The FCC has set a hearing to air concerns over whether radio giant Clear Channel Communications’ purchase of a Charlottesville, Va., station would be anti-competitive and bad for consumers.
Hearing, the first scheduled by the FCC over reassigning a radio station’s license since 1969, is seen as a potential test case for the agency’s scrutiny of the rapidly consolidating radio industry.
“The Communications Act compels us to consider the broad aims of ‘ensuring the existence of an efficient, nationwide radio communications service’ and promoting locally oriented service and diversity in media voices,” said FCC chairman Michael K. Powell.
The FCC said the proposed sale of the Charlottesville station, WUMX, would reduce the number of competitors in that market from three to two, without “sufficient public benefits” that would outweigh the damage done by decreasing competition.
Hearing, which has not yet been scheduled, will give the various interested parties an opportunity to present evidence about the market conditions for radio in Charlottesville, as well as potential benefits to the listening public.
Since station ownership rules were relaxed in 1996, the U.S. radio market has consolidated around a handful of players. Clear Channel, the single biggest radio operator with more than 1,200 stations, has come under scrutiny for its aggressive competitive tactics.
Earlier this month, California Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Mission Hills) said the Justice Dept. and the FCC should look into allegations that Clear Channel secretly exerts control over more stations than it is permitted to oversee by law.
Clear Channel reps were not immediately available for comment.