April 30, 2012
Talk Radio In Sacramento
A Report On Our Meeting With
Clear Channel Sacramento
Sacramento Media Group (SMG)
and Media Action Center (MAC)
On February 6, 2012, representatives of Sacramento Media Group (SMG), Media Action Center (MAC) and Occupy Sacramento, met with Clear Channel Sacramento (CCS) managers Jeff Holden and Alan Eisenson. The meeting followed a December "Occupy Clear Channel" action, which was held in response to CCS’s recent switchover of their KFBK- FM 92.5 to a “simulcast” (rebroadcast) of KFBK-AM 1530, the station that launched and airs Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk show hosts on a daily basis. With this change, Clear Channel now has three “talk” stations in Sacramento, all airing only programs with conservative political viewpoint in the key Monday-through-Friday timeslots. No alternate points of view are offered. What’s more, two of these stations transmit at very high power giving them a range of hundreds of miles.
NOTE: We delayed publishing this report while we waited for CCS's promised response. Perhaps as no surprise, CCS declined to respond in writing.
Full report follows:
The February 6 meeting was held at CCS headquarters in Sacramento and involved the following people:
Jeff Holden (CCS Market Manager)
Alan Eisenson (CCS Operations Mgr, KFBK, KSTE)
Roger Smith (SMG - www.sacmediagroup.wordpress.com)
Ron Cooper (SMG)
Sue Wilson (MAC – www.mediaactioncenter.net)
Sean Laney (Occupy Sacramento)
Each of us took a few minutes to explain who we represent, and what our interests in talk radio are.
Roger Smith explained that SMG is an all volunteer group with a link to Common Cause through our shared interest in fair elections and the role that media can play to that end. (It should be noted that this meeting took place before the Rush Limbaugh / Sarah Fluke controversy, and was part of SMG’s continuing communications with CCS, which SMG began in 2006.)
Sue Wilson described the Media Action Center (MAC) national efforts towards ensuring that broadcasters meet their obligation to serve “the public interest”.
SMG'S HISTORY WITH LOCAL TELEVISION STATIONS
Ron Cooper presented an overview of SMG past activities with local television stations, including our meetings with station management and our evaluating of stations’ election coverage. He presented Clear Channel with copies of the SMG reports (4) documenting those efforts. These reports can be found at www.sacmediagroup.wordpress.com.
“STATEMENT & SUGGESTIONS” MADE TO CLEAR CHANNEL
Sue Wilson of MAC overviewed our ‘Statement & Suggestions’ document (Attachment A) generally outlining the complaints we have with the one-sided nature of Clear Channel’s political talk shows in Sacramento. An excerpt from that document, which captures the crux of our complaint, appears below.
“Currently, Clear Channel's KFBK, in its key Monday-through-Friday timeslots, airs 50 hours of political talk radio which supports the "conservative" point of view. The simulcast of KFBK on 92.5 FM means another of our limited local frequencies is airing 50 hours every week of conservative political opinion on talk radio.) In addition, Clear Channel's KSTE airs an additional 90 hours of political talk, again reflecting only the "conservative" point of view.
This means that stations licensed to Clear Channel, the market leader in Sacramento and the largest radio corporation in the United States, are airing 190 hours of pro-conservative political views in the community of Sacramento, without airing any alternative political viewpoint. This gross imbalance is damaging to our democracy, and needs to be corrected in the interest of serving the entire public interest.”
Our document had been made available to CCS prior to the meeting and contained the suggestions and questions we wanted to discuss with them. During our meeting, we offered that CCS could later provide written responses to our suggestions, for inclusion in this Report. They later declined our offer.
Our “Statements & Suggestions” are outlined below, with a brief summary of the discussion that took place.
