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Country artists croon sad tune for FCC

Commission gets earful from Nashville musicians

The Federal Communications Commission heard on Monday a sorrowful tune from country-music artists and indie radio-station reps opposed to media consolidation.

At its second public hearing on the hotly contested issue, held in Nashville, FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin and commissioners Deborah Taylor Tate, Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps listened as country legends including George Jones and Porter Wagoner said that more consolidation has translated into fewer and shorter radio playlists.

Independent artists, other witnesses testified, have always brought new, interesting material into the country music canon, but media congloms that own scores of stations are only playing highly commercial and easily marketable music.

“You can drive from Tennessee to Barstow, Calif., and hear the same 20 country songs all the way,” said Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America. “Big radio is bad radio.”

“If media ownership rules back in 1967 were like they are today, the world may never have known a lady named Dolly Parton,” said Wagoner, who introduced Parton to America as a guest on his TV show nearly four decades ago.

“Not only did I have the freedom and control to introduce Dolly as a regular performer, but back then, radio was much friendlier to new recording artists,” he added. “Dolly’s first hit, ‘Jolene,’ became a country hit that crossed into the pop charts. The chance of this happening to an artist in today’s media-consolidated world is slim to none.”

Sharon Kay, general manager of WFSK radio at Fisk U., said that as media congloms expand, independent stations disappear. Those lucky enough to survive struggle to remain viable.

Thesp Dixie Carter sent a letter that was read into the hearing record. She reminded the commission of the importance of local radio, noting that “before Elvis went global, he was played local.”

A largely sympathetic aud frequently applauded points made by witnesses. But the speaker who drew the most raves was commissioner Copps, who, in his opening statement, blasted the FCC for its previous attempt to “hammer through” a loosening of media ownership limits without enough public input. He also charged that the public’s ownership of the airwaves was being undermined by media congloms and that it was time that people got their airwaves back.

Copps drew so much thunderous applause that Martin predicted he would be asked for autographs.

The hearing was the second of six the FCC has planned.