Radio is King for a Day

Today is the commemoration of Martin Luther King's birthday. In our lifetime we can count on the fingers of only one hand those who have meant more to our society. Yet we feel it more appropriate to honor such icons with a day off and 50% off sales at the mall.

In the radio industry, we suffer from a similar abuse.

While some stations commit themselves to add meaning to the King holiday, it's often no more than another day for an industry that would be better off if it actually translated King's message to help a troubled industry.

How so?

Radio has even fewer Black owners of consolidated radio groups that you can count on the fingers of one hand -- and an embarrassingly small number of women and other minorities in ownership positions.

Instead, well into the 21st century the radio industry has only managed to promote people of color if they are green -- that is, giving or taking Wall Street money to build what is now becoming evident as meaningless monopolies. Nowadays -- to borrow a phrase from Sesame Street -- it's not easy being green.

It's not about the reality of consolidation that happens in a regular circadian rhythm -- it's about doing the right thing.

Had we taken a different course -- one pointed out to us by Dr. King -- we might be looking at a thriving growth industry epitomized by the diversity of local radio.

Had the FCC and Congress really understood Dr. King's life's work, they would have made it possible for minorities and women to become significant owners -- not just under-financed operators who never got to own the Clear Channel and Infinity caliber of stations.

Had Congress expanded the ownership rules to not only include the number of stations one company could own but expanded the real opportunity to guarantee minorities a chance to get into the game, radio would be better off.

Had this happened, radio and its listeners would have many, smaller, diverse and local companies acting as fiduciaries of the people's airwaves. Not what we wound up with -- Lee and Bain putting thousands of employees in pain at the thought of another investment group working around the rules that benefit the few, the shameless and the mean.

Layoffs -- virtual voice tracking, longer shifts, no creativity -- just business and what's worse, it's not even local.

The best the radio business has been able to do is become King for a day -- with tributes (or no tributes), MLK holiday shopping commercials and the same old same old. King for a day -- in that their dominance of the medium arguably lasted for 12 years. The consolidator's "dream" has become a nightmare.

Imagine a radio business that could never have been hijacked by Lowry Mays and his ilk because so many varied and different people existed as a system of checks and balances.

So if you're thinking that Martin Luther King's birthday is a Black issue one day a year, well -- it's not that black and white so to speak.

To me the real meaning of Martin Luther King's influence is about opportunity and the great wisdom of diversity.

Tomorrow, it's back to a dying radio business that stacked the deck for a handful of the same animals.

Imagine what we could have had had we only listened.

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