Would Clear Channel be willing to:
1.) - rebalance its current 190 to 0 ratio (hours of "conservative" political talk
radio to hours of “alternative” political talk) to 95 to 95? Perhaps program KFBK-FM
92.5 with alternative political talk shows that skew to Clear Channel's coveted younger
CCS disputed these numbers, and challenged our “190 to 0” assessment, saying it was more like 50 hrs of conservative talk. They stated that they really want to create more balance, and that they had sought this with Bruce Maiman, who had an evening talk program for over 2 years, but it didn’t survive (i.e. didn’t get ratings).
We noted that CCS’s recent conversion of their FM station (KGBY 92.5) to “talk” format and simply simulcasting the same old KFBK-AM programming did not seem to make business sense, since FM audiences are typically a younger demographic, and KFBK’s current talk shows (e.g., Rush Limbaugh, Tom Sullivan) have an older, largely male audience. We suggested that their FM station would be an excellent opportunity to offer “new blood” talk shows that would appeal to a younger demographic.
CCS questioned why KSAC, a short lived “Air America” station, couldn’t make it with “progressive” programming. Sue countered with facts about the KSAC’s relatively low power (1000W), lack of capital and weak advertising sales structure, and noted that the station’s ratings were actually growing when it went finally off the air.
The fact remains that CCS’s programming exclusively supports conservative politics.
We questioned whether in an election year CCS management was comfortable with airing 9 hours / day (prime time) of one-sided political talk with no alternative viewpoint. They said they were.
2.) - add local alternative political talk programming? Have at least at least 50%
local alternative political talk shows on KFBK and on KSTE, which currently has
only limited local programming? Perhaps have a longer local program on KFBK
co-hosted by John McGinness and someone of an opposing viewpoint? Perhaps
dedicate KGBY-FM to locally focused programs?
CCS said they'd been trying to find suitable progressive programming, but were unable to find any. Our suggestions of highly rated talkers like Ed Schultz, Thom Hartmann and Stephanie Miller were quickly dismissed.
They said that the diversity on their stations comes from two local talk shows -
Armstrong and Getty and John McGinness - who allow opposing viewpoints
on the air. We responded that these shows also have a conservative lean and that the host always has the most control over what the listener hears. So a few “opposition” callers allowed on the air are no match for a line up of solidly conservative hosts.
We also pressed them on their lack of local talk shows. They agreed that John McGinness was their only local weekday program, and he’s only on air 1 hour /day. We
suggested his time be expanded, but with guests, or using co-hosts on a rotating basis, in the interest of providing alternative viewpoints.
We also pointed out that, in the upcoming Presidential election, there would be
9 primetime hours / day - on each of their 3 talk stations (KFBK (AM & FM) and KSTE) - of talk programming effectively promoting the Republican candidates and issues, with zero hours – or minutes – of promotion of alternative candidates and viewpoint. CCS
management said they were fine with that, and defended their position saying they were very good at conservative radio, why would they change? They are clearly happy with their programming and do not care that it is politically one-sided and is not serving the broader public interest and needs of our democratic society.
They also disputed our claim that about 50 million people nationwide listen to talk radio, saying it was more like 20 million. Our statistic comes from the annual report, “Arbitron Radio Today” (2009).
3.) - limit talk programs to 2 hours each to free up time for offering a more
diverse programming lineup?
We discussed our suggestion of reducing talk shows from 3 hrs to 2 hrs to make room for additional programs that would offer alternative viewpoint. They said that might be possible with some programs, but contractual issues are involved. They said that the Sean Hannity show has occasionally been pre-empted by other special local programs, but that Hannity, Savage, and Limbaugh are “here to stay”. We suggested shortening Limbaugh’s and Sullivan’s programs to create a 2-hr window for new “alternative viewpoint” programming. They did not appear open to this.
They said their priority is ratings, and that their declining ratings (KFBK's ratings are roughly half what they were a few months ago) are due to the advent of Arbitron using “People Meters” for determining ratings.
4.) - include more "educational" talk shows that air multiple viewpoints on issues?
They may do some of this as special programming closer to election time.
