Clear Channel Defends Station Ownership; Chairman Denies Radio Chain Accepts Money to Promote Songs on the Air

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The head of the nation's largest owner of radio stations told a Senate panel yesterday that his company does not have a monopoly on the airwaves, and denied accusations that it accepts money from record promoters in exchange for playing their songs.

"We have zero tolerance for pay-for-play. Absolutely zero tolerance," said L. Lowry Mays, chairman and chief executive officer of Clear Channel Communications Inc., during testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Clear Channel, based in San Antonio, owns more than 1,200 radio stations, including eight in the Washington area. It is also the world's largest concert promoter, with 135 venues.

The company has mushroomed since passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which relaxed regulations on the number of stations one company can own.

The committee debated legislation sponsored by Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, that would strengthen federal oversight of radio station mergers and ban arrangements by which recording companies could pay stations for air time.

Mr. Mays said his company's program directors sign affidavits every year promising they will not accept gifts or other forms of "payola" in exchange for playing a musician's songs.

Clear Channel has accepted payments from record promoters in the past, but it was in exchange for research information, Mr. Mays said.

He also denied charges the company bullies musicians into using its promotional services or putting on concerts in exchange for airtime.

"We would never tie airplay into performances or into concert tours. …