M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Friday, July 19, 2002  

If you’re going to hold a longstanding, irrational grudge against someone, it’s helpful when they keep giving you new reasons to do so. For instance, I used to have this coworker, the Village Idiot, who once screwed something up so bad that I had to come into work on the weekend and fix it. I try not to be judgemental, but things like that kind of put me in a snit. Now, I could have nursed my resentment over this one incident for the whole time that I worked with him, but that would have started to feel a little petty. He spared me that kind of bad karma by maintaining a constant pattern of screwing up things that I later had to fix. That way, so my hatred for him was kept plump and healthy by regular infusions of fresh grievances. Made me feel so much more mature.

The importance of regular anger maintenance also applies to corporate entities. There’s one company in particular that I hate more than any other. No, it’s not Enron or Exxon or WorldCom. It’s a company that I hadn’t even heard of two years ago, but its nefarious influence is felt in our everyday lives more profoundly than many of us realize. Even the message on the front of its homepage is a sinister, looming threat proclaiming unquestioned dominance over the helpless members of the proletariat. I’m talking of course, about Clear Channel.

Clear Channel’s practices have been getting more attention in the past year or so, ever since Salon started reporting on them. But here’s a little background, in case you’ve missed it. Clear Channel owns more than 1200 radio stations nationwide, more than any other company. They’ve used their stranglehold on the American ear (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?) to leverage positions in concert promotion and venue management, which gives them the ability to regularly blackmail record companies, artists, concert venues, and competing radio stations into doing their evil bidding. Needless to say, they’re not shy about exercising that ability. Their goal is nothing less than controlling what you listen to and making sure that the largest possible chunk of revenue from the nation’s entire music industry goes straight to them, while giving back as little as possible in return. The overarching story has made for some of Salon’s best reporting of the past year, and sentiment against the company is starting to come out into the open, complete with a well-deserved antitrust lawsuit or two. The RIAA makes a lot of noise about how file-sharing applications are stealing food out of the mouths of the defenseless recording artists they’re just trying to look out for, but that’s because they’re scared to piss off the real source of the problem, which is Clear Channel. I could go on and on about this, but Salon already has, and presented the issues in much more detail than I could. If you don’t feel like following the link, let’s just say that the guys in charge at Clear Channel are a bunch of power-drunk, greedy, sexually-harassing, freshmanic bullies who don’t come close to deserving the degree of control they have over what we all hear on our radios. I’d call Clear Channel the Microsoft of radio, but that would be like calling Hitler the Charles Grodin of Germany.

For a while I was actually starting to find the situation less frustrating, becase I dared to hope that Clear Channel’s time was running out. It’s getting more attention and more people are starting to complain about it to the media. For example, Entertainment Weekly recently published an item that was fairly (and I do mean fairly) critical of Clear Channel. This prompted someone at Clear Channel’s upper management to write a pissy letter to the editor, which was published in the most recent edition. I don’t have it in front of me but the sense of it was this: Quitcher bitchin’ about the homogeneity of Clear Channel’s stations. If you want variety, give a listen to your local college radio station. “After thirty minutes of pure hell, I guarantee you’ll switch back to a Clear Channel station. People listen to us because we play the hits.”

Yeah, all ten of them, you condescending jerkweed.

This is their defense? “We’ve lowered the bar not just because we own the air, not just because we can do whatever we want, but because y’all are a bunch of ignorant sheep who’ll listen to whatever we tell you to.” What a relief to know that Clear Channel stations across the country have fired hundreds of DJs and replaced them with cheap remote broadcasts because of their selfless commitment to you, the listener. Hard to believe that radio listening could be down by 10-15%, isn’t it?

It’s bad enough that Clear Channel has behaved with such consistent arrogance toward other players in the music and radio industries. Its open contempt for not only its listening public, but also the very concept of radio as a public service, has fanned the previously guttering torch of my enmity towards them into a mighty beacon. Radio has sucked for a while, but it’s sucked a lot harder in the past few years. Blame the 1996 Telecommunications Act and Clear Channel for that.

Needless to say, I’ve taken up Clear Channel on their thoughtful invitation to start listening to the local college radio station. That’s KUOM 770 AM, for those of you in the area. I kind of wish they’d play the same song twice, or tell me who I’m listening to more than twice an hour, but at least they’re not pulling stunts like secretly threatening to make sure that no MCA record ever gets played on American radio again. Not that Clear Channel’s doing that yet, but if everyone keeps listening to them it’s only a matter of time before they do.

posted by M. Giant 3:37 PM 0 comments


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