The head honcho over at the Federal Communications Commission is one Michael K. Powell, son of Secretary of State Colin Powell. When your father has a name that's pronounced "colon," what's a snarky journalist to do but refer to you as the Small Intestine, especially when are as full of shit as Michael is. He's behind the big push to further deregulate media ownership, an action that would result in a Libertarian's nirvana, and a left-winger's Armageddon. He wants to make it so media companies can own a radio station, a TV channel, a newspaper, and a venue -- or many of each -- in the same market.
Under the new order, the media, entertainment, and outdoor advertising conglomerate known as Clear Channel Communications could own not only KMEL, Wild 94.9, KSJO, KFOX, KKSF, Kiss FM, Star101.3, KABL, the Shoreline Amphitheater, Chronicle Pavilion, Greek Theater, the Fillmore, the Warfield, and the Punchline -- hell, it owns that stuff already -- but perhaps the San Francisco Chronicle and KTVU as well.
There's Michael Powell on the FCC Web site, posing for myriad "grab 'n' grins," to quote George Jones -- those photos famous people take with smiling strangers at conventions. Another shot has him standing at a podium, arm raised in a loose "No, let's look at this problem head-on" sort of way -- not so stern as to seem like a storm trooper, but decisive enough to try and make people forget he's the offspring of one of the world's most powerful men. There are the shots of him amid the World Trade Center rubble, head lowered and humble. Below those, in the "Fun Moments" section, one caption reads: "Finally meeting SpongeBob SquarePants in the MTV booth at NCTA 2002."
If it seems weird that the head of the FCC would be rubbing shoulders with a Viacom shill, it is. It's also weird that the agency that was created to keep a watch on media conglomeration has now become its single biggest proponent. The folks over at Clear Channel are already prepared for the backlash. Heck, they rank right up there with Mumia and the war in Iraq as subjects of radicals' dinner conversations. Everyone hates Clear Channel. It's the reason radio sucks, it's the reason the Fillmore doesn't do punk shows anymore, and it's the reason your shitty band can't get a gig.
To deflect this perception, the ultimate media hog has devised a campaign -- which includes a billboard near the corner of Stanford and San Pablo in Oakland -- to win over the public and show that it ain't so bad. On the billboard (which it also owns) there's a heart-shaped planet Earth with a comet shooting through space behind it. The big grabber headline says: "Working to Give Local Heroes a Voice," and in the lower right-hand corner: "Clear Channel Cares."
Now when petroleum companies run soft-focus ads with fresh-faced women massaging egrets with vegan fingers in a bird-rescue lab, we know why. Said companies probably unloaded a tanker in virgin waters, and the only "cleanup" they plan on doing is of their image.
But why would a media company need the same kind of outreach campaign? Sure, you could argue that it pollutes the airwaves. And while it doesn't yet own Ticketmaster, it has jacked up concert prices. But that's not why it's running a spin campaign. Clear Channel is running a spin campaign because it knows it is evil.
Let us picture what the Bay Area might look like from a Clear Channel perspective. Using its radio stations as a guide, we can identify some patterns: First, always play the same five songs over and over. Second, if ratings are lacking, change your entire format overnight. All-'80s ain't working? Try "adult contemporary." Gosh, that's not catching on either. Hey, how about classic rock with a hard edge?
Third, find the most insipid DJs possible. If they're black, make sure they sound black. They'll need to use phrases like "Girl! That's what I'm talkin' about!" when talking to callers who phone in to say how great you are, how they switched to your station, and how everyone they know is listening. If you're a white female DJ, you're everyone's pal too, but you have a tomboy edge, and you've been known to make a crack or two about Michael Jackson's nose, you wily bugger. If you're a white man, well, there are plenty of options: the lapsed surfer, the bemused but kindly uncle, the guy who actually owns some Y&T bootlegs, and the "cute guy." (Yes, it's radio, but believe me, they have the cute guy.)
When Clear Channel buys KTVU, we can all look forward to back-to-back episodes of Perfect Strangers and Hello Larry under the station's new all-'80s-sitcom format. If that flops, we'll suddenly be hit with the only TV dramas Christian parents let their kids watch, such as Life Goes On and Picket Fences. The important thing is that nothing new can ever be aired. People don't want that. When they get home, they want to know that Balki accidentally married a sheep or that the retarded kid learned a valuable lesson about guns.
Finally, we'll have the Clear Channel Chronicle sponsored by Quizno's. Hell, the Chron is already buds with the entertainment companies it depends on for advertising. Not much will change there, except that it'll start running glowing articles about the FCC and we'll see a marked increase in editorials about the hidden dangers of electric stoves and the perils of radical neosocialist regulations in a patriotic free-market economy. Due to public outcry, Luanne will return to the funny pages after being dropped, but Curtis will be history. Not black enough.
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