Radio's Public Option

Putting aside socialism, the health care debate or fracas as it is turning into or how you feel about President Obama radio is in need of the "public option".

The public option is referred to in the current health care debate as a government run alternative to private health insurance to -- in essence -- keep the private sector honest.

One side doesn't care if it is socialism (after all we have two giant socialist programs -- Medicare and Social Security -- that few are declining to accept).

On the other, interests that either like the status quo as it is or with less radical changes. Some argue to make no changes is not to acknowledge that there is in fact a problem.

I don't want to get into health care politics in this space but with your permission I'd like to borrow some of the terminology and imagery of the debate.

And that brings me to radio.

There are many including myself who think the radio industry has become ill under consolidation (or as I call it -- monopoly).

Where the local marketplace used to take care of itself with only minimal oversight from government (the FCC), as soon as government got out of any meaningful oversight at all, you created Cumulus CEO Dickey Do & the Don'ts (his mismanagement team), promoted bean counter Fagreed Suleman to Chief Pooh Bah at Citadel and created the Immaculate Deception as a Clear Channel market manager rose from the dead, ascended into consolidation heaven at the right hand of the Mays family and Lee & Bain, their disciples, to rise again to judge the living and dead radio industry.

There couldn't be a dying radio industry today without consolidation.

Just couldn't happen.

Had they left it alone -- even allowing owners to own more than 14 stations -- radio would be a robust local medium finding ways to use technology to compete for the future. Because radio is not towers and transmitters as the consolidators would have you believe, it is a local medium that could be terrestrial, could be mobile, could be on the web or anywhere else local content is desired as new generations emerge.

It's not political -- a Democratic president started this fire and a Republican successor kept it burning.

So today, we see needless unemployment in the radio ranks, greedy CEOs taking out of whack compensation and benefits, the marketplace left to operation by economies of scale not public interest, convenience and necessity and no one -- not one radio CEO -- looking beyond the next quarter.

No guts.

No leadership.

No Plan B.

So today, I'm calling for a "public option" -- that is, increased and renewed involvement by the FCC -- basic regulation. Note I said basic regulation not revenge regulation or an out of control pendulum swinging way to the other side. That is as bad as what we have now.

Just a public entity awarding and renewing licenses when station operators earn those licenses by serving their communities not investors, banks or family dynasties.

And, as a person who practices free speech here everyday, I would fight to the end if anyone tried to bring back the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" of equal time. Good broadcasters know how to do equal time and when they don't their competitors know how to exploit it.

We in radio must fight for everyone's freedoms even if we disagree with what they say or do -- that is our heritage, that is our reason for existing.

So, when "Blue Cross" (Clear Channel), "Cigna" (Citadel) or "United Health Care" (Cumulus) can't stop screwing the public and its loyal and hard working employees, I say -- give me radio's "public option".

The system is broken.

Radiocare for all -- so no one can ever be turned away from local broadcasting because of a previous illness -- consolidation.

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