Media monopolies are bad

Back in 1996, Congress approved a law known as the Telecommunications Act. It was supposed to be legislation that would result in increased competition in the media, more diversity of ownership of radio and television stations and lower prices for media services for consumers. Well, hee-hee, ha-ha and ho-ho. That’s a good one! Lower prices for consumers? Oh, you must mean those ever-shrinking cable bills!

To say that the Telecomm Act was passed into law to benefit the American consumer would be like saying Prohibition was passed to boost beer sales. As soon as the ink was dry on TA ’96, large media corporations went on a radio shopping spree that brings to mind images of Homer Simpson hittin’ Krispy Kreme’s happy hour. Few radio markets were deemed too insignificant to feel the fever of media conglomerates as they got it on with some serious glomming.

In fact, TA ’96 made possible the following scenario, which I will admit right off is not typical but an extreme case. Nonetheless, it does afford an opportunity to whip a dandy little cheap shot on everybody’s favorite dastardly media villain these days, the Clear Channel Corporation.

It seems that Clear Channel, which now owns approximately 22 radio stations in almost every market in America, including those with only four, is the owner of all six stations in the sober little town of Minot, N.D. Clear Channel, in keeping with their pledge of providing a slim range of programming in every market where they have a stifling, totalitarian choke hold, points with pride to the fact that they’re running country radio on only three of their Minotian outlets. Those formats are Classic Country, Country Gold and “Never-Any-Dixie Chicks” Country. The other formats are News/Talk, News/Yell and Sports/Shock.

Well, one recent Saturday night, a train near Minot derailed, and one of the tanker cars carrying some kind of toxic gunk spilled some of the gunk. Authorities on the scene determined that they needed to get the word out quickly to the locals, so, being dangerously old-fashioned, they naturally thought radio stations might be helpful. Hah! These days in Minot, that’s simply not good thinking. The cops called all six stations in town and couldn’t find a real human working at any of them. That was because all six had been moved into a single complex by the home office, and all six are now run by automated systems late on Saturday night. This is a company that exhibits strong enthusiasm for modern techniques in downsizing.

To be fair, Clear Channel has now pledged to the people of Minot that from now on, to prevent any more bad press from tarnishing the company, and also to help out the cops, there will be one (1) teenager who will be (a) conscious and (b) playing computer solitaire in the complex during graveyard shifts. The important lesson for all: If you’re gonna have an accident of any kind involving toxic contamination, kindly do so during normal business hours.