Last week the FCC promulgated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would allow for more media consolidation. Among many changes contemplated, the most significant would actively encourage the merger of print and broadcast media companies. The proposal also leaves the door open to loosening restrictions on the number of radio and television stations a single company can own in any given market.
Clear Channel-owned radio stations in small to medium-sized markets were decimated last week as the company laid off dozens – if not hundreds – of on-air talent. This means that, at some Clear Channel station-clusters, there is literally no local presence on the airwaves anymore.
Clear Channel says it’ll take remaining talent and syndicate their shows across markets, using “custom breaks” and “localized content” to provide a patina of localism on affected stations – a practice otherwise known as voice tracking. The company has also appointed two dozen “Brand Managers” to oversee 11 national station formats.
They make their bread and butter on access to the public airwaves, and for decades they have agitated against newcomers and ne’er-do-wells vying for a piece of the dial. But a skirmish between two commercial broadcasters over interference caused by an FM translator suggests that some radio broadcasters see over-the-air transmission slipping in importance as the primary conduit for their content.
The New York Times recently ran a canonizing profile on the afternoon-drive DJ at WRIP-FM, a locally-owned Top 40-format commercial radio station in Windham, New York. He conducted a 13-hour broadcast marathon during the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene last month, taking phone calls and disseminating emergency information the old fashioned way – listener by listener.
Clear Channel is the nation’s largest commercial radio broadcaster. Educational Media Foundation is one of the nation’s largest religious radio broadcasters. Both companies have an affinity for FM translators – and now, they’re working together for mutual enrichment at the expense of others on the dial.
EMF operates the K-LOVE and AIR-1 Christian music networks. It owns several hundred FM translators around the country; during the Great Translator Invasion of 2003, when more than 13,000 new translator applications were filed, EMF tendered paperwork for 875 new translators.
Clear Channel owns more than 700 full-power radio stations, and over the last few years it has also acquired or leased FM translators to rebroadcast some of its “beleaguered” AM stations as well as to simulcast otherwise-unheard HD Radio programming in analog form.