Minority Radio Seeks TARP Funds

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moneyPierre Sutton, the head of Inner City Broadcasting Corp, assumed his place in the pulpit of the NY Daily News recently to state his case for requesting TARP funds to assist minority broadcasters, radio in particular.

His opening salvo states that many low income and minority households have been “stranded” by the digital TV transition. I can certainly see it, especially now with the economy being in its current state of chaos. If you’re having trouble making the rent, then a DTV converter is probably out of the question, a situation more and more Americans find themselves in each day. (I’m not sure which program it was, but I overheard a snippet on NPR this morning saying the unemployment rate was verging on 10%.)

Sutton waxes eloquent on why minority broadcasters should receive assistance when every business out there is already hurting:

Because these radio stations – which serve a vital and underappreciated role – have been suffering economic body blow after body blow in the current crisis.

First, banks and other lenders are becoming de facto owners of the nation’s airwaves, driving out diversity of all kinds.

Second, Arbitron, whose ratings determine where advertisers buy airtime, has initiated a new method of measuring audiences that we believe dramatically undercounts minority stations’ listeners.

Third, advertisers across the board are cutting back their buys on minority radio. That’s especially true of the troubled auto industry, long a leading advertiser on black stations.

[Read the whole column here.]

He goes on to suggest that the situation can be remedied by dipping into the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the much contested TARP you’ve heard on the news. In an August 5 meeting between minority broadcasters and senior Obama administration officials, Susan Crawford (special assistant to the president for science, technology, and innovation policy) is quoted by John Eggerton at Broadcast and Cable as saying:

“Millions of Americans rely on over-the-air broadcasting, she told a Minority Media & Telecommunications Conference in Washington. “The administration understands the important role traditional terrestrial broadcasting continues to play,” she [Crawford]  said, pointing to the high radio listenership of minorities as one example of that importance.

The administration “seeks to encourage opportunities for minorities and women to own radio and television stations,” she said, adding: “We support the expression of diverse viewpoints as fundamental to the health of our civil society.”

Since everyone is hurting, and the courts don’t like singling out any one ethnic or social group, it is difficult to see how the administration can extend a helping hand to Blacks and Hispanics alone, as much as it might want to and as much as they may need it.Perhaps something can be worked out between broadcasters and lenders, with the administration acting as mediator, to at least keep creditors at bay for a specified period of time – enough time to get the broadcasting business righted. Sort of like troubled mortgage relief.

It will be to everyone’s advantage for that to happen, because if the lenders decide or are forced to take over the stations, they will not know how to run them and their value will plummet further than they already have.

Businesses of all types are going into receivership right now, and those businesses are what provide the advertising revenue for radio stations. Those that are not in financial distress are curtailing their ad spend furthering the down trend. Perhaps the method proposed by RBR or something similar could be the answer to the issue Sutton poses. It might also be only part of the puzzle. Continued embrace of Internet and mobile technologies are an additional way to generate additional revenue, and if approached correctly, create community in the process.
It is a thorny issue, and one that bears watching.
Image: amagill / CC BY 2.0
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