Stating the obvious, the activist group Free Press has released a "landmark report" revealing that there are fewer women and minority owners of radio stations than before consolidation. The proposed solution? Thousands of new LPFM stations. (No, we're not making this stuff up.)
Although there have been numerous studies of minority and female ownership in broadcasting, Free Press claims that its "Off the Dial" report was the most comprehensive ever, analyzing each and every ownership file at the FCC. Off the Dial found that the average local radio market has 16 white male-owned radio stations – but just one female-owned station and two-minority owned stations. Women own just 6% of all full-power radio stations, even though they comprise 51% of the population. People of color own just 7.7% of stations but make up 33% of the population.
"Commercial radio may be one of the most unfriendly environments for women and people of color. Media consolidation has created an almost unbreakable glass ceiling at the top. The FCC must take action to promote more diverse ownership and end the white male stranglehold on the airwaves," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, one of the groups that hailed the report.
GreenStone Media co-founder Gloria Steinem and FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, the Commission's two Democrats, condemned any rule changes to encourage further consolidation in a press conference call announcing the report. Copps suggested easing construction and financing deadlines to make it easier for women and minorities to become owners.
"In the short term, Congress should act to expand the low-power FM radio service and order the FCC to make available thousands of new licenses. The interference problems cited to curtail community radio in the past have been disproved, and opening these slots on the dial would undoubtedly help promote minority ownership. This is not a long-term fix, but it is certainly a step in the right direction," the report concluded.
RBR observation: Unless the laws of physics have recently been repealed without our knowledge, nothing has been "disproved" about the interference problems from overcrowding the FM dial with thousand of new stations. Besides, adding non-commercial LPFMs won't do much to increase minority and female ownership of stations that actually have listeners.
Access to capital remains the real problem. Only two minority-controlled companies are among the buyers thus far in the Clear Channel medium and small market divestitures, far fewer than when Clear Channel put the excess stations from the AMFM merger up for sale in 1999. Clearly, more needs to be done to put qualified, experienced minority and female radio managers together with strong financial backing.
Opportunities within corporate media companies have improved, so it is no longer quite the "almost unbreakable glass ceiling" referred to by Gandy of NOW. We doubt that Judy Ellis would want to give up overseeing hundreds of radio stations as COO at Citadel to go off and buy a small market cluster or two as a 100% owner. Neither would it appear to make sense for Dunia Shive to cash out of Belo, where she is President of Media Operations, to go buy a small market TV station all her own.