- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2005

The sharp increase in radio programs that the government deems indecent is linked to sweeping corporate consolidation within the industry, says a study sponsored by two activist groups.

As big media companies such as Clear Channel Communications Inc. and Infinity Broadcasting Corp. have gobbled up more radio stations in the past decade, they increasingly have replaced local programming with racier shows that appeal to younger listeners whom advertisers crave, the report concluded.

“Edgy programming appeals to a large portion of the radio audience. That audience is highly sought-after by advertisers, who will pay a premium to reach it,” said Jonathan Rintels, president and executive director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media, a group that represents writers, directors and performers who oppose concentration in the media. The center was one of the sponsors of the study.

The report said 96 percent of the indecency fines the Federal Communications Commission proposed between 2000 and 2004 were levied against four of the station’s largest radio companies: Clear Channel, Infinity, Entercom Communications Corp. and Emmis Communications Corp.

There weren’t enough fines against television shows to generate “meaningful” data, Mr. Rintels said.

Free Press, a nonprofit group that opposes media consolidation, and Fordham University sponsored the study, which was released yesterday.

It cites WCKT-FM, a country music station in Port Charlotte, Fla., as an example of a broadcaster that has been fined by the FCC since the 1996 Telecommunications Act lifted the rules that restrict growth in media companies.

After the 1996 law was adopted, Clear Channel acquired WCKT and dropped its local morning show, replacing it with “Bubba the Love Sponge,” an adult-oriented program produced by a Clear Channel station near Tampa.

Last year, the FCC fined WCKT and the other Florida stations that air “Bubba” $715,000 for segments that described, among other things, sex acts with cartoon characters.

FCC rules prohibit over-the-air radio and television stations from airing sexually explicit material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are most likely to tune in.

“The data show this pattern repeatedly: Following the elimination of national ownership limits, a local station is sold to a larger station ownership group, which then eliminates the local content and replaces it with an edgy or raunchy show that it produces in another market, causing the newly owned station to be fined for indecency for the first time in its history,” Mr. Rintels said.

The FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to further loosen media ownership rules in 2003. A federal court later rejected the new regulations, sending them back to the agency for a revision.

“One of the questions we needed to ask back then was whether there is a link between increasing media consolidation and the amount of indecency we have seen and heard over the airwaves in recent years. We really had no business voting in 2003 until we took a serious look at the matter,” Michael J. Copps, one of the two Democrats on the five-member FCC panel, said in a statement that an aide read for reporters yesterday.

Representatives for the major media companies that the report cited could not be reached yesterday.

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