Beat Radio

The Rocky Mountain News
April 6, 1999


by Gene Amole

Maybe there is a light at the end of the broadcasting tunnel. Maybe it will be possible again for some radio stations to be locally owned instead of dominated by monster national broadcast corporations.

The media giants spent $34 million on campaign contributions for the 1995-96 election campaign. Congress paid off with the Telecom Act, which made it possible for a handful of national corporations to control radio broadcasting in most major markets.

Jacor Communications and Chancellor Media are two of the largest multiple-owner corporations dominating the Denver market.

When I was in the radio business, my partner, Ed Koepke, and I could legally own one FM and one AM station in the Denver market. In cities the size of Denver and larger, a company now may legally own as many as eight radio stations and in smaller markets, between five and seven.

There are now 1,000 fewer radio station owners in this country than there were just four years ago. This has meant that more advertising revenue is going into fewer and fewer pockets. National advertisers now are able to target their advertising buys by computer through these huge corporations.

This has led to a smaller choice of programs for listeners. Fewer and fewer program directors are determining what the recording play lists of music stations will be. Naturally, they cater to Billboard magazine's surveys of the most-played music. This shuts out smaller recording companies and unknown artists.

The result is a dismal sameness to radio music programming. The same thing has resulted in monkey-see, monkey-do programming on talk stations leaning heavily toward conservative talk-show hosts.

All of this saddens me, because it is no longer possible for little guys to acquire frequencies (spots on the dial) for either locally owned AM or FM stations as my partner and I were able to do when we were young, frisky and willing to take chances.

But where is the light at the end of the tunnel? Writing in The Washington Monthly, Lydia Polgreen says it is in LPFM - low-powered FM stations with power of as much as 1,000 watts. With an antenna of sufficient height, a 1,000 watt FM station could adequately cover most of metro Denver.

Remember, FM signals are line-of-sight, and AM signals follow the curve of the earth. What the FCC is considering is using the space on the FM dial between large stations to create frequencies for lower-powered stations.

Naturally, the huge media conglomerates are opposed to this because they don't want more competition for listeners and advertising dollars. They also argue that LPFM stations would partially interfere with reception from the larger stations. But with today's digital receivers, frequencies are more easily pinpointed.

The Federal Communications Commission owes it to the people to authorize LPFM stations so we may have a wider choice of programming. The smallest voices deserve to be heard, too.

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