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Listeners Send Clear Channel Clear Signals

Frank Ahrens

Today, I wrote about the radical overhaul at radio giant Clear Channel, which just sold itself to some private-equity firms but, more to the point, is also selling off more than one-third of its stations.

After the sale, it will still be the radio industry's biggest player, but it will be a diminished Goliath, sort of like a Goliath sent down to Triple-A ball after that bad game against David.

Clear Channel has been the dartboard for Big Media hatas. Some of the criticism has been deserved, some has not: For instance, Clear Channel did not ban the Dixie Chicks after lead singer Natalie Maines popped off about President Bush at that show in London in 2003. That was Cumulus, another radio chain. But everyone was ready to believe it was big bad Clear Channel, so they did.

More to the point, Clear Channel -- and all radio companies -- are facing tough times as radio listenership and ad revenue has been falling as you have moved to different kinds of media.

I bought XM satellite radio in December 2001 and never looked back. I'm not sure I can remember the last time I listened to FM radio.

Yet, AM and FM still offer things that satellite radio services do not: local coverage, if they choose to do so, and delivery of local ads. In times of emergency, local radio is still unsurpassed. And with the rollout of digital radio, broadcasters are hoping for a renaissance, with better-sounding radio and more choice (digital side-channels, like on digital TV.)

What's your radio story? Have you given up on AM and FM and switched to satellite or in-car iPods or other substitutes for AM and FM?

Or are you still an AM/FM fan? If so, why? Except for Howard Stern, the biggest radio stars still reside on AM and FM -- Rush Limbaugh, for instance. And maybe you don't want to pay for radio.

What say you?

Today In The Post:

* Brace yourself: Online retailers like Amazon are cranking up their efforts to get your holiday shopping dollars. Yuki Noguchi and Ylan Q. Mui report.

Elsewhere:

* Hey, gamers: Here's a behind-the-scenes look at the new Nintendo Wii from the guys who built it.

By Frank Ahrens  |  November 17, 2006; 11:18 AM ET  | Category:  Frank Ahrens
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Comments

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I'm still an AM/FM type of guy. I listen to a variety of fare, toggling at various times of the day between Andy and Grandy, Laura Ingram, Chris Core, Glen Beck, Jerry Doyle, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Drudge, George Noory, Art Bell and yes, even NPR and classical music when the dialogue is too much and i just want to think.

The great thing about it is that there is always good discussion on AM radio somewhere, and if I can't find it local, I can listen to a variety of AM stations across the country. I also listen to shortwave and enjoy hearing the news from someone other than the talking heads we are uusually served.

I find myself listening to AM radio and shortwave more and watching TV's mindless drivel less and less.

When analog television does away in 2009 I won't miss it. I won't indulge in a digital converter or a new set. Even with 256 channels there seems to be little to watch.

Ahhh for a hot summer nite, sitting in a sweaty T-shirt in the dark, enjoying a cold beer on the front porch, listening to a base ball game live on WLS in Chicago or WBZ in Boston. Life doesn't get any better than that!

Posted by: Ed Harris | November 17, 2006 3:56 PM

I followed Howard to Sirius. While I still listen to Howard from time to time I find that there is so much more interesting radio on satellite that I move from one channel another depending on the topic or guest of the day. I am not tied to one show like I was on FM radio. I have never gone back to FM since going to Sirius one year ago.

Posted by: Russ | November 17, 2006 4:37 PM

Watching DC area radio (FM) transform from a wide array of formats to its current state has been depressing. My listening fell off sharply when WHFS sold to Infinity (yes, this was a very long time ago). I have not listened to radio (aside from WTOP when my alarm goes off) and the occassional bout of classical music, since February of this year. I found an on-line service called Pandora that makes FM look like what it is: Duller than dish water. Since then I've been trying to recreate pre-Infinity 'HFS using this service. I use an iPod for the commute but I find all of the music I buy from iTunes through Pandora. And Pandora has a much bigger music library.

