Evan Rowe is a local songwriter and performer best known as Catalonia, a
Photo by Stephanie Rae Berzon
professor of political science and history at Broward College, and a
small democratic strategist with no party affiliation. From time to time, we will
surrender our space for his thoughts on the music industry and how they
relate to our region. This week, questioning corporate control of radio.
Given the explosion in great local, regional, unsigned artists, why is
corporate radio, using the publicly owned airwaves, allowed to generate
billions in profits each year publicizing an extremely narrow selection
of acts? The fact of the matter is that there are local artists in
Austin, New York, Portland, South Florida, etc. that can't get in on this
But first we must examine how media is controlled by
private interests. For starters, the market in radio is an indirect
relationship between musical content and the audience. The market in
radio is purely buyers (advertisers) and sellers (radio stations) that
sell products (audiences) that sell a product to the buyers
(advertisers). The product is the audience.
There are many
historical reasons that private power has been able to control
information and use it to extend and maintain the dominance of the
private sector over civil society, a matter that I won't delve into
here. But the bottom line for radio is that it is part of the broader
media framework that included television and film being solidly
maintained by private business interests -- and that power is protected and
enforced by the government through the FTC (Federal Trade Commission),
and after 1934 the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).
currently 2010, the web-based social networks have really only been on
the scene for six or seven years, at least for the general populations of the
U.S. and perhaps the rest of the world. MySpace came out in 2003, and
Facebook not long after. The ability to distribute your own playlists,
your own news is something that is only going to increase with time.
Audiences are continually fragmenting. Print publications are losing
audiences and advertising revenue, and radio is on its heels in terms of
profitability. And that is why it's time to democratize the airwaves.
What we will lose by a people's takeover of the radio industry is not
worth what we'll gain from it.
Local radio "markets" should be
broken up and mandatory splits should be placed upon them that will
force them to play a certain percentage from
local/regional/national/international acts. I suggest that they should
play 25 percent content from locals, 25 percent from regional artists, 40 percent national,
and 10 percent international content.
I asked Steev Rullman, who books acts for the
club Propaganda in Lake Worth` what he anticipated from the takeover idea, his
response: "Diversity. The SoFla community would get to hear a more
eclectic mix of music instead of the same song over and over by
different bands. We'd see the local music scene flourish. More people
would discover great local talent and attend their shows. It would be an
enormous boost for the local economy and just maybe I would finally
find the right backer to help open my own venue."
There is enough
content to fill this space. There has been an explosion in
independently produced music, and there is no decisive way to subsidize
or remunerate artists for their work. A small amount of overall money
can be generated by a wide number of artists through vouchers and
council control of a media environment and a tax based royalty system
that the public will not be allowed to "opt out" of. Estimated cost:
$20 billion nationally. This is chump change compared to the money we
are currently spending on upward wealth distribution. And it is money
that would circulate fluidly -- unlike the private investor driven
economics that are the ideological favorites of privately financed
Filtering the content would be in order, but by
creating a greater public and elected radio outlet--an entirely
different system of checks and balances would have to come about. The
major challenge with this system will be how to fairly split local
content -- how to reformat stations based on style, and things of this
nature. But these are what we call "problems you want to have."
Perhaps for another column.
-- Evan Rowe