- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

A senator argued yesterday for tighter restrictions on radio companies, claiming that consolidation in the industry since a 1996 telecommunications law has harmed radio, musicians and consumers.
Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, said he will introduce a bill to limit the number of radio stations a single company can own. He argued that consolidation has limited the diversity of programming and made it more difficult for artists to get their music played on the air.
"The last time I checked, radio airwaves continued to be owned by the public. We need to remind the [Federal Communications Commission] that radio is a public medium. It must serve the public good," Mr. Feingold said yesterday at the Future of Music Coalition's policy summit at Georgetown University.
His remarks come as the FCC considers changing media-ownership rules. FCC Chairman Michael J. Powell supports deregulating media companies to promote more cross-ownership by newspapers, television stations and radio stations.
Rules that could be changed include one limiting the number of stations a radio group can own in a single market. Under current rules, a radio group can own no more than eight stations in markets where there are at least 45 stations. There are no limits on the number of stations a radio company can own nationally.
Mr. Feingold, who introduced a similar bill last June, said he hopes hearings can be held this year. The bill would be referred to the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who co-authored a bill with Mr. Feingold banning soft-money contributions. Mr. McCain is passionate about that shared cause, and the men's connection could aid Mr. Feingold's new quest.
When Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the two largest radio groups owned fewer than 65 stations. Now, Clear Channel a Texas-based company and the nation's largest radio group owns 1,225 stations. Infinity Broadcasting Corp., owned by New York-based media giant Viacom, has 180 stations.
Clear Channel lobbyist Andy Levin said the company will oppose Mr. Feingold's bill to fight consolidation.
"We think it's based on misperceptions about how the industry works," he said.
The nation's estimated 13,000 radio stations are owned by about 3,800 companies. Clear Channel owns eight in the Washington area. Infinity owns five.
The Future of Music Coalition, a Washington-based group hosting the three-day policy summit, welcomed Mr. Feingold's plan.
Changes in the radio industry since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 have led to dramatic and unfortunate changes in the industry, said Michael Bracy, a coalition board member. Too few radio companies control the airwaves, according to the coalition, a nonprofit group studying technology and policy issues affecting the music industry.
Just 10 companies control 66 percent of the industry's revenues, Mr. Bracy said.
"Has there been consolidation? Yes." NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said. "But we would strongly dispute the claim that consolidation has hurt listeners."
Companies and consumer groups flooded the FCC last week before a Jan. 2 deadline for comments on new rules covering television-, radio- and newspaper-ownership combinations.
The FCC also will scrutinize a rule prohibiting over-the-air broadcasters from reaching 35 percent of the national audience, and reconsider one preventing companies from owning a television station and a newspaper in the same market. There have been exceptions.
The FCC will hold a hearing in Richmond next month on the rules under review. The agency plans to make a decision on new rules within six months.

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