“Save KLSD:” The Corporate Consolidation of America’s Airwaves

San Diego’s last progressive talk radio station a victim of the loosening of media ownership laws

Talk radio has become big business in the last decade and a half, particularly conservative talk radio, which has seen an explosion in popularity and influence.  Progressive talk radio?  Not so much.

San Diegans have become accustomed to the conservative stylings of locally owned 760 KFMB and the not so locally owned KOGO 600.  When you’re looking for news in this city, there are no other choices.  You’re stuck with the nonsensical, anti-government, sensationalist, and sometimes maniacal ramblings of Rush Limbaugh and Roger Hedgecock.  But that wasn’t always the case.  For a brief while, San Diego did have a progressive talk radio station to call its own:  1360 KLSD (for “Liberal San Diego,” as we are informed by radio and television news personality Bree Walker).

KLSD at one point was the home of San Diego personalities like Stacy Taylor and Jon Elliott.  It was also San Diego’s home to Air America Radio, the national syndication outfit that brought voices such as Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, Randi Rhodes, and Al Franken, now a United States Senator from Minnesota, to the airwaves.

And the station, despite some limitations, and despite being hampered by a weak signal that didn’t reach the entirety of San Diego County, was doing quite well and continued to grow.  “I beat Hannity” in San Diego, said Ed Schultz, now a host on MSNBC in addition to his daily radio show.

According to Cliff Albert, the KLSD program manager in 2007, KLSD ranked number one in San Diego in time spent listening—the average amount of time a listener would actually tune in to the station without changing the dial.

“There are two things that make up ratings.  How long do they listen to you, and number of people,” said Randi Rhodes, the nationally syndicated progressive host.  “The time spent listening, I was number one in San Diego.  Advertisers look at time spent listening—TSL it’s called—because they want to see if I can hold the audience through the commercial so that their commercial gets heard by my audience.”

“The other part of ratings,” she continued, “is the number of people.  If you can put together 100,000 people, which is what we had, and combine it with four or five hours a week of listening, that is the ballgame.”

Despite its apparent success and continued growth, in August 2007 rumors began to surface that San Diego’s only progressive talk radio station was going to be taken off the air.  KLSD was about to go through a format change and become another all-sports talk radio station.

“Save KLSD,” a documentary five years in the making by former TV news producer and marketing executive Jennifer Douglas and Jon Monday, the current vice president of the Fallbrook Democratic Club, uses the demise of progressive talk radio in San Diego as a launching point for discussion of a much larger problem.  It uses the death of KLSD to make a broader point about the results of corporate media consolidation nationwide.

The documentary begins with a Benjamin Franklin quote:  “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freedom of speech.”  It is the contention of the movie’s producers that corporate media consolidation is, in fact, having that very effect that Benjamin Franklin warned about.

According to the documentary, in 1983 there were more than 50 corporations who were major players in the American media landscape.  FCC rules prevented companies from owning more than four radio stations in any given market and more than 40 stations nationwide.  Those rules have been obliterated.

Today there are five major corporations controlling our airwaves, the largest of which is Clear Channel Communications, Inc.  Today, FCC rules allow for a single company to own eight stations in any given market, with no limitations on nationwide ownership.  As of the year 2000, Clear Channel owned nearly 1,200 stations nationally.  That figure has shrunk to 850 different radio stations, including seven here in San Diego, including XTRA Sports 1360 (KLSD’s current all sports format).

Clear Channel is also the owner of KOGO, the ultra conservative San Diego talk radio station, the local home of Rush Limbaugh, and until recently the home of the disgraced ex-mayor of San Diego, Roger Hedgecock.  It was Clear Channel that made the decision in 2007 to make the format change at KLSD from progressive talk to all sports talk, despite the growth, success, and popularity of the station.

“The story is not that (KLSD) failed,” said Randi Rhodes.  “The story is that we succeeded against all odds on low power signals, which is all we had access to.”

KLSD, though, is typical of what has happened in dozens of other markets across America.  Ninety-one percent of all of the news talk radio stations in the country are conservative, with only nine percent progressive.  And in San Diego, KLSD was competing directly with the more established Clear Channel property, KOGO.  KLSD, the documentary asserts, was cutting into the profit margin of Clear Channel’s local conservative darling, and they just couldn’t allow that to happen.

Based in Texas, Clear Channel was founded by Lowry Mays, a hardcore Republican supporter and a major backer of George W. Bush.  The company was taken private in 2008 by Bain Capital, whose founder and former CEO is none other than current Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

“We’re not in the business of providing news and information,” Mays told CNNMoney Magazine.  “We’re not in the business of providing well researched music.  We’re simply in the business of selling our customers products.”  According to “Save KLSD,” It was this mentality that was used to justify the format change, as it was the contention of the KLSD sales staff that they just couldn’t sell enough advertising to keep the station afloat.  It was the clear implication that progressives don’t buy products and services, but conservatives do.

“Save KLSD” is a fascinating and important look at the changes in the national media landscape that has resulted in the massive misinformation campaigns conducted by conservative media and made possible only by the corporate consolidation of our media nationwide.  Using KLSD as the example, the documentary examines the larger issue of what our media outlets have become because of corporate consolidation, and perhaps more importantly the resulting demise of local news and information.

“Save KLSD” is well worth seeing.  The next screening is scheduled for this Thursday, July 5th, at 7pm at the Fallbrook Democratic Club at 990 E. Mission Rd. in Fallbrook.  The next San Diego screening will be Tuesday August 14th at 6pm at 98 Bottles in Downtown San Diego.  The full length DVD can also be purchased for $25 at SaveKLSD.com.  See this link for complete screening schedules and information.

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