Battle For The Airwaves

Jacksonville, Florida-based Tama Broadcasting, are actively acquiring stations and creating their own networks. And, in some cases, they are developing formats and targeting listeners outside African American communities. “[In the current environment] you are not going to be competitive because you are competing for mainstream [advertising] buys with just urban programming,” asserts Tama President and CEO Glenn Cherry. “You can’t just depend on the black consumer market [alone] to make money. We are going to find the hole and fill it.”

Black broadcasters have only one choice: grow or die. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell is in the process of reviewing all rules limiting the ownership of radio outlets to make them applicable to the realities of the modern marketplace. “In 1996, radio was in trouble,” he says in defense of deregulation. “There was a proliferation of too many outlets competing for the same demographic, [which] subdivided the advertising too thinly for any of them to stay functioning and profitable.”

Deregulation proponents argue that radio broadcasters need the cost advantages associated with size to compete with TV, newspapers, and other larger media companies, and that the ability to provide a national platform for advertisers was imperative for the industry’s survival. Deregulation supporters also assert that media diversity will still be satisfied through the Internet and the multitude of cable channels.

In fact, on January 30, Clear Channel Chairman and CEO Lowry Mays testified be
fore the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that the conglomerate was doing its bit for industrywide diversity. He said: “Clear Channel is committed to encouraging diverse media ownership. …[W]e sold more than $1.5 billion in radio properties to minority buyers. That represented one-third of all the stations we had to divest to obtain regulatory approval of the transaction. …We have done all of this not because of any direct benefit to Clear Channel, but because it is the right thing to do.”

Deregulation opponents, however, don’t buy the rhetoric. They fear that Powell’s biennial review this year will recommend even further relaxation of ownership rules limiting the number of stations that can be owned by any one broadcaster. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps says enough damage has been done. “The purpose of the telecommunications law is to foster diversity, localism, and competition to protect the great American marketplace of ideas,” he says. “We need to fully understand [the impact of radio deregulation] before further ownership caps and limitations are lifted. We don’t want to have a great wave of consolidation and then find out, after the fact, that it has further cut off opportunities for minorities in the broadcasting industries. We know that discrimination still exists, and we don’t want to make the situation worse, we want to make it better.”

In fact, Aidoo says that because of the intense competition from three Citadel stations: WWWZ-FM, WMGL-FM, and WSUY-FM, WPAL-FM’s community station model was scrapped for one that focused solely on urban adult contemporary music. Indeed, as of this winter, the top-ranked station in Charleston was