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Henley Rips Radio

Senate commerce committee discusses regulation

Representing the Recording Artists Coalition, Don Henley appeared
before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee
yesterday to encourage legislation to temper the consolidation of
the radio and concert industries.

At the center of the debate is the 1996 Telecommunications Act,
which further loosened restrictions on ownership of multiple radio
stations. Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) has sponsored a bill
that would serve two purposes: Increase governmental regulation of
radio station mergers and eliminate record label payments to radio
stations for air time.

“Getting on the radio, in one way or another, is the holy grail
of our business,” Henley told the committee. “In a perfect world,
merit would determine which records get played on radio. But this
is far from a perfect world.”

Henley praised the early years of FM radio in which independent
stations offered listeners a broader array of music styles and
genres, and he faulted the purchase of indie stations by larger
corporations for creating uniform radio playlists. “Listeners were
encouraged to explore different styles and to stretch the
boundaries of their tastes,” he said. “The idea was not to fragment
society into what is now called demographics, but rather to bring
people together . . . [Today] a recording artist has a much better
chance of getting radio airplay if the promotional budget for a
record is large than if the record is good. . . . This
unprecedented control over the music industry by the conglomerates
is hurting the music business and the culture.”

According to figures offered by Senator John McCain (R-Arizona),
who chairs the committee, Clear Channel Communications alone has
grown from sixty stations before the 1996 Telecommunications Act to

Deregulation was further vilified for allowing the same
conglomerates that owned several radio stations, to also own live
music venues, agencies and promotional companies, which Henley
called an “institutionalized conflict of interest.”

In his opening statements, McCain called himself “a firm
believer in free market principles,” claiming that “anachronistic
government regulations do not reflect today’s multimedia
marketplace.” The Senator plans to offer his own Telecommunications
Ownership Diversification Act, which would offer tax deferrals and
market-based incentives to help smaller businesses.

In contrast to Henley’s testimony, Clear Channel chairman and
CEO Lowry Mays called the radio industry “healthier and more robust
today than ever before.” Mays cited radio slumps in the late
Eighties and early Nineties as proof that the 1996 act had a
positive impact. “With the ability to own more stations, both
locally and nationally, radio companies could create economies of
scale and benefit from the substantial cost savings that result,”
Mays said. He also noted that Clear Channel’s 1,200 stations
represented only nine percent of radio stations in the country,
unlike cable television where the top ten companies own eighty-nine
percent of the revenues, and film, where the ten biggest companies
own ninety-nine percent.

Troubles caused by radio deregulation have been a pet pursuit of
several artists, many of whom, like Henley, express nostalgia for
the FM of yesteryear. The consolidation informed Tom Petty’s most
recent release, The Last DJ, an indictment of industry
practices with regards to radio and concerts, the title track from
which was banned from several radio play lists last fall. “I don’t
really give a flying fuck about any of it,” Petty told Rolling
. “But I was elated when my song was banned. In 2002, to
have a song banned that doesn’t have a dirty word, doesn’t advocate
violence — it’s fascinating. I remember when the radio meant
something. We enjoyed the people who were on it, even if we hated
them. They had personalities. They were people of taste, who we
trusted. And I see that vanishing.”


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