My diagnosis of "free" FM radio: Clear Channel's example will be a good thing for free radio and music in general. Corporations will either take steps to avoid CC's mistake OR, make the same mistake and go the same way and good riddance. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of radio's Dark Age. If not, who cares? I'll be listening to my computer.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 17, 2006 4:46 PM

I live in the Central Florida area. The number of local bands actively recording and performing is staggering. Many have label deals with independents and the like.

The local stations will play 1 local song per week during a 10 minute segment allowing others to call in and critique it.

The DJ's aren't local. The ads are 50% local. The contests aren't local. The morning shows are broadcast from California.

I can either listen to CDs in my car or drive in silence.

Thanks Clear Channel.

Posted by: Will | November 19, 2006 9:01 AM

I've been an XM subscriber for five years. I'm on the road daily for my job. The only time I listen to AM radio is to get the local traffic. The only time I tune in to FM radio is to find an unused frequency for my iPod.

Posted by: Brian | November 19, 2006 9:17 AM

Clear Channel, the top dog in Corporate Radio, is as much to blame for the demise of FM as any of the other conglomerate, moreso only because they're the biggest.

Here in Houston, where most of the dial is Clear Channel, you can chose from several "mass appeal" genres, but within each one you are stuck with an incredibly limited playlist. I love classic rock, but no longer listen to such stations because they will play the same songs over and over again, with very slight variation, month after month, year after year. Even on "request days" they only play songs that are requested from their playlist! True fans of classic rock want to hear more than just the "hits" of the era, and I for one, have so many classic rock albums on CD and mp3 that there is no reason to listen to the radio.

Simply put, if there were a larger variety of songs broadcast on my local classic rock station, I would be a listener again.

As for Satellite, I do not subscribe, although at home Dish Network does provide a few dozen channels 'free of charge' from Sirius, but I will not pay the exorbitant cost of installing equipment in my car, nor will I pay a monthly fee when it is totally unnecessary.

Digital FM will not in any way save the FM industry. FM radio can survive in a lesser form, and do so easily, but the gravy train days of multi million dollar profits for a single FM station will soon be gone.

Posted by: Pablo | November 20, 2006 10:26 AM

I actually worked for CC in the late 90's and have completely given up on any of their radio stations in my market, that of Boise, Idaho, one of the first on the list of stations to be sold.

My radio listening has drifted to other stations outside of Boise because of the same cookie cutter, wanna-be Top 40 formats, lame music selection and even less desirable local personalities.

Most decent radio stations, including the Evil Empire, stream a mirror on the Internet.

My listening taste has gone to dynamic personalities in other cities in the Hot Talk genre such as Westwood One's "The Tom Leykis Show" and The BJ Shea Morning Experience on KISW in Seattle because of the lack of this type of programming in my area and the talent's willingness to participate with the audience, something no Clear Channel stations in my town have the desire to do.

Clear Channel Boise in the last 6 months has fired ALL of it's morning show talent, laid off sales executives and gone all computer automation, all the time.

The death of this company will bring up the competition between companies in my market because of the hopefully returning diversity of owners in the market. One can only Hope!

I'm one for the DEATH of Clear Channel Communications.

Posted by: Dizzle | November 20, 2006 5:47 PM

I'm in the classical part of the record business.

I've shunned Clear Channel because they have a dreadful reputation in the music business.

My listening habits haven't changed. I listen to public radio for several hours every day, as I've done for the past two decades.

Posted by: David Lewiston | November 21, 2006 11:41 PM

I've been a long time listener to WGMS and was quite annoyed when Bonneville, I believe, decided that they wanted to take WGMS's former frequency to improve the lot of WTOP (as though talk radio needs as decent reception as music!). I found that I live in an area of extermely poor reception of the new signals from WGMS and have resorted to using Roku's Sound Bridge Internet radio to continue listening. I suppose that eventually I'll take the time to rip all my music to MP3s and use the Roku SB in its other capability as a wireless client for a music server. Then WGMS will lose another two listeners. Bye-bye . . . .

Posted by: Sam | November 22, 2006 1:13 PM

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