Evan Rowe is a local songwriter and performer best-known as
Catalonia, a professor of political science and history at Broward
College, and a small-d democratic strategist with no party affiliation.
Each week, we surrender our space for his thoughts on the music industry
and how they relate to our region. This week, why media space is as arbitrarily profitable as the drug trade.
Much of the power and control in society is quantified by the liquid fluid bond commonly known as money. And since I'm in the business of following political economy, the numbers in my life tend to be in the trillions and billions. Any number with only six digits at the end of it is insignificant in the grand economy in which the world operates.
The radio industry, for instance, is a roughly a $13 billion-a-year industry, but the estimates on the
global drug trade range from $300 billion to $500 billion yearly, according to the U.N. Much
of that money is laundered through U.S. banks, and one report last year
claimed that "the only liquid investment capital" available to some
banks during the 2008 financial crisis was from drug money. Radio space, being just one slice of
the total corporate media space in the U.S., is small when compared to
the space given to the drug trade, the employees of the drug trade, and
the places that money goes -- campaign contributions, for instance.
But the point here is that the entire value of the initial profitability
is arbitrary. Terrestrial FM Radio, by virtue of its narrow monopoly
over access to neurological real estate, is a declining industry from a
technological standpoint, but it still holds the lion's share of the mental real estate in comparison
to new auditory media and will perhaps continue to do so. I understand that some hipsters
perhaps avoid the radio. But radio's numbers are still strong
(admittedly this data is coming from a radio ad lobby). Furthermore,
this is not about how individuals can manage or perhaps "beat" the flaws
in the existing system -- but it is about the system itself.
any game are insignificant in comparison to those who control the rules
of the game. If you have this $13 billion space and you
democratize it as I've suggested, you end up changing the value of that
space. What is now producing a monetary value of $13 billion yearly will
collapse. Maybe this is good; maybe it's bad. If you decriminalize
the drug trade and escort business, you will collapse the enormous markup and ability to employ layers of middlemen: bad for dealers, bad for
banks, bad for nightclubs that launder the money, and bad for politicians who
But when you collapse the value in one area, it creates
more space elsewhere -- and that is where the illicit trade and radio
overlap. The monetary value of the space is arbitrarily defined through
politics. Without state protection via the FCC, radio would never be
able to control the spectrum long enough to play ten songs, let alone
organize their content in order to sell the audience to advertisers.
And without the war on drugs (AKA the state subsidy and protection
racket to major narcotics producers), there would never be a $300 billion to $500
billion space for the producers.
This is why democratizing
radio is an easy transition in my mind. Since the space is so
arbitrarily defined in terms of values, a simple transition is simply a
better way to organize it because it will include more people in the
process and because it will shift power away from those currently
shaping the public mind under the guise of popular power -- but in reality
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shaped by antidemocratic business power.
Next week, I'm going to take some time away from the political economy
and do a retrospective on my experiences as a disco infiltrator and
performance artist in the South Florida nightclub scene 2005-07.