FCC: All Clear for equity deal


Federal regulators gave a green light Thursday to a private-equity deal that will take radio giant Clear Channel private and result in the sale of 42 stations.

While the FCC unanimously approved the $20 billion deal, the panel's two Democrats expressed concerns that the agency wasn't diligent enough in examining the pact.

Senior Democrat Michael Copps complained that the commission failed to examine the effect that private-equity purchases like the one being engineered by Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners, which also is one of the owners of The Hollywood Reporter's parent the Nielsen Co., have on the public.

"I have repeatedly called for the commission to examine the potential impact of private equity on our ability to ensure that broadcast licensees protect, serve and sustain the public interest," he said. "Unfortunately, that has not happened, and nothing in today's order indicates that the commission has had a change of heart.

"Instead, we once again close our eyes and pretend that nothing has changed — as if these new entities are no different than our traditional broadcast licensees," Copps added. "And there are those who accuse me of living in the past."

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein worried that the panel had missed an opportunity to explore large station groups' ability to dominate local advertising markets.

"The two largest stations in each market command 74% of the market's radio advertising revenue," he wrote. "These figures are troubling, especially in light of the fact that radio advertising rates have nearly doubled since 1996."

While the company announced the deal last year, it has yet to announce the closing for the deal.

Even as the FCC approved the deal, it required the company to spin off 42 radio stations in the top 100 markets. At the same time, Clear Channel is in the process of selling many of its stations in smaller markets.

The agreement to sell the stations brought the Democrats on board in the end as they have long expressed concerns over the concentration of media ownership.

"If I had the ability to launch an FCC inquiry by dissenting to this transaction, I would," Copps wrote. "But I do not. Given the potential for some measure of de-consolidation, I reluctantly concur."

Georg Szalai in New York contributed to this report.