Holdouts for independence


It has been a recurring scenario over the past five years. A radio-station owner steadfastly refuses multimillion-dollar offers from corporations eager to build their holdings. Months later, the station is quietly sold. The offers are too good to refuse, and a lone voice finds it hard to compete in markets increasingly dominated by just two or three players.

Some local commercial broadcasters, however, do manage to hold out. Broadcasting & Cable found seven who own just one or two stations and offer an abundance of local programming.

They are a rare breed. The exact number of "true independents" is hard to come by, but their numbers are definitely declining. According to a report released last Monday by BIA Research, the number of individual radio-station owners has fallen 23.6% in five years, from 5,222 in 1995 to 3,989 in 1999. And, according to figures compiled by BIA for Broadcasting & Cable, the nation's Top 25 Radio Groups now control a full 23.4% of the nation's radio stations (see story, page 50).

Our seven independent broadcasters: Jerry Lee, who has built an FM powerhouse in Philadelphia; Bob Bittner, who programs his Boston AM to his own taste; Michael Carter, who has the No. 1 station in Kansas City, Mo.; Lee Davis, who keeps small-market localism alive near Green Bay, Wis.; Andrew Langston, the African-American voice of Rochester, N.Y.; Bill O'Shaughnessy, whose combo has become a forum for the New York suburb of Westchester County; and Michael Zwerling, who operates two AMs outside San Francisco.

All have resolved to keep their stations and to serve their communities the best they can.