'96 Act killed radio's star

Study: Mergers have limited choices

Putting more radio stations in fewer hands has reduced listener choices and made it harder for musicians to get airplay, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Future of Music Coalition.

The report, "False Premises, False Promises: Quantitative History of Ownership Consolidation in the Radio Industry," says that consolidation of the industry since the 1996 Telecommunications Act has harmed the public.

"The Wal-Martization of radio is bad for music and much worse for America," said Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello, formerly of Rage Against the Machine.

"When Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the radio industry changed drastically," said Peter DiCola, FMC research director and the report's author. "Historical data from the industry reveal unprecedented consolidation and show that the Telecom Act has backfired in terms of the FCC's goals of competition, localism and diversity in radio.

"Commercial radio now offers musicians fewer opportunities to get airtime and offers the public a narrow set of overlapping and homogenized programming formats," he said.

The not-for-profit organization of music, technology, public policy and intellectual property law groups has been a long-term opponent of easing the nation's media ownership restrictions.

The FMC report found that:

The top four radio station owners have almost half of the listeners, and the top 10 owners have almost two-thirds.

Local radio ownership by individuals living in the community declined by almost one-third from 1975-2005.

15 formats make up three-quarters of all commercial programming.

Niche musical formats like classical, jazz, Americana, bluegrass, folk and new rock, where they exist, are provided almost exclusively by smaller station groups.

Radio listenership has declined during the past 14 years, showing a 22% drop since its peak in 1989. The consolidation allowed by the Telecom Act has failed to reverse this trend.

Broadcasters called the study flawed.

"FMC's long history of producing questionable research and dubious data to fulfill its agenda-driven mission is apparent for all to see," National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said. "As the BIA Financial Network study indicates, free local radio has more format diversity than at any time in its rich history. Moreover, with the advent of HD Radio, local radio will be providing more news, more music formats and more public service for the 260 million people who tune in every week."

The NAB contends that radio choices have expanded; in their own study, they said the number of programming formats have increased by 16% since 1996.
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