A Deal With the Devil?

I woke up sick on this rare, rainy morning in southern California and read something that made me think I was going to suffer even more long-term indigestion if not additional immediate nausea.  From the Twitter feed of the RadoInsight came this little gem of a news item.

14 College Stations join IHeartRadio streaming roster

For those that do not fully understand what this means, IHeartRadio is the mobile device app put out by Clear Channel, the company that many like me believe is ruining radio in North America.

Now, let me step back here and look at the potential good that could come out of this especially since @radioinsight linked to a story at MarketWatch with quotes from Clear Channel stating the 14 stations added now are only the beginning of bringing college radio to IHeartRadio.  As is well documented in some of my previous posts plus even more so in other places on the Web, college radio is in big trouble.  Some very well-known institutions have sold off their licenses, more are considering doing the same, and some colleges have seen such a drop in interest that they have simply just handed their license back to the FCC.  Getting such outlets on IHeartRadio could possibly usher in a renaissance of college radio as they would get much more attention and donations especially since mobile apps appeal to a younger but generally more affluent demographic.

However, knowing reality and what has already happened to college radio in my home area of Los Angeles where their close proximity to the major record companies has corrupted many of the the stations’ true independence, I worry.  First of all, dealing with Clear Channel is dealing with the very entity that is killing off locally-focused, wide-playlist radio all over the United States along with thousands of jobs which brings up some interesting morality questions to say the least.

Second and perhaps most importantly, it now gives Clear Channel “live or die” power over these stations.  It is certainly solely up to Clear Channel as to whether or not a college station remains available on IHeartRadio.  Let’s say that the quality of a college station dips for a semester (as will happen as its disk jockeys come and go).  Perhaps even more threatening, what if a host takes issue on the air against something Clear Channel supports or even the company itself?  The pressure Clear Channel could bring to change a format or individual host in the face of a threat to remove the station from IHeartRadio would be immense in this era of shrinking college budgets which shows no end in sight as conservative political pressure will continue well after the economy finally but inevitably improves.  Being dropped from IHeartRadio could be the excuse any money-hungry college dean needs to sell off his school’s license to be another NPR drone or, worse yet, another frequency churning out the religious K-LOVE feed.

At this early stage, I am not sure what to think about this personally or how I will let it affect what is linked on my Radio page.  In the first batch of 14 college stations being added to IHeartRadio, only KGRG-FM, the groundbreaking “alternative” station that serves the Seattle area, would be in my cross-hairs for removal.

Then again, would it be correct of me to blame KGRG-FM for joining forces with Clear Channel?  After all, who made the decision?  The students?  The program director who might also be a student?  The professors that oversee the program?  The administration?  The Board of Directors?  In any of those cases, is that any different than the few other mega-corporate-owned stations I leave on my list as I do believe they are still worthy?

At this point, I will stand pat with my list but keep a close eye on the situation.  After all, it would probably take some time before Clear Channel would start throwing its weight around and there’s a lot of great programming on these college stations that will be added to IHeartRadio.  Still, I cannot help but listen to my inner Peter Parker and feel my spider-sense tingling that this means big trouble down the road.

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