New Year, New Vision: Revisiting Clear Channel’s DeRegulation Dreams

Posted on January 2, 2012


This post initially ran on October 27 just after Clear Channel made some pretty sweeping cuts in the programming departments of many smaller market stations. As more centralized programming will undoubtedly be a recurring theme in 2012 I thought it was worth revisiting. New posts will return to Free Estimates: the Talent Mechanic Blog tomorrow.

Let’s take a second and put yesterday’s Clear Channel cutbacks and today’s National Programming Platforms Team announcement in historical perspective.

It’s been 15 years since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and we may finally be seeing the vision of deregulation being fully realized.

Here’s a history lesson for those of you who don’t remember:

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 radically lifted ownership limitations allowing companies to own large clusters of stations in an individual market and limitless stations across the country.

In the years following, broadcast companies swallowed each other up until the industry was dominated by a few mega-giant companies including Clear Channel.

Ideally, radio was supposed to benefit from all this because our medium would now be able to compete for advertising on a national level with the television networks, newspaper syndicates and a new, burgeoning thing called the internet.

Unfortunately, over the last 15 years radio has not been able to significantly increase its share of the overall dollars spent on advertising in the U.S. despite the regulatory and industry changes.

Now, with Clear Channel’s new, national strategy, that may finally change.

Think of it this way; what makes network television so powerful is the national reach the programming delivers for advertisers.

Radio has never been able to provide a similar service.

Consider which is easier for Coca-Cola, buying a spot in “Two and a Half Men” which airs in nearly every city in America or trying to buy spots on Top 40 stations across the country which are owned by different companies with different programming and different management.

Now, if Clear Channel implements a true national programming platform for radio the company may be on their way to being as easy for Coca-Cola to use as a CBS sit-com.

I know what you’re thinking:

Radio is supposed to be local.

What about all those people who lost their jobs yesterday?

As far as the people who lost their jobs my heart goes out to them. That’s a terrible thing to have to go through.

If you know someone who was a victim of yesterday’s cuts take a second and read this post I wrote about the importance of reaching out. It makes a huge difference.

As for radio being local, I completely agree.

I’m not defending Clear Channel’s strategy, I’m just trying to put it in historical perspective so everyone can understand it.

It may work beautifully and that means radio was due to evolve with the times.

It may fail miserably and that will mean that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was a flawed idea.

Or, more likely, there may be some middle ground where listeners can choose from two types of radio; some locally focused and some with a national perspective.

Only time will tell.