Friday, April 12, 2002

CLEAR MURKY: This is a story that's been bubbling away in the States for a while, and is potentially more serious for the state of music than any file-swapping issue that the music industry frets over. In short, Clear Channel, a gigs and radio company, is rapidly building a monopoly of both local radio and concert promotion in the US; and you don't need to be Milton Friedman to know the implications of that for music makers and record labels. Allegations include that Clear are deliberately making losses on some contracts in order to force competitors out of business, and using 'warehousing' - whereby fake companies are established to hold radio licences for Clear that, legally, they're barred from holding under regulations designed to prevent, um, one company dominating a market. Warehousing isn't unknown in the UK - back before restrictions were relaxed in the 90's, EMAP's bankers owned some broadcast licences which were operated by, um, EMAP. It's not illegal, of course, but it's not playing by the rules. You could argue that a lot of the sludge-like radio we get in the UK is due to the dominance of a few groups - Capital have just announced they're going to rebrand one of their portfolios of FM stations all as Capital, but not their Century stations, or X-FM; EMAP also publish magazines, run TV Channels and are piloting both record labels and artist management. The implications of that sort of intergration are pretty stark, of course. And things are looking even grimmer in the US - since two of the biggest ways of getting new music to an audience are through gigging and radio, if you have one company hoovering up those outlets, you could be looking at a single monolith dictating which bands the greater public get to hear. And that's got to be a bad thing.
At long last, Washington has woken up to the threat, and for the first time in memory has turned down an application by Clear to acquire a station. It might come too late; it certainly won't stop them. But at least it suggests they're taking it seriously.
Salon reports - on the other hand, if Clear are hiring Englishmen for their breakfast shows, we've got a demo tape...

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