(en)Lee Ballinger at the Micro Power Broadcasting Conference 199

Lyn and Shawn (linjin@tao.ca)
Mon, 23 Jun 1997 05:58:26 pst


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Presentation by Lee Ballinger, Associate Editor, Rock & Rap Confidential National Micro Power Broadcasting Conference / Oakland, California November 9, 1996

Jeff McCluskey sits on his ass in an office in Chicago and tells the radio stations of America what records to play. If you want to get his attention, send a check. McCluskey's consulting company has all the major record labels as clients and maintains what he calls "close relationships" with over 60 of America's biggest radio stations. Using the $6 million a year he takes in from record companies, McCluskey pays each station from $15,000 to $100,000 a year in return for exclusive access to the station program directors. Those program directors know what to do when McCluskey tells them which records to play.

As any regular Jeopardy watcher could tell you, the correct question here is: How much airplay does a record get if its put out by an independent company that can't afford to hire Jeff McCluskey or the other parasites of the record promotion industry?

The passage of the telecom bill on February 8 of this year is making things worse. Yet there is at least one good thing about this truly frightening piece of legislation: it puts the opportunities and dangers that face the micro-broadcasting movement in sharp focus.

The telecom bill allows for corporations to own many more radio stations than they were previously allowed, including eight in the same city. As a result of the mergers and acquisitions generated by the telecom bill, there are already 127 fewer radio station owners now than there were at this time last year. Several billion dollars worth of broadcasting properties have changed hands. For example, in October SFX Broadcasting bought Secret Communications for $300 million. SFX now owns 75 stations and is a significant player in 20 major radio markets.

In 1995, the top 50 radio chain owners controlled 876 stations, today the top 50 owners control 1,187 stations, an increase of 40 per cent in just 12 months. Since bigger broadcasting chains can demand higher consulting fees from record companies, it will make it even more difficult for anyone but the Big Six record companies to get music on the radio. Broadcasting chains that control stations in dozens of markets may soon, according to Rolling Stone, demand that they and they alone be allowed to play music by the artists they want to feature.

This process, disgusting as it is, creates opportunities for micro broadcasters to increase their audiences by serving all those left out by the narrow programming of the monopolies. But along with these opportunities comes danger. The huge broadcast chains, having paid hundreds of millions of dollars to expand, will not sit by quietly and allow their investments to be threatened by competition from the likes of YOU.

A case in point is a micro station called Beat Radio in Minneapolis. Alan Freed, who has been a DJ at three Minneapolis radio stations as well as at Power 99 in Philadelphia, went on the air on July 21 to air a variety of dance sounds that local stations refused to play. With much of the station's airtime handled by local club DJs, Beat Radio soon drew a large and devoted following. It also drew the attention of the FCC, which sent Freed a letter threatening him with prison time. The Minnesota Broadcasters Association filed a complaint about Beat Radio with the FCC, as did several Minneapolis commercial stations. Beat Radio began to suffer high-power interference from another transmitter, which Freed believes could only have been done by licensed stations intent on putting him out of business. Then, at 4:35 PM on November 1, the FCC, accompanied by U.S. Marshals, entered the premises of Beat Radio and seized the station's equipment.

This chain of events can be traced directly back to the National Association of Broadcasters filing a friend of the court brief against Free Radio Berkeley earlier this year, a move that was designed to alert the NAB's corporate membership that unlicensed radio must be crushed. Evidently, radio executives in Minnesota were paying attention.

Behind these actions lie other provisions of the telecom bill, which makes it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison to distribute, by any means, music that is "obscene, lewd, lascivious, or filthy." Using the standards developed over the past ten years by the Clinton-Gingrich administration, this makes felons of everyone, including zine editors and DJs, who helps bring artists ranging from Madonna to White Zombie to Wu-Tang Clan to market. The telecom bill provides the same severe penalty for anyone who, by any means, circulates information about abortion.

The harsh truth is that we are up against the people in America who have all the money and all the power. They have already shown that they will not hesitate to use both against us. I say this not to discourage anyone, because we're going to do what we've got to do. But I do want to bring you face to face with the fact that, if we operate as free-spirited lone wolves, we cannot survive the attacks that the future surely holds.

The only way micro-broadcasting can get the support it needs to survive is to become the voice of a new America, an America that has just begun to swing into action. Think back over the torrent of activity of just the past 15 months... .The Million Man March in Washington, which followed closely on the heels of a march thereby 300,000 women. A month ago, over 30,000 Latinos went to Washington to push for a $7 an hour minimum wage and health care for all. 250,000 attended the Stand Up for Children rally and delegates representing 1 million workers founded the Labor Party in June (the Labor Party, by the way, is helping to launch a micro station in Los Angeles). These "big number events" rest on a firm foundation of countless smaller, often hidden events, ranging from gang truce meetings to housing takeovers by the homeless to the strike currently being waged by our hosts today, Hotel and Restaurant Workers Local 2850.

This process was summed up well by Napolean Williams of Black Liberation Radio in Decatur, Illinois, when he recently told Rock & Rap Confidential: "Before I was sent to prison on trumped-up charges, only a small number of people listened to me when I explained what was really going on in America. While I was in prison, the people here faced bitter strikes, like the one at Caterpillar, and a lot of middle-class white people got beat up by the cops and the corporations. Now I'm out of prison and back on the air and these people are listening to me, calling in, and becoming a part of the station. Maybe we should change our name to 'People's Liberation Radio."'

In that light, let me end by issuing a few friendly challenges....

Downsizing in manufacturing and service industries continues to sweep across the country. The result has been extremes in wealth and poverty never before seen in America. Downsizing has created 8 million homeless and 80 million people living below the poverty line. These people have no voice in the media. Micro-power radio must be the voice of America's poor, regardless of age or race.

As a result of NAFTA and its ongoing aftermath, the destinies of poor and working people in Mexico, the U.S., and Canada are joined more closely than ever before. For instance, in order to control the deteriorating political and economic situation in Mexico, the international bankers are pressing the Mexican military to restore order. The police forces of 25 Mexican states are now commanded by military officers. Southern Mexico is under military occupation. As the Mexican social pot boils over, more and more people will migrate northward to escape hunger and repression. Micro-power radio must facilitate communication throughout the entire zone of NAFTA occupation, from Chiapas to the Yukon to South Carolina. From there, micro radio can help us all extend a hand to the rest of the hemisphere.

Music is the conscience of the world and a prime source of inspiration and information. Commercial radio refuses to play much of the music that is on the charts, let alone the wealth of sounds from the underground. Commercial radio is undemocratic, taking its orders from a handful of professional consultants. Commercial radio is corrupt, gladly taking money from record companies through third parties. Micro-power radio must be the voice of our music and our culture.

The Democratic party has abandoned us. "Liberal" Democrats were the instigators of the ongoing wave of music censorship. "Liberal" Democrats were eager partners in passing the telecom bill. Bill Clinton laughed as he signed this bill. It passed in the House by a vote of 414-16 and in the Senate by a vote of 91-S. Micro-power radio must be the voice of all those striving to break away from the political parties of the corporations.

Micro-power radio has a role that goes beyond being the voice of a vital, cutting-edge underground. Micro-power radio must set its sights on becoming the voice of a new American majority.

Lee Ballinger is an associate editor of Rock & Rap Confidential, the monthly music and politics newsletter that's known as "the conscience of the music industry." One year subscriptions are just $15 and are available from: RRC, Box 341305, LA, CA 90034 (rockrap@aol.com http://www.rockrap.com/rockrap).

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