Corporate Ownership Could Be Destroying Local Radio
Absher, Frank, St. Louis Journalism Review
"The Quieted Voice--The Rise and Demise of Localism in American Radio" Robert C. Hilliard & Michael C. Keith Southern Illinois University Press HC $55.00, PB $28.50
From the first page there is no doubt how the authors feel about the current state of radio in the United States.
Hilliard and Keith, who have co-authored many books on the broadcasting business and its history, deplore the loss of localism in radio today. Their book provides an extensive chronology of the radio industry and the cycles of its programming.
This mini-tome is thoroughly researched and footnoted and filled with direct quotes from speeches, articles and Federal Communications Commission documents. The foreword is written by the University of Illinois' Robert McChesney, one of the country's most vocal anti-corporate media advocates.
It its historic overview, the book explains the early licensing process for radio stations in which station owners had to show the government that their programming served the "public interest, convenience and necessity."
Those first licenses were renewed every three months, and government refusals to renew were not uncommon. A radio station that did not fulfill the above-mentioned criteria was not allowed to waste a frequency allocation.
The government also saw the importance of diverse media voices. As early as 1924, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover warned against monopolistic control of radio: "It is inconceivable that the American people will allow this newborn of communication to fall exclusively into the power of any individual group or combination."
It is from this springboard that Hilliard and Keith show how the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which deregulated the ownership caps on electronic media, has essentially destroyed radio's incentive to present dissenting viewpoints. The book quotes the words of Emerson College professor Donna Halper, who says ownership consolidation has "permitted the right-wing conservative takeover of the discourse in our society. …