The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

57 STATIONS AND NOTHING ON
"And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anesthetize the way that you feel." - Elvis Costello

"Now our children are all prisoners, all their lives--radio listeners!" - KRS-1

Radio, radio. Other than NPR at work, I never listen to the radio. Literally never. I gave up on that idiot box several years back, both the music formats and the scourge of talk radio. I got pretty sick of hearing the same four songs played ad nauseum hour after hour until, even if you originally liked any of them, you'd get sick of them real quick. As for talk radio, it would do nothing but raise my blood pressure over the sheer stupidity displayed by the masses. And again, it was pretty much all the same, day in and day out.

So it's absolutely no surprise to me that six years of media ownership liberalization has resulted in an increasingly bland radio landscape. The consolidation wave that's given rise to Clear Channel and a couple of other mammoths has been fascinating from a business strategist's viewpoint, but disastrous from a content diversity angle. And naturally, when taking a position similar to a monopoly, Clear Channel has acted predictably by buying ancillary businesses in the events promotion and outdoor advertising industries and going on to strong-arm vendors.

It's not like listeners are the only ones getting the shaft in this, either. When you've got only a small handful of significant players dominating a market like this, advertisers suffer too. It's such a laugh that the radio industry can deny what's painfully obvious; the widespread overlap between formats is especially telling.

What helps in my self-imposed radio exile is that, truly, it was never a medium that I much warmed up to. I didn't really get into any music until relatively late in life (like late teens), and frankly, if not for the advent of MTV, I probably never would have gravitated toward any music. Yep, without the visuals, I just didn't care. To a large degree, this is still the case.

The call for re-regulation is interesting. It supposes that, at the heart of the matter, radio is a medium somehow worthy of rehabilitation. I can't say I go along with that. It's an inherently limiting medium. You've got only one of your senses involved, and so any content being delivered can be put across in only so many ways. Radio advertising is probably the lowest form of product pitch around, and the overall quality of those ad spots stinks. Not to mention that the FCC is obviously moving toward far less media regulation, not more; the GOP victory this past Election Day will only hasten that. Lastly, let's not forget that there are market solutions at work, in the form of the much-ballyhooed satellite radio options, namely XM and Sirius. Whatever happens from all this, it'll be a hell of a ride.