Saturday, June 08, 2002

Hi Flippercasts:

(That's a Dutch word but I don't remember what it means.)

I promised you some hot girl-on-monster interview-action with the President of Viacom, Mel Karmazin, which would prove that corporate consolidation of the media is not the "natural" cost of a free market. It is purposely anti-competitive and thus anti-free-market.

Here you go. (See previous entry/s on media consolidation, which is the corporatist equivalent of when, like, the two groups of popular girls at school align themselves to take over the prom committee and make it really expensive and un-fun for normal kids, and OF COURSE rig the prom-king-and-queen votes.)

Lil background: Viacom/Infinity/CBS is one of the four major media conglomerates that controls radio. (Obviously they also own the MTV/VH-1 networks and anything CBS.) They own KROQ in L.A.

The reason four companies control radio is because of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. For most of radio's history a company was allowed to own only two radio stations in any given "market" (one each of Am/FM), and a total of 7 stations nationwide. These laws were written to ensure diversity of ownership and broadcasting, and to protect little-guy broadcasters from the Blob.

Back when radio was invented, you see, people had this goofy concept that the airwaves were a public resource, like national forests.

The '96 Telecom Act made it possible to own eight stations in one market and an unlimited number nationwide. Overnight, radio became the playground of the fabulously wealthy, and Mom & Pop radio station owners couldn't compete against the much deeper pockets of these mega-corporations.

Mom & Pop and small-fry broadcasters were people who were in the business not because they were going to become bazillionaires--because they weren't--but because they loved radio.

Since 1996, companies that own radio are not radio-lovers, or even broadcasters at heart. Clear Channel, the largest radio conglomerate, calls itself an "advertising" company. Viacom's Mel Karmazin says, "If we're going to be in the

*advertising* business, we want to be in radio."

The effects have been wide-ranging, but the one I care about most tonight is this:

Sucky fucking music.

My first question to Mel Karmazin was sentimental: "What's your happiest memory of KROQ?"

His answer: "Buying it."

He said his job was not stressful, especially since consolidation. "I have no stress. I create stress."

Why don't I let him speak for himself:

Mel Karmazin: Radio�s become today a better business than it�s ever been in history. It�s less competitive today than it was, because of consolidation. For example: Today L.A. may boast of having 100 stations. Probably in the 1980s, there were 50 owners of those stations. And what�s now happened is that now we [Infinity/Viacom], Clear Channel, Emmis and Disney, those four companies own a good chunk of the market today. And that makes it a better business than when you were dealing with an individual station.

KS: Has there been any downside to consolidation for you?

MK: There aren�t very many minuses to consolidation, in all candor. As an owner, there have been all kinds of benefits. I don�t know what the negative would be.

KS: Were you involved in lobbying for deregulation?

MK: We were very involved, and were the first to take advantage of duopoly. The first [deregulation] shoe dropped with the FCC when they allowed you to own two FM stations in the same market, so that�s when we bought K-Earth. We saw that that was an advantage. If you like the radio business, and we did, owning an LA station is critical. If you now own two stations, that makes it even better, and if you can now own seven stations, that makes it even better, which led to further consolidation.

We were very active in lobbying for the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Since we were one of the biggest beneficiaries of it, we were interested in it. We thought that the radio business needed more consolidation in order to compete with other media. We were saying, in order for us to be a vibrant business, we needed to take more and more dollars away from the newspapers, and the way you do that is to aggregate more audience. As good as one station might be, we only have a three or four share of the market. So what you needed to do was get up to where you had critical mass, so you can walk into an advertising agency and tell them you can deliver 30 or 40 percent of the audience in a market. And that�s what we saw as a vision, and why we were so aggressive trying to get the rules tilted our way.

And by the way, we think that there�s still a need for further deregulation, because it really seems silly that there�s a numerical number like eight--one company can only own eight stations [per market] and let�s assume, in L.A. if you just count the number of stations that are available to a listener, there�s probably closer to a hundred. Why should one company be limited to eight percent of the radio stations in the market?

I�m not suggesting this, but even if one company owned all the stations in a given market, there�s still newspaper competition, TV competition, billboard competition.

KS: What do you say to people who say radio has a different feel now, that it's not as good?

MK: To people who say that radio has a different feel than it used to, I say to them: Get a life. . Instead of bitching about it, just shut the radio if they don�t like it.


Um... question. How do you "shut" a radio?

i mean, does he have, like, a folding radio?

a book-shaped radio?

(not a bad idea.)

Secondly, if he were a fruit, what would he be? crabapple? ugly fruit?

Thirdly, what would e.e. cummings have to say about him?

of all the blessings which to man

kind progress doth impart

one stands supreme i mean the an

imal without a heart.



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