December 15, 2011
Why did the Media Action Center and the Sacramento Media Group and
Occupy Sacramento occupy Clear Channel radio stations in Sacramento
Monday? (note: Groups throughout the entire country supported this
The corporate giant recently took music off its 92.5 FM
frequency and chose to simulcast KFBK programming (Rush Limbaugh, Sean
Hannity et al) on that 50,000 watt station. That means Clear Channel is
" right wing political
opinion on three huge frequencies (KFBK, KGBY, and KSTE) on more than
120,000 watts of power. (Note below, the lonely Air America station we
once had in Sacramento broadcast over just 1,000 watts of power; it was
the only available frequency AA could get in this community.)
The following article appeared in the Sacramento Bee Sunday, May 11,
2008, just after that progressive station went off the air. Then we had
264 hours of right wing talk radio on our airwaves in Sacramento every
week. Now, with the Clear Channel flip, it's more like 350 hours of
right wing talk, and not a minute of any alternative political opinions.
note: Rush Limbaugh roasted me on the air for writing this, I wrote my response on SueWilsonReports.com, and Harvard University covered the exchange.
Sue Wilson: Federal Rules Give Corporation Backed Conservative Radio ALL the Local Voices
There's a mournful hush in Sacramento these days, the empty sound of an
entire political viewpoint quieted. 32,000
weekly listeners who once tuned to KSAC 1240 AM to hear partisan Democrats beat up on George W.
Bush, now hear only Christian hiphop.
There's nothing wrong with Christian HipHop; it's a great
outlet for artists breaking out of the gansta rap mold. But
there are six other commercial radio stations licensed in the Sacramento area programming the Christian
message. In the political realm, three
local radio stations program 264 hours of partisan Republican radio talkers
beating up on Democrats every week. Now,
zero stations program any Democratic view whatsoever. 264-0.
This follows the national trend revealed in the 2007 Free
Press and Center for American Progress study, "The Structural Imbalance of
Political Talk Radio." Nationally, 90%
of commercial talk radio is conservative, only 10% is liberal. (This
study does not include Public Radio, which by statute is required to provide differing
points of view; one is as likely to hear a Republican's views as a Democrat's. And NPR hosts don't beat up on anybody.)
KSAC shared another characteristic with other liberal radio
stations: it had a tiny, 1,000 watt transmitter. Tough for a little station which barely
reached Sacramento's suburbs to compete with 50,000
watt giant KFBK, whose signal stretches from Chico
to Modesto, from Reno
to that little town of San Francisco. Despite KFBK reaching millions more potential listeners,
KSAC mustered an audience nearly 20% that of KFBK's. (Its ratings were double local conservative
station KTKZ, which has a 5,000 watt transmitter.) And Arbitron showed the progressive station's
audience was steadily growing. KSAC was
the little station that could. Until it
It wasn't that Talk
City didn't have
listeners, it's that they didn't have advertisers.
The radio business model is simple: start a show, grow an audience, and
advertisers will follow. But that model
doesn't work for progressive talk radio.
Why would advertisers steer clear of progressive talk? Chris Jones, managing editor of the blog 'the
Hot Points,' writes: "What
respectable business is going to send millions of dollars in ad revenue to
people who bash the President, the country, and the war on a constant basis? Not only that, but liberals never miss an
opportunity to bash corporations as evil and crooked. Why the hell would big
business support the enemy?"
Well, wait a minute.
Plenty of advertisers supported radio shows that bashed President
Clinton, calling his pursuit of Osama bin Laden "wagging the dog." But
this misses the real point: why are corporate dollars the sole arbiter
what information we the people get to hear on publicly owned airwaves?
The answer is policymakers, with campaigns financed by those
same corporations, changed two important rules.
In 1987, Ronald Reagan's FCC got rid of the Fairness Doctrine, which
required radio and TV provide a "reasonable opportunity to hear both sides
of controversial issues." The
Reagan Administration thought the marketplace would provide its own balance.
Then, in 1996, Congress allowed a few companies to own unlimited
numbers of radio stations. Huge
conglomerates bought the best and biggest stations, and purchased multiple
stations within the same market. Then they
blanketed more than 1700 stations with conservative talk. Using their newly created economies of scale,
they offered businesses special packages to advertise on stations they owned both
locally and nationally. That in turn starved
independent stations of revenue. It was
But it shouldn't be just about good business, it should also
be about public policy and the discourse demanded by Democracy, a discourse
well protected by the founders of broadcasting, but ignored by recent deregulation.
Broadcasters make a deal when they
obtain -- for free -- a license to broadcast in a community. In exchange for the opportunity to make
millions of dollars, the broadcasters must serve the public interest -- the
public interest of all of the people, not just a targeted slice of audience
most likely to buy their product. It
should not be solely about corporations willing to shell out millions to market
their message and to keep business friendly politicians in office. It should also be about revealing the
information that Enron, Bear Stearns, Halliburton and other corporations would prefer
Critics will argue that there is so much information
available in these modern times, people can easily find an opposing point of
view to Rush, or Hannity, or O'Reilly, or the rest somewhere other than
radio. But commuters who are stuck in
traffic for hours everyday own these airwaves, too; why must they go online when they get home
just to hear the other side? Why should traveling
salesman and long haul truckers, who can drive across several states without
hearing any progressive point of view, have to pay hundreds of dollars for
satellite radio to replace what they already own for free? Why should rural communities, which depend
first on AM radio for their information and who are lucky to get 24 kbps internet
access, be deprived of any political balance on their own airwaves?
We have allowed policymakers in this country to create a
so-called marketplace to promote one message almost exclusively over
another. But there really is no
marketplace at all. Anybody can start a
new coffee shop across from Starbucks and compete for business. But almost nobody can just start a new radio
station to compete for listeners; the airwaves are limited, and the frequencies
are already taken, mostly by big corporations.
Considering a 2003 Gallup poll showing 22% of Americans get
their information from talk radio, we're not just talking about what is fair
play; we are talking about a threat to the
democracy we hold dear.
What to do? The FCC (five commissioners, appointed by the
President) could bring back the Fairness Doctrine. But Republicans in Congress like Indiana Rep.
Mike Pence are fighting tooth and nail to prevent its return. And even groups who favor media reform like
Free Press believe restoration of the Fairness Doctrine would face First
Amendment challenges. But as a producer
who actually worked under the Fairness Doctrine, I personally don't see what's
wrong with proving to the community that I at least attempted to provide both
sides of the story.
Repealing radio ownership rules put in place by the 1996
Telecommunications Act is another possibility;
restoring ownership caps to their 1995 levels allowing one company to
own a maximum of 40 stations nationwide would put many more microphones in the
hands of independents. Whether the
advertisers would support speech anathema to their ideology, even on
independent stations, remains to be seen.
One thing is certain: it is time to act. Progressive talk radio has been taken off the
air in Boston, Fresno, Austin, San Diego, Madison, Eugene, New Haven, Columbus,
and other markets all across the country since the 2006 election, often
replaced with formats that get lower ratings. But in Madison and Columbus, people rose
together and protested and brought progressive radio back to their communities.
It is time for all of us to take their lead, to remember
that we the people own these frequencies, and compel our representatives to put
the public back into the public airwaves.