- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

The head of the nation's largest owner of radio stations told a Senate panel yesterday that his company does not have a monopoly on the airwaves, and denied accusations that it accepts money from record promoters in exchange for playing their songs.

"We have zero tolerance for pay-for-play. Absolutely zero tolerance," said L. Lowry Mays, chairman and chief executive officer of Clear Channel Communications Inc., during testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Clear Channel, based in San Antonio, owns more than 1,200 radio stations, including eight in the Washington area. It is also the world's largest concert promoter, with 135 venues.

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The company has mushroomed since passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which relaxed regulations on the number of stations one company can own.

The committee debated legislation sponsored by Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, that would strengthen federal oversight of radio station mergers and ban arrangements by which recording companies could pay stations for air time.

Mr. Mays said his company's program directors sign affidavits every year promising they will not accept gifts or other forms of "payola" in exchange for playing a musician's songs.

Clear Channel has accepted payments from record promoters in the past, but it was in exchange for research information, Mr. Mays said.

He also denied charges the company bullies musicians into using its promotional services or putting on concerts in exchange for airtime.

"We would never tie airplay into performances or into concert tours. We're not going to jeopardize our principal business and ignore what the audience wants to hear," Mr. Mays said.

Don Henley, lead singer of the Eagles, testified that he knows of a musician who refused to do a promotional concert for Clear Channel and, in return, the company boycotted her next single. Mr. Mays denied the accusation.

Consolidation in the industry has reduced the number of musical formats in radio, resulting in a homogenized sound, Mr. Henley said.

"Everybody gets the same McDonald's hamburger," he said.

The number of radio station owners has declined from about 5,100 in 1996 to about 3,800 today, Mr. Feingold said. In several of the biggest cities, a few companies dominate the commercial airwaves. In New York, for example, four companies control almost 80 percent of the market.

Mr. Mays countered that the stations Clear Channel owns represent just 9 percent of all stations in the United States.

Most of the company's programming decisions are made locally, he said.

Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain who proposed legislation yesterday that would give companies a tax break if they sell stations to minorities and women asked Mr. Mays whether Clear Channel plans to buy more stations, a question the executive evaded several times.

"Do you have any plans to obtain more radio stations? I'd like to ask the question for the third time," said Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican.

"If we can serve the local community better and we see an opportunity, yes," Mr. Mays finally responded.

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