Can Deregulation Fix What’s Wrong with US Radio? That’s the Hope


, Contributor,
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testifying before the House Appropriations Committee. (Photo by Alex Edelman/Getty Images)


Mention 1996 to old radio hands and you’ll likely get a wince, if not a groan. That was the year that changed radio forever.

It was the year Washington deregulated radio, opening the way for massive consolidation, and by most accounts it was a disaster the industry is still paying dearly for. Radio is hurting. Revenues are down. The two largest groups, iheartMedia and Cumulus, are in bankruptcy, done in by run-amok growth strategies that gutted hundreds of stations and put many thousands out of work.

Now Washington is set on yet a new round of media deregulation, allowing further consolidation.

And that raises an intriguing question. If indeed 1996 was a disaster, can Washington be expected to do any better this time? Can it fix what’s broken about radio?

One might think those old radio hands would have their doubts, but in fact many share a sense that further consolidation might well be the industry’s best hope.

Whether it can revive radio is another issue entirely. But at the least, says Eddie Esserman, a longtime station owner and head of a radio and TV brokerage firm, “It opens the door for a solution.” 

Why deregulation now? Ed Levine, CEO of Galaxy Media, which owns stations in Upstate New York, answers with two words: “Google and Facebook.”

Levine argues that radio needs to be set loose to compete with the two digital giants, which, being unregulated, have an unfair advantage that’s allowed them to sap off radio’s ad dollars.



  1. Instead of beating their chests and complaining about alternative media, why don’t these stations rebroadcast these innovative internet feeds since, apparently, they are threatening the very existence of corporate radio. Imagine. Alternative internet-only broadcasters, many operating on a shoestring, providing more engaging entertainment than the corporate experts. And it’s the alternative internet broadcasters that appear to be winning the battle! So the solution, according to big corporate radio? Give us more, so we can give back less. We’ll make quick profits before driving the remaining over-the-air stations into bankruptcy. As I write this, I am listening to an Internet-only broadcast, on my own schedule, on my computer. They are providing an insightful analysis of the “crisis” in the Middle East. If I turn on my radio, CHED is halfway into a barrage of commercials. FYI, the international broadcasters – without exception – think “our Justin” is a joke! They wonder how Canadians can put someone like that into office!


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