Best Buy

The most powerful radio and concert chain hires the most powerful man in local dance music. For Clear Channel and Rich Best, it's business as usual.

Levy doesn't deny that the gorilla's girth has altered the scale, if not the nature, of radio business as usual. As G.R. Anderson Jr. noted in these pages (see "Old-School Sell,", record companies normally pay independent promoters anything from $500 to $5,000 per station to get a song considered for airplay. Critics charge that this money often passes on to the stations in the form of "promotional support," with promoters pocketing a cut as middlemen. (How these slush funds differ from plain-old payola has become an increasingly pointed question.) Even in this shady area, however, Clear Channel has obliterated all precedents. The company is well on its way toward cutting out the independents and creating its own "promotion" alliance--which will charge record companies to rep songs to its own radio chain. As reported in Salon, the corporation recently took home a cool million from a recent three-day company conference, in which record companies paid $35,000 each to have acts perform for a roomful of programmers.

Cities 97 (KTCZ-FM 97.1) program director Lauren MacLeash says City Pages' phone call is the first she's heard of that conference. And to be fair, such practices have not yet completely squashed the individuality of local stations. Cities 97, for example, probably plays more Twin Cities music than its slightly less gargantuan corporate competitors. "Cities was the first radio station to pick our songs at night on their local hour," says Todd Epley, lead singer of local pop-rockers Leep 27. "Usually you have to pay for that stuff."

Yet size may matter more and more in the coming years. Clear Channel's tactic of "voice-tracking," which has spread to 47 stations nationwide, looms on the horizon as a parallel phenomenon to the wholesale purchase of tours. The cost-cutting practice involves streaming out-of-town personalities into smaller markets, then customizing the programs to make it seem as if the DJs actually live there. (Similar arrangements already mark local radio.)

Best is hugely influential in bringing alternative acts to town
Diana Watters
Best is hugely influential in bringing alternative acts to town

Size will have other effects as well: Anyone hoping the Justice Department and FCC will take Congressman Berman's advice and rip the roof off Clear Channel should refrain from the holding of breath. The behemoth has extended its synergy into the political realm, funding candidates to the tune of $120,000 in 2000. Company chairman L. Lowry Mays is a personal friend of George Herbert Walker Bush and a generous donor to Poppy's proposed presidential library. Last summer a former Clear Channel lawyer, Charles James, was confirmed as head of the Justice Department's antitrust division. As you might predict, no formal investigations of the company have been launched, though the informal kind are reportedly ongoing.

It remains unclear how all this will change local radio and concerts with Rich Best onboard. "I think that we would not be awake if we didn't pay attention," says Sue McLean. For now, we can look forward to driving down Lyndale Avenue and seeing a Clear Channel billboard advertising a Clear Channel radio station playing an artist on a Clear Channel-promoted tour, perhaps booked into a Clear Channel-managed venue.

Oh, wait, we have that already.


Additional research by City Pages contributor Rod Smith.  

Correction published April 24, 2002:
Owing to a reporting error, Clear Channel was misidentified as the current owner of Fox 29 (WFTC-TV) in the original version of this article. In fact, Clear Channel traded the station to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. in October 2001. The above version of the story reflects the corrected text. City Pages regrets the error.

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