Thursday, January 28, 2016

1.28.16 Bee-otches of the Day: The Federal Government

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Name: the federal government
Age: 240
Occupation: the people who rule over us
Last Seen: Washington, DC
Bee-otched For: ruining radio

The 1950s were simpler times, weren't they?

Back then, there was no internet. Cable TV was virtually non-existent. The only way we could watch a movie was at an actual theatre or at home on TV. And if you wanted to watch the news, the only time to do so was at 6 p.m.

However, there was that pesky issue known as Civil Rights. Down South, many TV stations refused to air news stories on the subject, mainly because they all believed in keeping things segregated. Then, a man named Everett Parker, who was the head of the United Church of Christ's Office of Communication stepped in and banded his churches together to protest the rule. In 1959, the Federal Court ruled that the airwaves were public property and must all follow the Fairness Doctrine.

In 1959, companies were only allowed one AM, one FM and one TV station per market. Newspaper owners were not allowed to own TV or radio stations unless they had a waiver that allowed them to do so. This allowed cities to have several voices and opinions on the local news media. And thanks to the Fairness Doctrine, radio and TV stations had to present opinions from both sides. Case in point: skip to 12:38 into this legendary film about WJR in Detroit from 1968.

Thanks to the Fairness Doctrine, not one, but TWO TV stations had their licenses revoked by the FCC for not allowing counterpoints. The most-notorious case involved WLBT-TV in Jackson, MS, the town's NBC affiliate. In 1971, the FCC yanked the license away from former owner Lamar Life Insurance Company for pretending that black people simply did not exist. When NBC ran a news story about Civil Rights, the station would fade to black followed by a caption reading "problem with network lines" on the screen. A non-profit group led by white and black individuals took control of the station, finally allowing people of color to have a voice. Longtime CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston started his broadcasting career at WLBT shortly after the takeover.

Another station, WJIM-TV in Lansing here in Michigan also had its license revoked in 1981, but was reinstated by appeal because several politicians claimed that they were refused by owner Harold Gross to appear on his station. However, the revocation was reversed although Gross ended up selling the station in 1984. The station is now WLNS and remains Lansing's CBS affiliate.

Thanks to the Fairness Doctrine, TV and radio stations had to present both sides and some of the thanks went to Parker, who died last year at the age of 102. But thanks to a certain president with six letters in his first name, six letters in his second name and another six letters in his last name, the Doctrine went bye-bye.

That man, of course, was Ronald Wilson Reagan.

In 1987, the FCC eliminated the Fairness Doctrine and its language was formally removed in 2011. Because of the FD's removal, radio and TV stations no longer needed to be purely fair and balanced. A year later, a fat moron from Missouri named Rush Limbaugh made his debut on WABC Radio out of New York and was syndicated cross country. Soon, Rush clones such as G. Gordon Liddy, Sean Hannity, Michael "Savage" Weiner and others came out of the woodwork while liberal talkers seemed to be a pipe dream.

But the shit was only going to hit the fan even harder.

In 1996, the US government on both sides of the aisle gave us the Telecommunications Act, which allowed broadcasters to own more radio and TV stations. Now, a single entity could now own two AM, seven FM and if the market is big enough, two TV stations. Also, the amount of radio and TV stations owned by one company was now relaxed.

Telecom '96 did have some good, especially in northern Michigan since before it was passed, every radio company wanted to play either country or old people music. By 1998, there was The Zone, which played crappy Lilith Fair music in the beginning, but started to rock in late 2000 (through some changes, it's now Rock 105). It also allowed CBS to buy more stations, which meant more stations that carried Howard Stern.

But sadly in this post-1.9.06 era and 20 years after Telecom 96's passing, I knew it, I knew it, I knew it, radio is one giant sack of shit. Look at Grand Rapids: about 95% of all the radio stations here are either owned by Cumulus (stock price: 21 cents), iHeartMedia/Clear Channel (a buck) and Townsquare ($8.90 per share). Pandora is at $9.55, Sirius/XM is at $3.55 and so on. There's a lot of choices out there for radio, and the competition is tough.

You see, big, corporate radio doesn't care about anybody anymore. It's a business, and it's mostly run by beancounters. Look at the now-defunct Citadel Broadcasting and its Grand Rapids head, Matt Hanlon. Like I mentioned yesterday, he did everything from demote Howard Stern from 50,000-watt WKLQ to 1,000-watt WBBL to fire popular jocks to run a bunch of stations that underperformed. End result: Citadel became a penny stock and ended up getting swallowed by Cumulus (which is pretty near penny stock status themselves). Hanlon lost his job at Citadel, ended up selling ads at Townsquare, lost his job after he got caught drunk driving and is now out of radio altogether. Will he return to the medium? We pray not.

It doesn't shock us that Cumulus stock is at 21 cents. Look at what they did to WHNN in Bay City! Top-rated classic hits/oldies station that was recently replaced by AC. Their Facebook page became a sea of complaints with hardly any praise for the new format. It's all too common in radio: a popular station getting replaced with low-rated shit with their manager claiming that "we needed to go in a new direction". And that direction ain't the one they wanted.

Same goes with television. Look at northern Michigan: in the 2000s, the owners of NBC WPBN went into an Shared Services Agreement with ABC WGTU while the same thing happened with CBS WWTV and Fox WFQX. Many in the broadcast biz claim that SSAs are basically the owner of one station creating a fake company to "own" their sisters. Legally, there can only be one station owner for each station in northern Michigan since technically, there's only four full-power commercial stations. The end result is that while both WGTU and WFQX - two stations that pre-merger had little-to-no news departments - now share the services with WPBN and WWTV, the long-time market leaders. However, it means a bigger lack of syndicated programming in the region since both WWTV and WFQX air a great deal of paid programming. Case in point: look at what each station airs daily at 10 a.m.: WPBN airs the fourth hour of Today with the always-drunk Kathie Lee and Hoda, WWTV airs an hour of infomercials, WGTU airs the now-cancelled Oprah clone Meredeth Viera and WFQX sadly airs The 700 Club.

Right now, WFQX is only one of two TV stations in Michigan - the other being Detroit's WMYD - that air Pat Robertson's daily lie-fest. Even worse, the station will be the sole station on Sunday in the whole state airing three hours of their beg-a-thon. I remembered back many years ago, WGTU aired the beg-a-thonand pre-empted a Sunday loaded sports programming on ABC. One person even complained to the Record-Eagle newspaper about their programming decisions.

Look, it's a shame that people up in my old homeland are faced with a media that thinks little of them. Hell, look at WTCM and their recent decision to eliminate their popular live and local afternoon talk show and replace it with Sean Hannity. They claimed that it was all about money, but the thing was, the live and local show outperformed Hannity in the ratings.

You see, there's a reason why radio and TV stations' stock prices suck: THEY JUST DON'T CARE. Personally, if a broadcaster wants to make money, they need to look at their roots. People come first, but thanks to the Fairness Doctrine's removal and Telecom '96, that's no longer a reality. No people = no ratings. No ratings should = no ad revenues. If any radio company came to my business to try to sell ads, I would tell them "show me the ratings". If they come up with horseshit, out they go.

We now have seen the state of radio after 20 years. Now, we'll look forward to the next ten.

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