Lone Indie Rocker Stands Up Against Radio-Destroying Fat Cats

Oct 24th, 2007 // 9 Comments

congressahoy.jpgSo radio sucks now. And in order to figure out why, the government is holding a hearing on “the state of innovation and competition in the radio market” today. ‘Cause maybe the reason it sucks is that Clear Channel and Radio One and others put the bootheel to their smaller competetors with the government’s help? Could be! Most Americans are inured to Fergalicious radio at this point, but in his testimony, Merge Records co-founder, Superchunk frontman, and wacky socialist entrepreneur Mac McCaughan suggests that more radio deregulation may not be good for the listening habits of music fans and other living things, that allowing big business to chew up and spit out even more indie radio stations is, like, a bad move.

Congress should take action to allow for the growth of non-commercial radio, and the expansion of Low Power FM into more urban settings. In 2000, Congress passed legislation to limit the FCC’s ability to issue non-commercial Low Power FM radio licenses in more populated communities across the country. Lifting this ban once and for all will lead to a significant expansion of community-based stations that will prioritize local and independent content and news, not to mention programming that highlights kinds of musical genres that are routinely ignored by commercial radio.

I also want to urge this committee to take the necessary steps to ensure that our media landscape does not become even more consolidated. The deregulation that followed the 1996 Telecommunications Act allowed for unprecedented consolidation in commercial radio, which has resulted in a homogeneity that is often out-of-step with artists, entrepreneurs, media professionals and educators — not to mention listeners.

Back before the Telecom Act, the commercial radio industry was much more competitive, with deejays and programmers in markets around the country eager to play new music. This big piece of rock history is no longer, as corporate radio’s sense of adventurism, localism and risk-taking is a thing of the past. Nowadays, you are much more likely to hear new independent music in a TV show, in a car commercial, in a video game, on satellite radio or community radio stations than on commercial radio. Although label owners, artists and listeners would be thrilled to hear more indie music on commercial radio, in most cases, the chance simply does not exist.

Not much to add to these right-on sentiments, except to note how depressing this is: “You are much more likely to hear new independent music in a TV show, in a car commercial, in a video game.” (I should probably also note that McCaughan’s not the only person testifying today, whether pro or con, so as not to diminish the good/bad work of others.)

The Future Of Radio [Senate Commerce Committee]
Testimony Of Mac McCaughan Co-Founder, Merge Records [Senate Commerce Comittee]

  1. SilentSid

    I’m pretty sure the chairman of this particular committee is the father of the lead singer of old school DC Hardcore band Marginal Man. Very interesting.

  2. MTS

    It’s also depressing to think about how long its been since commercial interests wielded such power over broadcasting — 70-ish years! If only the educational broadcasters of the day could have had their act together, instead of bickering with each other.

  3. coolfer

    if indie music has absolutely flourished as commercial radio ownership has consolidated and radio has turned its back on the genre, what does that tell us? obviously indie music does not need terrestrial radio as much as some people think. country needs it. r&b needs it. hip hop needs it. mainstream rock needs it. but not indie music. it has excelled exactly because it has not used mainstream means of promotion such as terrestrial radio. in the era of internet radio, blogs, music festivals and p2p, people who want an alternative to the mainstream have plenty of alternatives. i’m not saying more or less regulation is needed, but i don’t think less consolidation is going to do much for indie musicians. indie has done well in the last year, but it’s because of the internet, not anti-payola enforcement that was supposed to open up the airwaves to indies.

  4. binaryan

    I’m not sure I agree Glenn. Yes, indie has flourished without terrestrial. But how many of us came to indie music because of a local community or college station? Personally, flipping the dial and finding the Pixies when I was 13 changed my life! KOME 94.5 in the bay area was acquired mere months after the Telecom Act, and is now gone. A terrestrial radio industry that encouraged rather than inhibited indie music could only add to the boon it’s seen from other avenues. I think it could do Very much for indie musicians.

  5. rich36

    @binaryan: Totally agree. I went to college near from WOXY and having that station there to listen to definitely changed my tastes and got me listening to different music.

  6. motoraway

    I haven’t listened to radio in nearly a year. I was given the gift of XM radio and have no plans to return to the FM or AM dial.

    Growing up however, I pretty much would only listen to the local university station. In grade 7, I stumbled upon it by pure accident. 5 years later, I had my own show once a week (Seven Inches And Proud…strictly 7″ ‘s for 2hrs) and will still listen if I am in a vehicle without satellite radio.

  7. TheContrarian

    I was at this hearing. Very interesting stuff. I was surprised at how many Senators seem very concerned about the loss of localism and diversity in radio. If the FCC moves towards more consolidation, they’re definitely “in for a fight,” to use Sen. Dorgan’s own words.

    There’s tons of stuff about it over at the Future of Music Coalition and its corresponding blog:

    [www.futureofmusic.org]

  8. Anonymous

    @TheContrarian: Yeah but senators and other gov’t types often act all ‘concerned” about shit while in committee. They play to the cameras and then either do nothing or give some big sigh about how they wish they could vote for the bill, but just can’t for .

  9. TheContrarian

    I dunno, Senators Lott (!) and Dorgan are pretty willing to cockblock the FCC in their attempt to change media ownership rules. There’s definitely bipartisan concern over consolidation. Olympia Snow (R-ME) also had a lot of things to say about the importance of diversity in ownership.

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