If you find current-day FM radio to be extremely boring, as I do, you can credit Clear Channel Communications for a lot of it. They’re the corporate giant that bought over 1,100 radio stations all over the dial over the past couple of decades and standardized the U.S. radio airwaves. Clear Channel imposed strict programming formats, limited set lists, automated DJs, little local flavor, and more commercials, except in the case of the inane, vulgar drivetime programs of comedy-team DJs telling dirty jokes, which likewise became very annoying very quickly. (And these programs had, if anything, even more commercials.)
As should not surprise anyone, listeners ultimately tired of the removal of all creativity, fun, and charm from music radio and switched to satellite systems, portable music devices, and the like. And the market has done its magic: Clear Channel’s stock has fallen by two-thirds since the beginning of the year 2000.
Now Clear Channel has agreed to be sold to an investment group in one of the largest corporate buyouts ever. It remains to be seen, of course, whether the new owners (if the deal goes through as planned) will remedy the real problems Clear Channel has created, by overturning the corporation’s decisions to standardize and homogenize programming and remove local control and content.
Clear Channel has already tried to fix some things, such as cutting down on the number of commercials, so it is possible that somebody has learned something here. In any case, it is clear that the markets will ultimately force the necessary adjustments. The only question is whether radio will be made obsolete in the meantime because of technological and social changes unleashed by Clear Channel’s greed and stupidity.