5.) - during this election year, host political debates of candidates running for
Congressional, state legislative and local seats?
They said that they plan on doing this, possibly preempting evening talk programs with debates hosted by local commentators.
6.) - clearly delineate which programs are "news" and which are "talk" / opinion?
They would consider this.
7.) - offer fact-checking of statements made by talk radio hosts?
CCS management said they may be open to airing a daily fact-checking segment, possibly from Politifact or another watchdog group
8.) - offer fact-checking of third-party campaign ads?
CCS welcomed us to fact-check ads so they could remove any false ads.
They rejected the notion that once an ad was aired, it was too late to take it out of
peoples' memories. They said they did not have the resources to fact-check ads
before they aired.
9.) - communicate with “citizens’ feedback groups” to truly assess the interests of
the community of Sacramento?
CCS said they already have a Community Advisory Board that meets four
times a year, made up mostly of non-profits who obtain help from CCS for public
service announcements for their cause, like fundraising for the children's home.
They invited SMG to participate in this group. He also said that the California Association of Broadcasters (Stan Statham) actually does “community ascertainments”, which the FCC no longer requires a station to do. Since the meeting, we have received an invitation to participate in their Community Advisory Board.
As mentioned above, CCS declined our request for their written response to our ‘Statement & Suggestions’ for inclusion in this report.
As a result of our meeting with Clear Channel Sacramento, the Sacramento Media Group and Media Action Center offer the following recommendations for how Clear Channel could better fulfill their FCC license obligation to “serve the public interest”:
- Give alternative (non-conservative) talk programs equal time within their programming line-up.
- Air local talk programs with local hosts to provide a better balance with nationally syndicated talk programs. Perhaps expand their only current local talk show (John McGinnis) to 2 hours and include a co-host for alternative viewpoint.
- Establish a 2-hour maximum length for any talk show, thereby freeing up time for new alternative talk programs.
- Include talk shows that involve guests and on-air discussion with alternative viewpoints
- Around election time, schedule on-air group discussion /debates of issues.
- Make a better effort to clearly delineate which programs are “News” and which are “Talk / Opinion”.
- Provide fact-checking for statements made by talk show hosts and possibly air findings as a frequent segment in their news programming
- Do fact-checking of third-party political ads prior to airing the ads.
- Make a better effort to obtain community feedback on the interests and needs of the listeners, and use this input to create appropriate responsive programming.
A permanent ‘citizens’ advisory group’ would facilitate this.
Radio stations licensed to use the publicly owned airwaves have an obligation to serve “the public interest”, not just the interest of certain political factions, or the interest of profit motivated owners. We feel that direct meetings of citizens with the management of radio stations are a worthwhile means for community groups to provide feedback on a station’s performance, and also to hear the station management’s point of view from the business perspective. We hope this type of face-to-face communication can help establish programming line-ups that offers talk shows with various political viewpoints and objective information so critical to a democratic society.
It's also important to note that stations that refuse to air a balanced program line-up in response to listener demographics and feedback are in fact imposing a form of corporate or "private censorship" by depriving the public of objective information. In Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC, the United States Supreme Court wrote: “The First Amendment does not protect private censorship by broadcasters who are licensed by the Government to use a scarce resource, which is denied to others.” The Court also answered the oft-repeated (on the air and now by the FCC) claim that any attempt to balance conservative views with any other political views violates the First Amendment. The Court again ruled on the side of the community, saying: "…the First Amendment is relevant to broadcasting, but it is the right of the viewer and listener, not the broadcaster, which is paramount."
We agree that whoever is on a radio station microphone has the right to say what they wish, outside of inciting violence. But in effect, broadcasters who are willfully putting out a one-sided political message are stamping on the First Amendment rights of everyone else in the community, as they control who has access to the microphones, they are committing "private censorship." This is illegal, and we rely on the FCC to enforce the law, and listeners to demand better.