You can imagine my surprise last Friday night when the Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.) announced it was moving forward with its plan to help AM radio survive. “Ratchet Rule?” Marconi must have come up with that. Change it. Transmitters that decrease carrier levels when low or no audio is present to save electricity? Sign us up. And FM translators for AM stations! That’s sure to work because a low power FM signal will cause lots of people to switch over to the AM band and ensure its survival.
AM Revitalization? It’s more like “AM Migration.”
Most of these planned fixes are going to cost lots of money. Will struggling AM station owners actually invest in their facilities having the knowledge their chances of getting a return on their investment is low? We’ll see. Rule changes are one thing, opening a check book is another. If it doesn’t make sense financially, these rule changes may simply be words on a document.
Look, I think most of the F.C.C.’s plan is a bandaid being placed on the arm of a leprosy victim. But, to their credit the F.C.C. did something to earn their taxpayer supported pay. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., a city that gets nothing done, they at least wrote a press release.
But, there was something else the F.C.C. did in the last week that should have everyone take notice.
Remember that old movie Network and Howard Beale, the prophetic, delusional news anchor character?
This tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers… This tube is the most awesome God-damned force in the whole godless world, and woe is us if it ever falls in to the hands of the wrong people. And when the twelfth largest company in the world controls the most awesome God-damned propoganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this network?
The F.C.C., after being successfully lobbied by the National Association of Broadcasters (N.A.B.) representing its largest, “in-debt” consolidator company members, decided it was a good idea to not only grant U.S. citizens the right to be 100% owners of American broadcast stations, but felt it was time to give that right to…well…anyone on planet Earth, as long as they get the government’s wink and nod and have the cash. Cash being the most important part.
The F.C.C. and its former cable and wireless industry lobbyist, Chairman Thomas Wheeler, already changed those annoying foreign ownership rules for common carriers, industry speak for telephone and wireless companies, so it was time to extend those honors to broadcasters.
I’m not going to go all Howard Beale on you here. Lord knows most of us have had our fill of the shit being peddled on many radio stations. Can’t get a stiffy or pee old man? We’ve got a “natural enhancement” pill for you. Did you know Obama is a Kenyan and it’s time to take our country back? Check. And if that’s not enough to freak you out, the economy sucks too and you need to buy gold and hoard food.
To paraphrase, “Who knows what shit will be peddled on our radio stations?” And I’m not even bringing up the shit that passes for country music today, because “Bro Country” is real shit.
Let’s get right down to it. The business of money is money. It stays in motion and flows like water. And the American broadcast industry, with the huge debt it’s rolled up after the Telecommunications Act of 1996, needs new money or said another way needs foreign money to keep refinancing its debt at higher and higher interest rates. The consolidators have basically talked all the money they are going to get out of American banks and private equity companies. It’s time to talk foreign banks and PE companies out of their pesos, liras, rubles and rupees and keep that money facet flowing.
The private equity companies invested in American radio like Bain Capital, Thomas H. Lee Partners and the poor bastards that financed Cumulus Media want out. If they’re down to selling tower sites and land, the little equity remaining for some stations (especially AM stations), what’s left?
I’m not Bernie Sanders and against capitalism. I’m all for it.
But, you can still thank the F.C.C. and the N.A.B. for selling out radio, this time to foreign interests.