Clear Channel: Why Radio Sucks

The content below is from Season 2 Episode 26 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast.


  • Tune in to the Podcast to hear my Fiancée Shannon’s cameo for this episode’s recommendation segment.


  • Unless all other options have been exhausted, I never listen to the radio anymore.
    • Why? Because the radio sucks! Commercials are way too frequent and even worse, the diversity of music is virtually gone.
    • At any given moment the same 5 songs will be playing on the radio. Whether those 5 songs are good or not makes no difference as listeners will be sick and tired of them within the week due to overplaying.
      • No one likes to hear the same 5 songs over-and-over again all week long.
    • Aside from the few remaining independent radio stations still left in America (of which there are about 88 left), American Radio is TRASH!
      • Side note: I actually hosted a weekly show on one of those independent stations for 2 years.
        • Every Saturday from Noon to 2PM, if you were within about 50 miles of Slippery Rock Pennsylvania you could tune in to the Hangover Hangout radio show hosted by yours truly!
        • WSRU is still around today and I’m very happy about that.
    • But why is American Radio trash? It wasn’t always that way.
    • I remember when I was a kid in the 90’s and early 2000’s radio was still a local medium where local DJ’s would play music they loved and fit in the ads necessary to keep their station afloat.
    • How did FM radio in America go from locally selected music and content to this homogenized cookie cutter pop music crap?
  • The main culprit for the trashifying of American radio is a little company called Clear Channel Communications and this is their villainous Origin Story
    • Back in the early 1970’s, one of the companies founders B. J. “Red” McCombs owned a used car lot called Red McCombs Automotive group. He was a savvy car salesman who saw each and every car on his lot as a unit to be sold for money, like most used car salesmen.
    • Well Red then ran in to an investment baker by the name Lester Lowry Mays. Red knew how to grow a business and how to sell units. But it was Mays who had the vision.
      • They were two different businessmen types who were smart and had hustle. Financially they were the perfect pair. Financially speaking they were a success story, but their success came at a great cost. And if they applied their talents to another industry, history would probably just remember them as successful business men, if at all… but the industry they chose to sink their teeth into was radio.
      • Ever since Pittsburgh’s own KDKA (the first licensed commercial radio broadcasting station) went live in 1920, radio has been a medium between one of the greatest creations of mankind; music, and the people who enjoy it.
      • Personally I see music as one of the truly magical creations of our species and Radio was the first medium to make it so virtually everyone could enjoy music.
      • But when these two business men set their sights on the music industry, they didn’t see a medium that carried our magical creation of music to the masses… they only saw money.
      • Red saw units to be sold (every 60 seconds of air time was a unit with potential to sell more ads) and Mays saw an opportunity to blow up Red’s sales on a massive scale. The result of these two men and their company Clear Channel Communications would have on radio was devastating.
    • In 1972, Mays founded the San Antonio Broadcasting Company, which became Clear Channel Communications. The company purchased its first radio station, KEEZ-FM in San Antonio in 1972. He and his business partner Red McCombs bought a second San Antonio Station, WOAI, in 1975. This station was considered a “clear channel” station because no other station operated on its frequency and its 50,000-watt signal could be heard hundreds or even thousands of miles away on a clear night. Over the next several years, the company bought ten more struggling radio stations and turned them profitable, usually by switching their formats to religious or talk programming. The company went public in 1984. In 1988, the company bought its first television station.
    • By the mid-90s, Clear Channel Communications owned 43 radio and 16 television stations.
      • So our two business men looking to financially exploit the radio business and take every drop of musical integrity it had were still owners of a modest radio business. That was until the Telecommunications Act of 1996. You see, the enactment of the 1996 Telecommunications Act deregulated radio, and allowed companies to own as many as 8 stations in one market, a huge change from the previous 40 station per company limit.
