Clear Channeling

I listen to Sean Hannity sometimes, and recently I heard him speak in a mysterious code. I’ll bet you have too, but here goes.

He asked a caller where they listened to his radio show. Then he said what sounded to me like, "Are you clear channel?"

Later, I heard the words "clear channel" mentioned by other neo-con mouthpieces on the radio. But I didn’t know what it was.

Then came the Dixie Chicks controversy. Word was if you are a good American, love your country, and by extension, support Bush policy, you would no longer listen to Chick songs or buy Chick CDs. I incorrectly thought this was a natural backlash on the part of country music fans, and I expected the impact to be minimal and isolated, probably localized. But the national impact on airplay and CD sales was, in fact, huge. It didn’t seem like me and my cousins could have made that much difference just by calling our local country radio stations.

Especially since most of the local stations don’t take requests anymore.

Turns out, it may not have been my cousins who called the stations. And it turns out the stations are a station.

It’s Clear Channel!

Clear Channel is the largest radio operator in the United States, with around 1200 radio and over 35 TV stations reaching some 115 million Americans. I only know this because recently saw where the British Broadcasting Channel is worried about being added to the list. But I should have known sooner, because there are no secrets with Clear Channel.

For example, Clear Channel is big, and has been accused of having "a corporate culture in which dirty tricks are a way of life." Enron-like, some say.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Clear Channel stations refrained from playing a list of potentially offensive songs, including John Lennon’s “Imagine” and the entire catalogue of Rage Against the Machine. They are capable of corporate discipline, it seems.

In the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq, Clear Channel talk radio provided 100% of what you want to hear if you speak neo-conservative, and the Clear Channel corporation sponsored a number of well publicized pro-war or anti-antiwar rallies.

Clear Channel is home-based in Texas, and it is no secret that Clear Channel Worldwide vice chairman Tom Hicks bought the Texas Rangers in 1999 from a little known Texas governor named George W. Bush for $250 million.

It is also no secret that the same Tom Hicks, as Chairman of the University of Texas Investment Management Corporation (UTIMCO) lobbied the same governor (Dubya) for some rules changes, then got in a little trouble for sending privatization contracts to Bush cronies. Sounds like déjà vu all over again, except we weren’t talking about rebuilding Iraq. Now that’s different!

And it is no secret that current Chairman and CEO of Clear Channel, L. Lowry Mays, is still on the UTIMCO Compensation Committee, and is a major Bush contributor.

Clear Channel also promotes concerts, including 26 recent and upcoming Dixie Chick concerts — normally very lucrative when you also own a radio business.

Which brings us back to the recent Chick apologies for Natalie Maines’ comment about being ashamed that George W. Bush was from Texas. Why did she apologize on Primetime Thursday? Because Clear Channel needs folks to get over this and come back to Dixie Chick concerts.

Maines did apologize for making a disrespectful remark, and she kind of apologized for "feeling that she had a lot of questions about the war that went unanswered."

Ironically, Clear Channel is now trying to recover from what their own radio network did to their concert business. It is too bad Diane Sawyer couldn’t ask what Maines’ "public apology" had to say about speech in America, or draw a comparison to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s cancellation of a Bull Durham anniversary event, because Tim Robbins’ opinions could have "placed troops [in Iraq] in danger." Yes, really!

In an age of a thousand TV and radio shows that celebrate human vice and go giddy over the humiliation and stupidity of "other" people, one does wonder why Natalie, by herself, must actually say she’s sorry on TV. Perhaps the neo-cons are more sensitive and tender-hearted than we thought.

Sawyer might also have wondered who decides what is "disrespectful" to a sitting President (or his cabinet members). Was neo-con party boy Newt’s recent public attack on Secretary of State Colin Powell at the American Enterprise Institute, engineered by the Defense Policy Group, disrespectful, or was Newt just stating his opinion because he has a lot of questions about the State Department that have gone unanswered?

If Maines had said "I’m proud Dubya is from Texas!" we might have seen a different story from Clear Channel propaganda masters. Courageous, they’d say! Patriotic and all American! Natalie is a model citizen, and looking really svelte, too! Buy concert tickets!

This would be a lot more fun if it was a neo-con conspiracy. But it isn’t. Clear Channel simply wants some FCC rules updated to allow them to expand their radio and TV businesses. To get that, they need to behave in a supportive manner under the current Bush administration. It’s just good business, like buying Bush’s baseball team and redirecting public moneys to friends of the family.

It may not be transparent, or even easy to identify, but it is definitely clear!