Ethical Shopping - The Dirty Truth About Gold

Millions of us tune into radio stations at all hours of the day and night—at home, in the workplace, in our beloved cars glacially pinned in commuter traffic. I have favorite radio stations set on my tuning selector. As I travel from county to county stations come and go and I like to feel there is a definitive freedom in those airwaves. In the days of FDR, Route 66 and 70's king kong rock stations you could tune in dozens of stations, blast up the volume and you knew those stations were by and large independent and did not belong to the cultural pulpit of a single corporation. By federal telecommunications mandate, no single company could own more than 20 AM and 20 FM stations total.

Ten years ago that law protecting us from an economic (and by extension cultural) monopoly of radio changed. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 restricted the number of stations a single company could own in a single market (to eight), but removed the cap to total ownership.

Step in Clear Channel, a broadcast behemoth that now owns over 1200 radio stations, 35 television stations and 783,000 billboards across the US. The cultural monopolizing of our American airwaves has many people outspokenly concerned.

The Dilemma: Would the Founding Fathers listen to Clear Channel?

The Founding Fathers distilled the US Constitution and Bill of Rights out of the absolute atmosphere of freedom. Freedoms of the press, to assemble, of speech were carefully established and protected. Yet, unchecked radio and TV open ethical holes in those rights. Would Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin be cheery with Clear Channel and its widespread power over what the American population is exposed to? Doubtful.

Social pundits are clearly worried about the cultural power of mass radio delivery. In the entertainment industry, small players are frustrated at being locked out of valuable exposure time. Most people do not read to get their news and information on the world around them. They passively absorb through radio and TV. Clear Channel effectively is not an open bazaar of ideas and music forms but a channel for single philosophy demagoguery and very narrow musical tastes. Many opine it is about as close to propaganda in the free market that we've seen.

And the alarming concept of blacklisting from the Joe McCarthy days is making entertainment entrepreneurs fearful of Clear Channel's power. If they can't get air time for their performers, then we will never hear them. Fresh cultural innovation and the natural evolution of culture is stifled.

Tune in the Low Power Boys, Sat Radio and Internet Radio

Fortunately, there are choices—depending on where you are. A decade of Clear Channel harvesting America's vast fields of airwaves has catalyzed the sporadic rise of radio revolutionaries. Using low-power radio technology these local stations can broadcast short distances with rich play lists and alternative-to-mainstream talking hosts. Clear Channel has played hardball with these upstarts but they are holding their ground. Independent stations still exist and thrive in many city markets. Satellite radio has brought greater range of music and fewer ads, but costs a bundle to get plugged in. The internet radiocast phenomenon is still taking baby steps, but there is some really great independent selections on the internet and much of it is ad free—kept afloat through listener donations.

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