Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Clear Channel Cuts 1850 Jobs

Lost amid the media hoopla of the inauguration and associated celebrations, Clear Channel Communications, the radio and entertainment behemoth, announced they were laying off 1850 people representing 9% of its workforce. Originally it was announced that the majority of the layoffs were in the advertising departments, but now it is increasingly clear that local programmers were among the casualties in large numbers.

In Chicago, Rick O'Dell WNUA's Smooth Jazz personality for over 20 years, was given the axe:
In Tampa Bay, Clear Channel's highest ranking executive, Gabe Hobbs, was let go; despite a stellar career:
There is a full and complete list of radio people let go in Clear Channel's latest purge:

These economic times have crippled many major companies; (Circuit City, the consumer electronics giant, announced Friday that they are shutting their doors, for example). So it is not unexpected that major companies like Clear Channel would be struggling. However, Clear Channel actually is involved in more than radio. From their website, they are involved in TV, and most ominously concert promotion. It is estimated that they control 70% of the music venues of ALL music types in the US. This is from the Clear Channel website:


Completed acquisition of AMFM, Inc. Acquired SFX Entertainment, Inc., one of the world's largest diversified promoters, producers and presenters of live entertainment events. Acquired outdoor assets of Donrey Media, Taxi Tops and Ackerley Media increasing the outdoor division's business and products. Continued expansion in radio and outdoor, bringing the total number of worldwide radio stations owned or programmed to over 1,100 and total outdoor advertising displays to approximately 700,000.

In other words, for most mid level music performers, undoubtedly you have run into a Clear Channel venue. Bottom line, as an artist, if you don't play ball with Clear Channel, chances are many desirable cities will be locked out. Similarly if you own a venue and don't do business with CC, then the majority of mid-major acts will never play your venue.

On the radio side, these new Clear Channel cuts mean that more programming will be done on a national basis. If you thought it was tough getting good jazz programming on the air before, it has now become exponentially worse. Programming locally from a national base effectively eliminates any artist not fortunate enough to be on a major label (the majority of jazz artists).
Those jazz performers signed to a major label are not immune; Clear Channel doesn't promote real jazz, or even danceable jazz (Grover Washington, Marion Meadows, Gerald Albright, Ronnie Laws, Tom Browne, etc) at any of their radio stations. If you listen carefully, their "smooth Jazz" programming is heavily laced with soft rock/pop performers such as Phil Collins, Hall & Oates, Seal etc.
Exposure, or lack thereof, is what is killing jazz now. Radio and Record Company execs are laboring very hard to push other forms of music at the expense of jazz. In my opinion, this is not done purely for financial reasons. Jazz music historically has been at the forefront for real change in this country (John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Lee Morgan) and represented true freedom.

So, as people with a major interest in the future of Jazz music, Clear Channel's troubles should be watched carefully. A conglomerate this large, which controls so much of the music and entertainment market, has the capability to eliminate an entire genre of music, if we let them.

There are many things the music lover can do.
First: reject the move toward national programming by deleting Clear channel and other companies from your listening menu until their policies become more musician friendly (not likely).
Second: Make an effort to learn about the local jazz venues (or whatever music you like) in your local area, and SUPPORT them.
Third: Support those locally based stations that play music from local and national jazz and music acts. This is truly the only way to preserve the diversity of musical choice.

We as a people can dictate what music we receive and are exposed to. It does not have to be decided by Wall Street types who are only concerned with the bottom line no matter the product. If we stop listening to the canned national drivel, they will have to change.

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