Vital discussion on media consolidation not aided by false quip

Yes, Comcast is a huge conglomerate, but it and 5 other companies really own 90 percent of _all_ media?

Yes, Comcast is a huge conglomerate, but does it and 5 other companies really own over 90 percent of _all_ media?

It is ironic that a letter to the editor about media literacy would contain a wild, unsubstantiated claim about the media. Both the Enterprise-Record and the Chico News & Review ran a letter from Richard Sterling Ogden promoting a community radio program focusing on media literacy. Unfortunately, both copies of the letter ran the claim that “Six corporations own over 90 percent of media…” This claim has been floating around for years and, as far as I can tell, it’s a bit of easily repeated hokum that doesn’t have a scintilla of proof.

It’s frustrating when these unfounded and demonstrably false claims are repeated without any verification because it can diminish otherwise valid concerns about media consolidation. Because I loathe to see inaccurate, feel-good noise drowning out valid, useful information on the Internet, I often respond whenever I see this unproven claim repeated and taken as gospel (Here’s an example from Business Insider). What follows is generally what I post.

The simplicity of the statement “six corporations own over 90 percent of media” is its undoing because “media” could mean everything, including print, radio, broadcasting, recorded music, cinema, pay-TV, online media, etc., in every country across the world. Six corporations may have their fingers in many of those categories, but not all, and not in all countries.

Even if you generously narrow the definition of “media” to just the United States, one can quickly deduce that there’s no apparent merit to the claim.

For example, of the 1,774 full-power TV stations in the United States, about 20 percent of them are public television stations. Public television stations are licensed by various schools, colleges, non-profit entities — not, as far as I can tell, the nefarious six corporations.

The remaining 80 percent is less than 90, even if the rest of them were owned by these corporations (which they’re not). Yes, most TV stations air programming from broadcasters like Disney-owned ABC, CBS Corp. or Comcast-owned NBC, but the actual stations are owned by different companies. There are only about 79 stations owned and operated by the sinister six — that’s just 4.5 percent of the total number of stations. Again, 4.5 percent is not 90 percent.

The linked table itself acknowledges that the six companies control 70 percent of cable networks. I don’t have the time to verify that claim, but it’s not necessary because 70 percent isn’t 90 percent.

I could do the same thing for radio stations, newspapers and news websites. When you add them all up, I don’t think you’re going to get to 90 percent.

Ultimately, people who decry the potential for mass manipulation shouldn’t engage in it themselves.

Racing home to the Mexican National Anthem

While one can’t go home again, sometimes it’s nice to visit. My semi-annual return to Southern California this week was filled with great time with family, seeking out new experiences and reliving fond memories. Turning on the radio on my way home from the train station tonight sent me back to my college years, more than 14 years past.

I first tuned into KPBS, but after a minute of their evening classical programming, I spun the proverbial dial to 91X (XETRA 91.1). The last few minutes of their “Loudspeaker” program reminded me of San Diego’s local music scene, which I only was able to sample briefly after college before I moved away. I was a little surprised to hear what sounded like profanity during one of the songs, but I quickly reminded myself that 91X broadcasts from Tijuana into San Diego.

I was served another reminder of 91X’s cross-border origin when the disc jockey announced that regular programming would be interrupted for “The Mexican National Hour,” which typically airs on Sunday evenings.

I was surprised by what I heard. The Spanish-language “La Hora Nacional” sounded much better than it did 15 years ago. Back in the day, the show sounded like it was initially recorded in an empty gym and relayed to local station via shortwave before it was played back on 91X on a shoddy, beat-up tape. It sounded echo-y and awful, and I would quickly turn to another channel until the alternative music returned (or “Loveline,” but that was a different time).

Although I was only able to understand a portion of the show (show archive), the current “La Hora Nacional” sounded reasonably entertaining (for a 77-year-old government-produced program geared to promote national unity among other things). It featured an upbeat set of hosts discussing a variety of topics. It is something I may seek out and listen to later.

Hearing “La Hora Nacional” brought back other memories of listening to 91X in college. After studying late at the library, I would often be on the road home at midnight when the station was obligated to play the Mexican National Anthem (conveniently and simply named “Himno Nacional Mexicano”). I don’t why the station chose the version it did, but they would play an instrumental version of the song that lasted about four minutes. One of the TV stations broadcast a version that featured children singing, but the radio version was about four minutes of the anthem melody repeating over and over until you thought it was finished and then it would repeat a couple more times.

The song isn’t quite an earworm, but it was fascinating listening to it to see how many times the melody would repeat. It also became a bit of a challenge for me to see how far I could drive while the anthem played. I joked I could get home without speeding in the time it took for the song to play, but I never made it.

Since I moved away from San Diego, I would occasionally try to tune in for the Mexican National Anthem, but 91X only plays it over the air and not on their Internet streams. I was finally able to tune in for the nightly event about a year ago, but it was a bit different and shorter than in years past.

