Clear Channel Communications
is a radio
broadcaster based in San Antonio, Texas
, and one of the largest owners of radio stations in the US. Clear Channel bought its first radio station in 1972
, and would soon come to acquire six stations across Texas and Oklahoma. The deregulation of the radio industry in The Nineties note
allowed Clear Channel to expand beyond its Texas/Oklahoma base and start developing a national portfolio of stations, buying up over seventy other radio companies as well as numerous radio stations. In 1997, the company entered the billboard industry, and in 1998 they went international and started buying media companies in Britain, China and other countries. In 2005, Clear Channel's billboard and live entertainment divisions were split off into separate companies; the latter became known as Live Nation, and is now the largest concert promoter in America. All three companies remain under the effective control of the Mays family, who had been running Clear Channel from the start.
Clear Channel's Premiere Radio Networks is the largest syndication service in the US. Talent broadcast by Premiere includes Rush Limbaugh
and Jim Rome. Clear Channel also acts as Fox
's radio wing (acting in the same role as Westwood One does for CBS
), distributing both Fox News
and Fox Sports's news and talk networks for them.
Clear Channel is frequently blamed for the increasing homogenization of radio due to its use of standardized playlists and avoidance of independent or alternative performers. They have long been reluctant to promote local programming, instead using voice-tracking technology to staff stations in smaller markets with "cyber-jocks" who may never have even visited the cities they are "broadcasting from." News is often "hubbed" to come out of only a few select locations, with high dependence on wire services. For instance, news in cities of the Midwest could come solely from broadcasters in Cleveland and Chicago. Traffic may not come from a reporter, but a low-paid intern who is just reading off a local traffic website. Everything, including traffic and gossip segments, weather, the room, and microphone where the broadcast is coming from, is sponsored to absurd points
. And station and network relationships (especially with ABC
's radio network, which is no longer owned by ABC itself, but by competitor Cumulus) that have gone back to the 1920's have been broken for synergy, as CC pushes Fox News Radio above any other network for a news service.
In addition, Clear Channel is notorious for its high volume of commercials as opposed to content (or the exact reverse, too much music and too few commercials, which alienates advertisers away from Clear Channel). For these reasons, Clear Channel is often held up as a symbol of bland corporate music in the Turn of the Millennium
. Mention of Clear Channel online is an easy way to provoke an Internet Backdraft
claiming that they are "killing music." Among the specific controversies that Clear Channel has faced:
- After the 9/11 attacks, Clear Channel sent out a memo to all of its stations containing a list of songs that it deemed to be inappropriate for broadcast in a time of mourning, which many interpreted as a list of banned songs (although some stations ignored the memo without repercussions). Many of the songs on the list were apparently placed there because they contained words like "plane," "fly," "burning" and "falling" in the lyrics. The exact contents of the list quickly entered the book of Urban Legends due to the fact that many radio directors added their own songs to the list. Among the songs known to have been on Clear Channel's original list include Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'", Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World", and the entire discography of Rage Against the Machine.
- Clear Channel's use of voice-tracking came to bite it in the ass on January 18, 2002, when a train filled with toxic chemicals derailed outside of Minot, North Dakota. After the city's emergency alert system failed, city officials tried to contact the local Clear Channel office (which operated six of the nine stations in the Minot area) — an effort that was in vain, because there was nobody there to contact. It took several hours before they could finally reach the station manager at his home.
- After the "Nipplegate" incident at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, Clear Channel let its Media Watchdogs run rampant in an effort to drive out any indecent material on its stations. As a result, several employees, including popular radio hosts in several markets, got fired, angering many free-speech advocates. During this crackdown, Howard Stern got dropped from six Clear Channel stations in New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Florida and California... and soon returned to those markets with the help of Viacom, Clear Channel's rival and Stern's main employer. Viacom would later sue Clear Channel for violating its contract with them by dropping Stern's show.
- Clear Channel has been accused of having a conservative political bias, and of censoring opinions critical of the right. The Dixie Chicks saw their airplay on Clear Channel stations plummet after Natalie Maines made her infamous anti-Bush comments at a London concert, and Clear Channel was accused of promoting the blacklisting of the Chicks throughout the Country Music fandom. Howard Stern also believes that his firing from six Clear Channel stations in 2004 was at least partly politically motivated. On the other hand, many progressive talk radio shows are carried on Clear Channel stations, though some could argue these are programmed on the weakest-powered stations in their individual markets (what probably used to be a polka station your grandmother listened to), are barely promoted, and seem to only exist in order to take out any competitors and become burn-off stations for failed Clear Channel shows.
Clear Channel's concert division (and its successor, Live Nation) has also faced controversies.
- In the early 2000s, Clear Channel was sued by a Denver-based concert promoter, who alleged that Clear Channel had halted airplay for their clients in Denver and blocked them from publicizing their concerts on Clear Channel stations. The lawsuit was settled out of court in 2004, with Clear Channel changing its rules regarding concert promotion in the Denver area.
- In 2002, the Department of Justice sued Clear Channel for not allowing people with diabetes to bring insulin needles and other necessary medical supplies into concert venues. They changed this rule shortly afterwards.
- In 2004, a man in San Francisco sued Clear Channel for charging a mandatory "parking" fee on every ticket purchased... whether or not the person had actually parked a car at the venue, or had simply carpooled or taken the bus or train.
- In 2004, Clear Channel acquired a patent that effectively made it the only company able to produce Instant Live recordings, in which concert performances are recorded live and burned onto CDs, which are then sold to the concertgoers as they leave. The intent of this technology was to reduce the demand for bootleg recordings of concerts and to provide additional revenue streams to the artist, venue and promoter. However, Clear Channel (and later Live Nation, who acquired the patent after being split off) started using it to squeeze out smaller promoters. The patent was revoked in 2007 after it was found to infringe upon an earlier patent, ending the controversy.
- Live Nation's proposed 2009 merger with Ticketmaster, the largest ticket seller in America, was criticized as potentially leading to a monopolization of the live entertainment industry. Bruce Springsteen said that such a merger would be the only thing that could make the ticket situation worse for fans. Despite all of the obvious criticism about a monopoly, the deal went through without any interference, though at an incredibly bad time that forced Ticketmaster to reduce the prices of many of their ticketed events to get venues somewhat full.