity Day” in Philadelphia, and has threatened to sue if the celebration goes forward. Shades of Kembrew McLeod’s Freedom of Expression™ hijinks and Salem Communications’ un-Christian “The Fish” pissing-match come to mind. But this is from a company that, just earlier this year, launched a new “commitment” to a “higher minimum level of service” in the communities in which its stations operate.
Clear Channel cares? Not when you’re suing a community celebration devoted to “family values, pride and empowerment,” and whose specific theme this year is “10,000 jobs for Philadelphia.” Actions, as always, speak louder than words.
If I were the FCC, I’d be taking a close, systemic, and proactive look at broadcast localism, through its languishing proceeding examining just that. Big Radio is giving regulators all the ammo they need to at least threaten reform on a scale and scope potentially not seen since the days of the Blue Book.