NBC: disappearing public radio?

Thu Jul 10 20:02:00 EDT 1997

Since many blues programs are on public and community radio stations,
I thought this might be of interest to some.


>Date: Wed, 9 Jul 1997 20:44:49 -0700 (PDT)
>From: Norman Solomon <mediabeat@igc.apc.org>
>To: [list]
>Subject: Buyout threat to public broadcasting
>By Norman Solomon
>     It could happen to you.
>     This month, thousands of people tuned into their favorite
>public radio station -- and heard that it's about to disappear.
>     The terse announcement aired on WDCU Radio, the only full-
>time jazz station in the city of Washington. Just three public
>radio outlets in the country have a larger black audience. But
>WDCU's owner, the University of the District of Columbia, is
>dumping it for $13 million.
>     While the college trustees balance their budget, Salem
>Communications is celebrating its triumph. The firm already has a
>chain of 42 religious stations -- and operates a syndicate that
>provides several hundred affiliates with radio fare such as
>Oliver North's talk show.
>     With their industry bloated by mergers and buyouts,
>commercial broadcasters are now drooling over frequencies long
>reserved as "noncommercial." And they've got plenty of cash to
>raid the larder.
>     As the public-broadcasting newspaper Current reported, the
>sale of WDCU "raises concerns that religious broadcasters will
>approach university licensees ... with offers more tempting than
>they've seen before." Those colleges "are often cash-strapped and
>ambivalent about being in the public radio business."
>     Now a protective wall has shattered. Tom Thomas, a
>consultant for public radio's Station Resource Group, sounded
>grim when I asked about the WDCU purchase. He called it "the
>opening of a pathway between the commercial broadcasting sector
>and the noncommercial band."
>     Public TV stations aren't safe either.
>     A battle is raging in Pittsburgh over the proposed sale of a
>PBS channel to Cornerstone TeleVision -- which blends Christian
>fundamentalism with very conservative political messages. On July
>7, a Pittsburgh community alliance filed a petition with the
>Federal Communications Commission to block the deal.
>     How can evangelical broadcasters and for-profit firms get
>away with grabbing frequencies that have been reserved for public
>broadcasting? The schemes vary.
>     In Washington, where Salem Communications already owns a
>major commercial station, Salem's nonprofit arm is buying WDCU
>Radio. (The nation's airwaves are saturated with religious
>broadcasters, who now claim 1,648 radio stations -- a third of
>them noncommercial.)
>     In Pittsburgh, officials at a pair of public TV stations
>plan to swap one of their channels for a commercial frequency now
>held by Cornerstone TeleVision. That frequency would then be sold
>to a company best known for airing infomercials. Bottom line: One
>of Pittsburgh's two public TV stations would vanish.
>     Across the country, such scenarios are possible because few
>public stations are really answerable to the "members" who make
>     At pledge time, we're told that these stations belong to us.
>They don't.
>     If a station's hierarchy opts to sell out, the loyal
>listeners or viewers who've been sending in contributions have no
>legal say in the matter.
>     National Public Radio and PBS television are not happy about
>the specter of some of their affiliates disappearing. But NPR and
>PBS have been doing a lot themselves to push the public out of
>public broadcasting.
>     In recent years, on NPR and PBS, brief mentions of big-money
>patrons have turned into "enhanced underwriter credits" -- in
>other words, commercials.
>     Meanwhile, a "positive veto" process allows underwriters
>like Archer Daniels Midland and General Electric to ante up large
>sums for national shows. Without corporate backing, it's tough
>for a program to survive.
>     Even broadcasters that have held the line against corporate
>encroachment are at risk. A case in point is the Pacifica
>Foundation, which owns listener-supported radio stations heard in
>New York, Washington, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
>     While airing progressive views that are scarce on the radio
>dial, Pacifica is running five stations without a democratic role
>for the listener-members who send in checks. Pacifica's top
>officials have vowed not to sell any of its extremely valuable
>frequencies. But the fact is, there's nothing in the law, or in
>Pacifica bylaws, to stop them from doing so.
>     Around the nation, hundreds of public radio and TV outlets
>are licensed to budget-crunched colleges or nonprofit
>organizations with no real accountability to members who support
>the stations.
>     "Trust us," the public broadcasters say. "And don't forget
>to pay your pledge."
>     But the lack of democracy in public broadcasting is ominous.
>Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His book "Wizards of
>Media Oz: Behind the Curtain of Mainstream News" (co-authored
>with Jeff Cohen) has just been published by Common Courage Press.

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