Academic journal article Federal Communications Law Journal

Deliberative Democracy on the Air: Reinvigorate Localism - Resuscitate Radio's Subversive Past

Academic journal article Federal Communications Law Journal

Deliberative Democracy on the Air: Reinvigorate Localism - Resuscitate Radio's Subversive Past

Article excerpt

Radio today seems so trapped in the amber of corporate control that it is easy to forget how much of radio technology and programming came from the bottom up, pioneered by outsiders or rebels who wanted something more, or something different, from the box than corporate America was providing. And what they wanted from radio was more direct, less top-down communication between Americans.... At times they turned ... listening, and programming into a subversive activity. (1)

I.   INTRODUCTION
II.  RADIO HISTORY AND FOUNDATIONAL REGULATORY
     PRINCIPLES
     A. From Safety to Scarcity
     B. The Public Interest Standard, Localism, and the Market
        Beyond
III. COUNTERPUBLICS, CULTURAL STUDIES, AND RADIO'S
     SUBVERSIVE PAST
     A. Habermas's Theorized Public Sphere and the Efficacy
        of Counterpublics on Deliberative Democracy
     B. The Connection: Cultural Studies, Deliberative
        Democracy, Counterpublics, Radio, and Music
     C. The Emergence of Rock and Roll on White Radio as an
        Example of Radio's Subversive Past
        1. Radio and Rock and Roll's Subversive Challenge
           to the Then-Existing Economic Order
        2. Radio and Rock and Roll's Subversive Challenge
           to the Then-Existing Mainstream Discourse on
           Identity and Race Relations in America
        3. Commercializing White Youth Culture
IV.  REINVIGORATING LOCALISM
     A. Deregulation and Its Effect on Music Content on Radio.
     B. Opening Up Access: Suggested Approaches
V.   CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

Radio is dead. (2) Dead, that is, to realizing those, at first, noble ideals of being a communicative medium created by the people, for the people, and representative of the people. At radio's mass emergence, many perceived it as the vehicle through which America's locally, regionally, ethnically, and/or socioeconomically marginalized populations could be included in America's democracy by being given an expressive and deliberative space on this newly accessible and fairly inexpensive medium. Today, however, scholars and activists (3) have argued that deregulation of the media industry, which began in the early 1980s and was solidified by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, (4) facilitated unprecedented consolidation in radio station ownership. As a result, radio has become a commodified and commercialized wasteland--a corporatized plaything--littered with fragmented, yet overlapping, music formats that play the same homogenized corporate-produced music playlists and are devoid of meaningful local public- and cultural-affairs programming.

These same scholars and activists also contend that radio's fate was sealed with the shift in meaning of the public interest requirement imposed on broadcasters by the FCC, (5) which required licensees to serve as "public trustees" of the nation's airwaves for the listening and deliberating public. (6) However, with the ideological shift in meaning of the public interest standard from the public trustee model--aimed at informing the listening public and at facilitating the discourse that occurs within it (7)--to the market model, the FCC's ultimate approach toward radio has effectively resulted in turning the listening audience over to advertisers as a pre-packaged and consuming demographic, a saleable commodity in and of itself. (8) As a result, and to the dismay of many, radio today focuses little on cultural diversity, norms, tastes, and interests of the local--the historically favored and distinctive quality of radio.

Is radio really dead, though? While some commentators may not have gone so far as to assert radio's death, they have suggested that radio has struggled to adapt to today's rapidly evolving technological landscape. (9) With broadcast, cable, and satellite television; the Internet; satellite and Internet radio; MP3 players; and the like, the media outlet cup runneth over, providing many different choices for listeners to retrieve the programming content they desire. …

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