As someone who has loved radio for decades, I get a kick out of the tradition of U.S. stations playing a patriotic song as they signed off, or signed on, for the day. It is something that has definitely gone by the wayside (unless you’re Adult Swim and air an off-kilter sign-off).

While U.S. stations moved away from the sign-off tradition, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. still started and ended its broadcast day with “O Canada,” during the years I lived in Michigan. The CBC has since started broadcasting around the clock, so it too has ended this tradition.

The version of “O Canada” that I saw was an elaborate production with a bold orchestral arrangement of the song set against a wide array of images evoking the Great White North and its diverse population (YouTube video posted by eastest566). It’s something I still enjoy seeing and listening to years later — even the cheesy prelude segment about how essential the CBC is.

In the years since I’ve become a volunteer DJ, I taken to keeping the tradition alive in a small way. Since my weekly program ends at midnight, I nearly always end with a jazzy performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I certainly don’t do the specific jargon one uses when actually ending the broadcasting day (because I’m not), but I like to end with Duke Ellington’s take on the National Anthem although I sometimes switch to versions by Bonerama or Branford Marsalis and Bruce Hornsby.

Who knows? Maybe there’s someone in a car listening to my show trying to see how far they can get by the time the song’s over.

The death of KPIG in Chico: A look at the numbers

Old KPIG Paradise logoWhile much has been made of KZAP-FM 96.7 switching formats from a simulcast of KPIG‘s Americana/folk music to talk radio, I don’t think there’s been much talk about audience numbers. Laura Urseny’s article about the change does quote market manager Vince Shadrick saying there weren’t enough listeners to support the ‘PIG. Looking at the radio ratings for Chico, it would appear that Shadrick is on to something — KZAP’s ratings last fall were about half of what they were five years ago.
According to numbers from Arbitron, Inc., KZAP in spring 2006 had 4 percent of all listeners in Chico — good enough for eighth place in the crowded market. KZAP switched formats from hiphop-oriented Club 96.7 to KPIG in summer 2007. By fall 2009, listeners had dropped to 2.1 percent and the station was in 16th place.
Interestingly, KZAP once ranked as high as second place in spring 2005 with 6.3 percent of listeners.
In Chico, Arbitron’s ratings are based on diaries that selected listeners fill out twice a year. There can be some fluctuations in the numbers — KZAP’s numbers went from 3.2 percent in spring ’09 to 2.1 in the fall.
I only have access to the broadest ratings available from Arbitron, Inc. These are total listeners older than 12 listening at some point from 6 a.m. to midnight everyday. Many radio execs will tell you that they look more closely at more detailed breakdowns based on specific time periods and listeners’ ages and buying habits.
Still, looking at the overall numbers can tell an interesting picture. Three years ago, when KZAP picked up KPIG, market manager Michael Kemph said KZAP had the weakest numbers in a station group that included KFM (KFMF-FM 93.9), The Point (KQPT-FM 107.5) and KALF-FM 95.7. That appeared to be the case last fall, when KZAP again trailed behind its sister stations in total listeners.
KZAP’s switch to “Bold Talk” and its stable of right-leaning talk shows may lead to higher numbers. The news-talk-information format appears to be doing well in Chico. KPAY-AM 1290 was first in the market in fall 2009 with 6.8 percent of listeners. Out-of-market talk stations also pulled in decent numbers. Sacramento-area stations KFBK-AM 1530 and KSTE-AM 650 both ranked higher than KZAP in the Chico market.
And although it isn’t exactly a “talk” station, Northstate Public Radio (KCHO-FM 91.7) and its mix of news magazines from National Public Radio and music programming was third with 6.4 percent. (Disclaimer: I am a volunteer disc jockey at KCHO.)
While news-talk does well, I don’t know if the Chico market _needed_ another station in the format. Also, KZAP has switched formats four times in just over 10 years (from Star to Club to KPIG to Bold Talk). Who knows if news-talk will fit the station any better than the other choices?

The four stages of listening to Christmas music

It can be fun to deck the halls, roast chestnuts or go on sleigh rides, but when it comes to a-wassailing, I find that there are four stages to enjoying or singing Christmas music.
These stages could be circled on the calendar, just like the big day itself:

  1. Pre-Thanksgiving: Like holiday displays, it’s far too early to hear Christmas music in early November. A telling example — hearing tunes as early as the first week of November … at a Panda Express Chinese restaurant.
  2. Post-Thanksgiving: It’s all right to slowly ramp up the music. I hosted “Evening Jazz” during the first really cold night of the year (Dec. 7). It was appropriate to play winter-y tunes, but I stayed away from the more Christmas-themed songs until …
  3. Dec. 11: Two weeks before Christmas, it’s appropriate to crank up those favorite tunes. I played a few during my Friday radio show. It is strangely all right to have two radio stations in a small media market dedicated exclusively to holiday music.
  4. Post-Dec. 25: Enough’s enough. Christmas has come and gone. It’s time to put those albums back on the shelve until next year when we repeat the cycle again.