Right of the Dial: The Rise of Clear Channel and the Fall of Commercial Radio

Overview

In Right of the Dial, Alec Foege explores how the mammoth media conglomerate evolved from a local radio broadcasting operation, founded in 1972, into one of the biggest, most profitable, and most polarizing corporations in the country. During its heyday, critics accused Clear Channel, the fourth-largest media company in the United States and the nation's largest owner of radio stations, of ruining American pop culture and cited it as a symbol of the evils of media monopolization, while fans hailed it as a ...

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Overview

In Right of the Dial, Alec Foege explores how the mammoth media conglomerate evolved from a local radio broadcasting operation, founded in 1972, into one of the biggest, most profitable, and most polarizing corporations in the country. During its heyday, critics accused Clear Channel, the fourth-largest media company in the United States and the nation's largest owner of radio stations, of ruining American pop culture and cited it as a symbol of the evils of media monopolization, while fans hailed it as a business dynamo, a beacon of unfettered capitalism. What's undeniable is that as the owner at one point of more than 1,200 radio stations, 130 major concert venues and promoters, 770,000 billboards, 41 television stations, and the largest sports management business in the country, Clear Channel dominated the entertainment world in ways that MTV and Disney could only dream of. But in the fall of 2006, after years of public criticism and flattening stock prices, Goliath finally tumbled—Clear Channel Inc. sold off one-third of its radio holdings and all of its television concerns while transferring ownership to a consortium of private equity firms. The move signaled the end of an era in media consolidation, and in Right of the Dial, Foege takes an insightful look at the company's successes and abuses, showing the ways in which Clear Channel reshaped America's cultural and corporate landscapes along the way.

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Editorial Reviews

Jacques Steinberg
Foege is an unabashed radio wonk, but he is particularly adept at translating the medium's culture and technology for a lay audience…to those who care deeply about what has been lost, culturally, as Clear Channel has taken command of the public airwaves these last four decades, Foege's effort is a noble one. And the story he tells is as important as it is unnerving.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Journalist Foege (Confusion Is Next) brings objectivity and insight to this exploration of Clear Channel, one of the most reviled media conglomerates in the U.S. The author aims for an unbiased understanding of the corporation and its practices, how it came to be and what it says about our culture. The reader follows the Clear Channel operation from its inception as a family business in the 1990s through commercial expansion, megamergers, vertical integration, antitrust lawsuits and the eventual sale of a third of its holdings. Foege cobbles together an oral history of the company, painting Clear Channel executives as businessmen first and foremost. To them, payola (accepting financial gifts in exchange for airplay) and voice tracking (phoning in "local" broadcasts from a centralized location) just made sense for the bottom line. The result has been the homogenization of radio-a phenomenon that has produced one, single, all-too-familiar classic rock station that Foege characterizes as "a mild condition of being. Like a toothache or a strained knee." While many are quick to call this evil, media monopolies of this kind have been sanctioned by the government through deregulation. Foege's history is at its best while unpacking this confrontation of American values between art and commerce. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

While listening to the radio during a family road trip through New England, Foege (The Empire God Built) kept hearing the same Led Zeppelin song over and over. Here, he suggests that Clear Channel Communications is largely to blame for this ubiquitous cookie-cutter radio programming, tracing the company's history and showing how its conservative business practices and values have affected American culture. Foege introduces Texas businessman Lowry Mays as the mastermind behind Clear Channel. From owning one local radio station in 1972 to now owning over 1200 stations nationwide, Mays, and later, his sons Mark and Randall, built Clear Channel into a giant within the entertainment industry. Through sound research and interviews with industry experts and Clear Channel employees (though Mays, his sons, and other top executives refused to grant interviews), Foege finds that Mays's goal was primarily to make money. He had no experience or training in radio or music, no interest in radio's inherent value as a communication tool, and was more concerned with his advertisers than with the listening public. Foege concludes that radio broadcasting has been commodified into a one-size-fits-all product. On the whole, this work is an interesting blend of corporate history and social commentary. For academic libraries and larger public libraries with communications and business collections.
—Donna Marie Smith

Kirkus Reviews
How the giant media and advertising conglomerate got so big. (Hint: It wasn't high-quality programming.)Despite the title, Foege (The Empire God Built: Inside Pat Robertson's Media Machine, 1996, etc.) doesn't pay much attention to the proposition, loudly voiced by its many critics, that Clear Channel is a vocal ally of the right wing, broadcasting Rush Limbaugh and contributing big bucks to the GOP. He focuses more on dissecting the company's role over the past two decades in massively consolidating America's crazy-quilt network of local radio stations and analyzing what that has meant for the industry and the United States as a whole. The Texas-based corporation was started by Lowry Mays, a folksy San Antonio businessman who invested in a failing country-music FM station in 1972, when 90 percent of the country still listened to AM. Buoyed by the deal-making passion of Mays and sons Mark and Randall, as well as the shortsighted deregulatory fervor and merger mania of the '80s and '90s, the company began buying up stations at an increasingly accelerated pace. Today, Clear Channel is the largest media company in the nation, owning more than a thousand radio stations, dozens of TV stations, hundreds of concert venues and hundreds of thousands of billboards. None of this was done with an interest in anything but the bottom line. The company cared not a whit about improving the product, Foege makes clear, quoting a Clear Channel dealmaker who once said, "programming is the shit we run between the commercials." Unsurprisingly, quality suffered as the company grew and flexed its muscles as a near-monopolistic power, running many radio stations in smaller markets by remote control andhomogenizing content across the nation. Close to authoritative but far from thrilling: Considering the tumultuous events the author chronicles, his account is surprisingly dry.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781437971545
  • Publisher: DIANE Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 6/28/2010
  • Pages: 294
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Alec Foege has written for Rolling Stone, The New York Times, New York, People, Spin, Playboy, Details, and many other national publications. He currently is a contributing writer at Fortune Small Business. His previous books are Confusion Is Next: The Sonic Youth Story and The Empire God Built: Inside Pat Robertson’s Media Machine. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and two children.

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Table of Contents

Preface     xi
The Controversy     3
The Birth of Modern Radio, Texas-Style     14
Clear Channel's Beginnings     33
War Stories     54
Anarchy on the Airwaves     78
A Brilliant Idea     96
Success (the New Radio Universe)     108
Billboards and Beyond     119
The Mergers that Transformed Clear Channel     132
The World's Biggest Radio Company     151
Concerts     166
The Backlash     187
Clear Channel Goes to Washington     206
Payola     219
Online, or on the Decline?     230
Tuning Out     248
Epilogue     259
Notes     269
Acknowledgments     279
Index     281

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