Dissonant concerts

Rival promoter alleges Clear Channel threatens to withhold airplay support

A lawsuit filed last week by a Denver-based concert promoter charges radio giant and rival promoter Clear Channel with leveraging the power of its playlists and advertising against artists promoted by Clear Channel competitors.

Promoter Nobody In Particular Presents claims Clear Channel and its affiliates "use their radio stations to play Clear Channel-promoted artists on the air while excluding or limiting the airplay of artists promoted by NIPP and others—thereby restricting listeners' choices."

The promoter charges that "artists are threatened that they will lose airplay and on-air promotional support unless they use Clear Channel as their concert promoter." Among artists promoted by NIPP are the Allman Brothers, Doobie Brothers, Bruce Hornsby and Shawn Colvin, although the complaint did not name any specific artists whose shows or relations with NIPP were affected by Clear Channel's alleged tactics. An attorney for NIPP said those names would come out in future pleadings.

Clear Channel, which is by far the nation's largest radio group—listing 1,170 stations—said it will "vigorously and successfully defend [itself] in court." Randy Palmer, a spokesman for the company, said: "We believe the allegations that have been made are false. We compete hard but fairly in all of our markets and believe we've done nothing wrong. We would prefer to fight these battles in the marketplace instead of court. It seems that those who can't win in the marketplace seem to use litigation as a second-level of defense, and it's a shame."

Clear Channel got into the promotion business in a big way last year with its acquisition of SFX Entertainment. Jesse Morreale, a co-owner of Nobody In Particular Presents, told BROADCASTING & CABLE that complaints about anticompetitive and predatory behavior by Clear Channel have caused the Justice Department to look into consolidation in the concert business. Justice lawyers would not comment.

"This has been coming for a long time," Morreale said, explaining that, ever since Clear Channel got into the concert-promotion business, "there were concerns about the potential for conflict of interest between their concert and radio businesses. We're the first ones to see first-hand what those possibilities are and to what extent Clear Channel uses its power."