What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
Giving Compass' Take:
• The history of the radio industry consists of the consolidation of ownership, wealth, listeners, and broadcasted content.
• How has the consolidation of radio ownership impacted the variety of available programming? How can philanthropy support small radio stations and federal policy that reverses these trends?
• Learn why the FCC Lifeline rollback hurt households that need broadband the most.
- Fewer radio companies: The number of companies that own radio stations peaked in 1995 and has declined dramatically over the past decade.
- Larger radio companies: Radio-station holdings of the ten largest companies in the industry increased by almost fifteen times from 1985 to 2005.
- Increasing revenue concentration: National concentration of advertising revenue increased from 12 percent market share for the top four companies in 1993 to 50 percent market share for the top four companies in 2004.
- Increasing ratings concentration: National concentration of listenership continued in 2005—the top four firms have 48 percent of the listeners, and the top ten firms have almost two-thirds of listeners.
- Declining listenership: Across 155 markets, radio listenership has declined over the past fourteen years for which data are available, a 22 percent drop since its peak in 1989.
- The Largest Local Owners Got Larger: The number of stations owned by the largest radio entity in the market has increased in every local market since 1992 and has increased considerably since 1996.
- Declining Local Ownership: The Local Ownership Index, created by Future of Music Coalition, shows that the localness of radio ownership has declined from an average of 97.1 to an average of 69.9, a 28 percent drop.
- Restoration of Local Ownership is Possible: To restore the Local Ownership Index to even 90 percent of its pre-1996 level, the FCC would have to license dozens of new full power and low-power radio licenses to new local entrants and re-allocate spectrum to new local entrants during the digital audio broadcast transition.
- Homogenized Programming: Just fifteen formats make up 76% of commercial programming.
- Large Station Groups Program Narrowly: Owners who exceed or exactly meet the local ownership cap tend to program heavily in just eight formats.
- Only Small Station Groups Offer Niche Formats: Niche musical formats like Classical, Jazz, Americana, Bluegrass, New Rock, and Folk, where they exist, are provided almost exclusively by smaller station groups.
Since the 1930s, the federal government has limited the number of radio stations that one entity could own or control. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began gradually to relax these limits. Finally, in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Telecom Act), Congress eliminated the national cap on station ownership, allowing unlimited national consolidation. With the same law, Congress also raised the local caps on station ownership. In addition, as this study describes in detail, the FCC regulations implementing the Telecom Act allowed more consolidation to occur than alternative regulations would have allowed.