Senators: Big radio may not be problem


Responding to growing criticism of radio giant Clear Channel Communications
Inc. in particular and media consolidation in general, some members of the
Senate Commerce Committee suggested Thursday that the problem might not be that
groups are getting too large, but rather in the melding of control of airplay
and artists.

This appeared to put the target squarely on Clear Channel, which is not only
the nation's largest station owner, but its largest concert promoter.

"Maybe these two issues should be treated separately," suggested Sen. Trent
Lott (R-Miss.).

Lott, a longtime friend of broadcasters, has taken an active role in the
Commerce Committee since exiting as majority leader. "It sounds like the problem
is not the level of [radio-station] competition," he said, "but the other issue
of how concerts are handled."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) suggested that Congress investigate
allegations of pay-for-play, which requires music labels to compensate stations
for airing their artists. "Should we be looking at the issue of payola
separately from ownership?" she asked.

Clear Channel chairman Lowry Mays, who testified at the hearing, denied that
his company accepted payola or refused airplay to artists not under contract to
its concert-promotion arm.

While investigation of specific abuses could put Clear Channel on the
defensive, such a move would be less likely to derail any media-ownership
deregulation in the works at the Federal Communications Commission.

Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) seemed to suggest as
much. Although he asked a series of tough questions, he implied that no halt to
media deregulation is in the offing.