The Evil Empire Strikes Back On Localism

If you take a close look at the style and substance of how Clear Channel rolled out its Repeater Radio platform last week, you’ll see a lot more than the obvious.

Sure, cutting local radio expenses by firing people and mandating corporate programming will save money. The jury is still out, of course, whether the strategy will save Clear Channel enough money to improve their bottom line.

What’s more telling is the lengths to which Clear Channel has gone to portray the moves as listener-friendly, locally responsible and consistent with high quality programming.

Of course, they aren’t -- but it has suddenly become important that Clear Channel look over its shoulder to the one thing that can throw a monkey wrench into their best laid plans.


In a letter dated April 15 widely circulated on the Internet and purported to be from Clear Channel President John Hogan to Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Clear Channel lays out its defense.

I cannot attest to the legitimacy of the Hogan letter – he does not include me on his distribution list – but I am told from insiders that the letter is authentic. Let’s just say if Hogan didn’t write it, he should have because the concerns are all legitimate.

Just the thought of that letter inspired this.

Beyond the self-serving language that talks about how Clear Channel is responding to troubled times (recession, stations going silent and boiler plate about its new Repeater Radio) Clear Channel is attempting to be proactive.

Congress and the FCC could cause trouble for Clear Channel’s parent buyout company Lee Partners and Bain Capital Partners.

Here’s what has Clear Channel playing defense:

1. Local programming variety. In the letter, Hogan talks about the increased programming options that will be made available to audiences. Of course, that is not true. In reality Clear Channel’s Repeater Radio concept funnels programs to local officials who are supposed to have the autonomy to select what goes on the air. (I wonder what would happen if a Clear Channel manager decided to pass on the syndicated stuff and hire a new live staff?).

2. Clear Channel is also playing Congress for a fool by saying they are offering new programming formats (erockster, Pride, Smooth Jazz, slow jamz) across a number of distribution platforms including the Internet that Congress does not currently regulate. And what’s new about those formats?

3. “Our stations must continue to meet the needs and expectations of their local communities” – there it is! The set up for rationale that couches cutbacks, firings and nationalization with higher minimums of service for all their markets. I never knew Rep. Waxman to be that dumb, and I never knew John Hogan to be that smart.

4. Hogan tells Congress Clear Channel is reacting proactively to FCC issues regarding the Localism docket. The compliant Hogan says, “we read, we considered and we listened and now we are implementing the proposals we think make sense”. Or as I call it, selective ass kissing. We’re with you and we’ll pick out the stuff we want to do.

5. What Hogan failed to say is “get the Depends out” – because you can imagine the imagery of what they are going to do if Congress and the FCC actually look past the spin to what Clear Channel is really doing – breaking the commitment they made in hundreds of local markets to serve the public interest.

6. Clear Channel is pinning a gold star on itself for implementing Local Advisory Boards which the FCC is considering making an industry benchmark. But Hogan’s nose starts to grow like Pinocchio when he says some markets are already doing LABs “where our local staff regularly works in partnership with community leaders to ensure our stations continue to serve the community in a meaningful way”. Say what?

7. He says they are expanding and improving their commitment to local programming. I noted that he didn’t mention Ryan Seacrest who they just announced will do another hour of “repeater power” to further corporate cost cutting. Is local commitment running ads from the Ad Council? Local groups? I get it – you provide California programming in Cincinnati and local folks get to have public service announcements for free.

8. This is so painful for me – do we need a time out? Here’s the part about “a number of Clear Channel stations already showcase, new emerging unsigned local artists or artists who have signed with independent record labels”. See, Hogan knows the FCC’s Localism docket is concerned with this issue so presto/change-o and Clear Channel is suddenly compliant. It’s an out and out lie – let’s just say it.

9. And you had to know that Hogan is bragging about the warm body initiative referred to as three levels deep so if anything happens in a Clear Channel market while they are busy saying one thing but playing national programming, some minimum wage worker (untrained, I’ll bet) will cover news, call the boss, go on the air, run a set announcement or panic. At least they’ll be panicking locally.

Boy, wouldn't you like to testify in front of Waxman’s Committee and tell him the fabled “rest of the story”?

But for now, sleep easy.

John Hogan is the Alexander Haig of this radio assassination – he’s in charge.


Full of bull, half-truths and spin.

Clear Channel has gotten away with gutting its stations, firing people, turning its back on local audiences, violating station licenses and finally, this.

But now, the Evil Empire strikes back.

It is so used to having its way that it is taking what it perceives as their perceived intent of the FCC Localism docket and making it practice.

If it is seen for the arrogance that it is, someday Lee & Bain (Clear Channel’s owners) may be held to the same standards as everyone else – once the FCC decides what those standards will be.

In the meantime, send the Depends to John Hogan – but hold the Twinkies.

He's scared hitless.

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