FCC Public Hearing Media mosh pit 

FCC hearing brings'em out in droves

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Two hours into its public hearing on local control of the radio and TV airwaves, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell declared that the microphone was open for public comment, "since it seems to be open anyway."

Powell responded to a boisterous crowd of 500 who had arrived as early as 4 a.m. to stand outside City Council Chambers to try to speak before the commission and panelists on the subject of media ownership and localism.

Council Chambers was the scene of a stampede as people leapt to their feet to form a mosh pit before the two microphones the FCC had set up to hear opinions on recent relaxation of rules concerning media ownership.

Former District 1 Councilwoman Maria Berriozábal told the story of how community activists collected 100,000 signatures in three months to protest the City Council's vote to allow construction of PGA Village over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. She lamented the local media's lack of support for the citizens' opposition to the PGA project.

"The story should have been told," Berriozabal told the five-member commission, which is charged with safeguarding the public's ownership of broadcasting's broadband - a majority of which is farmed out to corporate interests.

"The airwaves should have shared this story of democracy in action. It did not. Local leaders ignored us, and we did not have the media's help," Berriozabal explained.

Ray Benson, lead guitarist and vocalist for Austin-based Asleep at the Wheel, a band that modernized Western Swing in the 1970s, seemed to enjoy the spectacle from his perch on the council dais.

Benson, one of 12 panelists, compared modern radio broadcasting to strip malls that have "homogenized small towns in the United States.

"Today, regional musicians are not heard. With few exceptions, music in Texas is the same as in Cleveland, Ohio." He said Tejano and conjunto music would not have enjoyed its 1990s popularity if radio stations that played that genre were not independently owned. "Without independent stations, this music would not have developed."

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Benson urged FCC commissioners to make radio locally accessible and beneficial to radio stations and to local musicians.

"The Berlin Wall was torn down by music and blue jeans," he said.

East Side community leader T.C. Calvert bashed Clear Channel Communications as he related the story of a flood along Salado Creek in 2002, when homes were washed away. "Salado Creek had a 100-year flood. People were scrambling, Our police and fire department (personnel) put their lives on line, and KSJL radio had hits and oldies while the floodwaters were coming."

Calvert urged the FCC and "Brother Powell" "to let their light shine," and put broadcasting back into local control.

Lydia Camarillo, vice president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, pointed out that the Latino community in San Antonio and the nation is "participating in the American democracy process like "never before ... but in spite of the record growth of the Latino electorate, mainstream America and Latino communities have not yet understood the impressive gains made by Latinos politically for many reasons - one being that the newsrooms of America are not telling the complete story. Or, if our stories are being told, they are not being told by Latinos, and even more rarely are they reported by Latinos."

Clear Channel Marketing Manager Tom Glade touted his company's efforts to serve the local community, and suggested a solution to people who do not care to hear a Los Angeles DJ sharing weather news in San Antonio.

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"Here on the ground, the concept of localism isn't anywhere near as clear as it may appear from 20,000 feet. In my view, the government's increased reliance on market forces to drive content now requires us to better identify what people want, meet those desires, and adapt to local changes more quickly than ever before."

He also said, and local conglomerate-owned media outlets seized upon it, that if radio patrons do not like homogenized programming that ignores community interests, there's always the "radio scan button."

"That one button has more power than most people know," he added.

Glade made a good point. That radio scan button could lead to a radio station that better serves the public interest. For instance, the scan button could alight on 89.1 FM, Texas Public Radio, which does have an interest in serving the public need.

But he forgot to mention that other button on the radio - the "off" button - which from 20,000 feet or firmly on the ground, provides a soothing sound of silence.

By Michael Cary

More by Michael Cary



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