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Buyout Of Progressive Outlet Sparks Action, CD


LOS ANGELES˝A full year after the demise of KREV Minneapolis (Rev 105), the station's ghost continues to haunt the radio industry.
The purchase of Rev, which was summarily converted into a short-lived heavy-metal station last March when Capitol Cities/ABC bought the station from Cargill Communications, touched off a flurry of local and national press.
The Minnesota Daily, Spin magazine, and groups such as the Rev 105 Preservation Revolutionary Council were a few who bemoaned the loss of the progressively programmed, community-minded, commercial modern rock station.
It also brought into more public view the backlash against the 1996 Telecom Act and the notion that its passage has blighted the radio industry by creating an environment where independent broadcasters could no longer compete. The act allowed broadcast companies to own an increased number of stations within each market.
Now, Americans for Radio Diversity (ARD), a Minneapolis-based nonprofit public-action group that arose after Rev folded, is hoping to effect change and carry on the spirit of the station with its first major fund-raising effort.
"Teleconned Vol. 1: We Want The Airwaves," which will be released by Minneapolis-based indie No Alternative Records May 5, features such acts as Soul Coughing, Low, Ani DiFranco, Ben Folds Five, Kristin Hersh, Magnatone, and Dead Hot Workshop. It is the first in a planned series of three compilation discs.
"The mega-media corporations coming in and buying up stations have destroyed radio localism and the community that it used to bring," says ARD president Jeremy Wilker. "Not to mention that it has really made radio bland."
Despite Rev's historically low ratings share, ARD and others involved in the album project believe ABC -- which already owned mainstream rock KQRS and modern rock KEGE at the time of the purchase -- was simply trying to monopolize the market
"I believe that the ease with Rev was one of those 'If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em 'situations," says former Rev 105 PD Kevin Cole, who contributes liner notes to "Teleconned" along with former Rev music director Shawn Stewart. "We represented a problem that wouldn't go away, and we kept the competition from owning the [modern rock] market.
"My problem with the Telecom Act is that it eliminates competition," he adds, "and this was the perfect example of that. When you have a competitive market, everybody is working to improve their stations. And it creates an environment where creativity and quality is more at the forefront than when you have a lack of competition and there are fewer voices that control what music you hear and what ideas get expressed." Cole now programs adventurous modern rock WOXY Cincinnati.
Low guitarist/vocalist Alan Sparhawk concurs. Rev was one of the few commercial stations that supported the band.
"Deregulation was pretty much the last nail in the coffin as far as it goes for those radio stations that were trying to straddle the line of being popular, but parlaying something interesting or different every one out of six songs," says Sparhawk. "Now those stations have had to go to an even more mainstream, broader base. It's also made it very expensive to own and run a station, so who's going to come in? Disney."
ARD's goals are to turn back deregulation and, in the shorter term, lobby Washington to grant licenses to low-wattage programmers currently acting as pirates.
"In most cases, a 100-watt station can serve a community," says Wilker. "But the Federal Communications Commission [FCC], with the support of the National Assn. of Broadcasters, is cracking down on these guys. We think micro-power is at least a partial answer to giving a voice back to these communities."
FCC spokeswoman Rosemary Kimball says a proposal for low-wattage broadcasters is already under consideration, though the possibility that emergency and air-traffic-control signals could he affected is a concern.
"There is a [proposal] before the commission right now looking into the feasibility of one-watt, local neighborhood, niche stations," she says. "So while we certainly are serious about going after pirates now. because of safety concerns, we are interested in looking into whether there is some way we can accommodate the type of broadcaster on these stations to fill in these niche markets."
Wilker, however, balks at the idea that low-watt broadcasters constitute a public threat.
"That's bogus," he says. "If a 100-watt station would interfere with emergency or airline communications, then what the hell are these 100,000-watt-signal stations doing? If you control and compress your station signal, there's no reason it will interfere with anything. This is a scare tactic they use to convince the public that they wouldn't be able to get help in case of an emergency."
On a grass-roots level, ARD also aims to inform consumers about deregulation and its effect on their local airwaves, says No Alternative Records president Kim Randall, who describes herself as a "de facto" member of ARD.
Much of the funds raised will go toward the group's operating costs and the dissemination of newsletters and other materials.
"The first logical step is educating the general public about why radio sucks right now," says Randall. "Talking to people in the industry is preaching to the converted, but most don't know what's going on. The average music buyer knows that it's hard to get what they want out of radio, but they don't know why that is."
According to Randall, the Minneapolis radio scene is bleak despite the presence of noncommercial stations such as University of Minneapolis outlet KUOM-AM (Radio K) and community station KFAI, which still promote playlist diversity. She also applauds some of the staffers at Zone 105 for supporting local talent.
"It's pretty damn corporate," says Randall. "We've got four stations owned by one company, a company that happens to own its own record label. Am I the only one who sees the irony of that?"
Randall says the label hopes to promote "Teleconned: Vol. 1" with a release party featuring acts on the album. Athens, Ga.-based indie promoter Team Clermont has signed on to work the album at commercial specialty-play shows.
Though there's more than a hint of irony in the idea of going for spins at stations that may be group-owned, Randall says "Teleconned" shouldn't be seen as a blanket indictment against the radio industry.
"We're not railing against everyone at commercial radio," she says. "There are still a lot of folks, especially those programming the specialty shows, that listen to their gut, play what they like, and make a difference. Speaking from an indie-label perspective, those people are my only hope."
In spite of arguments to the contrary, those willing to comment for this story on the group owner's side were adamant that consolidation has improved the radio landscape.
John Lassman, PD of Rev replacement modern rock triple-east KZNZ/ KZNR/ KZNT (collectively known as Zone 105), says the ARD is "completely misinformed and misguided." He says Zone 105 "not only in six months has gained a bigger audience share than the former Rev but exposed as much, if not more, new music."
Gabe Hobbs, a regional director of programming for Jacor Broadcasting Corp., agrees that the arguments of such groups are ill-informed.
"Previously, when each individual market station had a separate owner, there was lots of room for duplication," says Hobbs. "You had three companies doing AC, two doing [top 40], and four doing rock. With consolidation where there may be three to five owners in a market like Tampa [Fla.], you have seven different stations with seven different formats. The listener wins, and there's more diversity on radio.
"As to the argument that if you concentrate the media in the hands of the few, the flow of information is too constricted, I don't buy that at all," he adds. "We're not in the business of being pre occupied with an agenda to advance a certain type of music or a political bent; that's just folly. We're here to return profits to our shareholders."
Wilker, however, is unimpressed with that argument.
"[Group owners] keep saying that deregulation has brought more risk-taking, saying, 'Gosh, if [several] stations are owned by each company, we can put something different on each one.' That doesn't explain why you can tune into almost any station and hear Chumbawamba and Jewel."

copyright 1998 Billboard Music Group.