There is Enough Content: How to Decentralize South Florida's Radio Markets

Categories: Local Music
Photo by Stephanie Rae Berzon
Evan Rowe is a local songwriter and performer best known as Catalonia, a 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 rigged system.

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).

It is 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 politicians.

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

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