The Advantages of Disadvantages

The FCC and your elected officials are responsible for the current sorry state of the broadcasting business. Wall Street distracts us. Steve Jobs attracts us. And Congress, the enabler of many of today's problems for broadcast media whacks us.

Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 tacking on radio consolidation before the final vote. Congress in its infinite wisdom (or lack of it, thereof) developed the template of growth for the radio industry. A few owners own virtually everything worth owning. It created Clear Channel, the Clear Channel clones and made it impossible for small owners not to sell out to the big boys. But it was Congress that sold the radio industry out in the end not to mention America's radio listeners.

The FCC used to hold radio broadcasters to a high standard for license renewal. As a program director I knew -- and my contemporaries knew -- that if we planned on staying employed we had better serve the public interest, convenience and necessity. We had to know the market and the audience and it was a ritual I didn't fully appreciate back in the day, but I sure appreciate it now. As my friend Bill O'Shaughnessy says, radio licensees are "permitees" of the public trust. (I hope you're not laughing at me, but it really was that way at one time). The FCC sold radio out. This is not about politics. FCC chairman in both Democratic and Republication administrations are guilty.

Radio never had a hard time dealing with indecency until the FCC tuned out in the 90's and then refocused as a political issue after the turn of the century. I've always been amazed that Janet Jackson's exposed breast on the infamous Super Bowl half-time show caused more trouble for radio than it did for television.

I'm thinking, what's the fuss about letting the two satellite networks merge. In this country one company is not a monopoly, is it? Look at how Clear Channel singlehandedly took over the radio industry legally. Who would call them a monopoly -- not our Congress and not our regulators. Now radio is crying fowl because the satellite companies (not their real competition) want to merge. I'm betting the merger goes through. DOJ -- no problem. Congress, FCC -- maybe a few meaningless caveats. How do I know? History teaches us. Radio's indignation is laughable on this issue.

And outside interference on Internet music royalties threatens to shut down the only potential growth business that's on the horizon because the next generation is born of the Internet not radio and increasingly not TV.

Every problem that I've mentioned so far was created by or is enabled by the FCC, Congress or our legal system.

And, I haven't even gotten to the real problems: Steve Jobs, the iPod, music downloading, mobile devices, the Internet, social networking, the next generation and on and on.

In other words, who needs competition when our establishment has reduced or removed competition and even that hasn't helped.

Radio is concentrated in the hands of a few and it's on the decline. Go figure.

Maybe radio ought to reject the help that everyone has given them -- monopoly, a free ticket, less scrutiny and go back to the way that works -- running local radio stations that are held accountable for their licenses.

With friends like Congress, the FCC, the courts and Wall Street, who needs competition which is precisely why the next generation will be consuming its media on a mobile device that probably will not have radio on it.

I'd rather be running an Internet radio station. Rather be developing mobile content for the future. Monetizing podcasting. Building social networks. Working out royalty deals that are win-win for growth of digital media. I'd even rather run a record label because digital delivery is their friend not enemy. They just don't know it yet.

See all these disadvantages?

Compare them to every advantage that the radio industry has received and squandered and you'll soon become a believer in appreciating the advantages of disadvantages.