Clear Channel Communications, founded by Lowry Mays and Red McCombs, is the largest radio conglomerate in the United States. Owning 850 stations, Clear Channel earned over $6 billion in revenue (2007). After purchasing its first radio station in 1972, Clear Channel slowly bought into multiple markets. The beginning of their radio domination didn’t begin, however, until the Radio Communications Act of 1996 passed, deregulating media ownership and allowing companies to own multiple outlets in any given market. This prompted a buying spree on Clear Channel’s part, purchasing 70 media companies, in addition to individual stations. After investing over $30 billion in acquisitions, the once small radio owner became an media powerhouse, owning several stations in multiple markets.
Clear Channel’s rapid growth has led to criticisms and accusations of saturation, with some markets having as many as seven Clear Channel owned radio stations. Having control of so many stations can lead to abuse of power, which many accuse of Clear Channel of doing. After Sept 11, a list of songs handed down by corporate were deemed inappropriate and therefore not to be played on their stations. This list included any songs making any references to images one could associate with the attack, as well as banning entire discographies from bands deemed un-patriotic, such as Rage Against the Machine.
As media moves more and more towards the internet, Clear Channel has assured it has not been left behind in the transition. Their stations allow live streaming though their respective website, giving listeners the option to listen to their favorite station, regardless of geography. They also own iHeartRadio, a mobile application that gives listeners the option to listen to various stations on their smart devices; most Clear Channel Stations are featured on the app.
Even with all its criticisms, Clear Channel’s absolute power over the radio industry grants them great influence over their listeners, and, whether through radio or emerging technologies, has a large presence in media entertainment.