    • After the TeleComm Act of 1996 significantly deregulated the broadcast industry, Mays and his company purchased 49 radio stations and an interest in New Zealand’s largest radio group. A merger with Jacor Communications, based in Covington, Kentucky (who had bought the former broadcast side of Nationwide Insurance a year earlier), brought the operation of 450 stations to the Clear Channel portfolio. Within eight years, and with an influx of capital investment from the private-equity Griffith Family, Clear Channel had accumulated ownership of over 1,200 radio stations and 41 television stations in the United States, one of the nation’s leading live entertainment companies, and over 750,000 outdoor advertising displays.
      • So Clear Channel went from 43 stations in 1996 to over 1,200 stations in 2004… it was huge.
      • The TeleComm Act of 1996 gave them the legal wiggle room they needed to take over the country’s radio stations, but it was Clear Channel’s business model that made them soar to heights that other communications companies never hit. Instead of playing music and finding ads to play in between songs, Clear Channel saw it the other way around. The ads came first, and the music was just there to keep the listener tuned in for as long as they could… so they would hear the most advertisements possible.
      • And what did Red and Mays do? Well, like true business men, they sold out.
  • Selling Out
    • On November 16, 2006, Clear Channel announced plans to go private, being bought out by two private-equity firms, Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital Partners for $26.7 billion including $8 billion in debt.
    • On September 16, 2014, Clear Channel announced they “became” iHeartMedia or as you have probably heard many times over: iHeartRadio. They changed their name to “reflect the company’s success in becoming a one-of-a-kind multi-platform media company with unparalleled reach and impact.”
      • To me that sounds like Dark Vador changing the name of his evil government to make is sound nicer while simultaneously gloating over his total conquest.
        • Something like “We have changed our name from the Galactic Empire to iSpaceRulers to better encapsulate our total domination of every planet within the galaxy. Oh, and remember to download the DarkSide app on your smartphones to get all the latest updates. You can even stream the empirical marches straight to your device. Thank you, and remember to tune in to iSpaceRulers for all your greatest hits.”
  • When Clear Channel was taking over the radio industry in America, the Disc Jockeys (DJ’s) weren’t happy about it either.
    • While listeners were recognizing how overplayed and homogenized the radio stations of America were becoming, the DJ’s were having it affect their everyday lives.
    • DJ’s used to play songs that they enjoyed. They set the vibe for long road trips and daily commutes alike. But when Clear Channel became the boss the DJ’s were given a set playlist by corporate execs. They had to strictly adhere to the playlist regardless of their professional opinions.
      • Besides the quality of radio content going down, so did the DJ’s salaries.
      • The wealth went straight to the guys at the top and not much trickled down the skill-less guys who just pushed a button, no artistic talent involved.
  • Back in 2005, in the documentary “Before the Music Dies” (a documentary about Clear Channel’s take over of radio) Dave Mathews predicted “the excitement of the invention of the radio… that energy will go somewhere else and find a place to blossom there. And probably someone like clear channel will find a way to exploit it.”
    • His prediction was close. Thanks to iPods and then the internet as a whole, the love of music is more accessible than ever. When greed casted too much shade for music to grow and it started to whither…. Music and the love of music DID find another place to blossom: the internet.
      • But now iHeart radio is going after internet music with and the iHeartRadio app….
  • I guess this is a tale as old as time: art gets taken advantage of by business and business flourishes. Then that art either moves on to a different medium or it transforms all together.
    • I like Dave Mathews take on it: “that energy will go somewhere else and find a place to blossom there.”
    • I have to agree. No matter what happens to music, it will live on.
    • My generation (millennials) might have fond memories of a decent radio scene when we were kids, but any younger generation probably doesn’t have any such memories.
    • Now we get in to cars and either pass the aux cord or connect our phones via Bluetooth to play our own curated playlists for each other.
      • And I’m not complaining, that makes the experience even more personal.
      • It is just a shame we can’t just turn a dial and let professional DJ’s set the vibe for us the way they want to.

Thanks for listening Who’d a Thunkers!

  • If you are reading or listening to this then you stuck around after my 2 week break from the podcast and I thank you.
    • Jamaica was great! I needed the R&R, but I couldn’t wait to get back to cranking out podcast episodes.
    • Thanks for listening. Until next week!