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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Thursday, February 26, 2004


Public airways and that troublesome democracy thing
Jeff Jarvis and James Lileks both adress the recent move by Clear Channel radio to drop Howard Stern after he referred to African-American women in a vulgar way. Jarvis is very, very exercised over this. Lileks is not. I side with Lileks.

Here's the issue at stake here. The wavelengths through which broadcast television and cable are spread through the atmosphere are a very limited commodity. As such, it has been decided that they belong to the public, and anyone who wishes to broadcast on these wavelengths must seek out one of a limited number of licenses. There are arguments against doing this, but few people make them. If we did not, then utter chaos would ensue, as stations would broadcast on as many frequencies as possible, and whoever had the largest radio tower would win. You get a feel for what it would be like for everything--radio and television alike--by paying attention to the wars that can occur on the unregulated edges of the radio spectrum.

Now, as the public owns these airwaves, the public also gets to decide who gets the licenses, and there are conditions put on these licenses--for example, "don't be obscene." After the public outcry over Janet Jackson's Superbowl strip-show, the government determined--probably correctly--that it was the will of the people that there be less of this crap, that some line be drawn. ClearChannel reacted with a new "zero-tolerance" policy. A day later, Stern goes and tests it. ClearChannell follows through on what they said they would do. Most people, as evidenced by the comments to Jarvis' post, appear to think that was a fine thing to do. Jarvis is annoyed by this, and in denial over it. His post is entitled "The death of broadcast," and he makes some predictions.
- Broadcast radio will quickly falter, losing attention to MP3s, satellite, and cellular broadcast. Broadcast radio will die. Consolidation won't kill it. Censorship will.
- Satellite will grow rapidly, getting more consumer revenue and ad revenue.
- Broadcast TV will suffer similar blows.
- Cable and satellite TV will grow.
- The bottom line: Any medium that can be government-regulated will shrink; any medium free of government regulation will grow.

He sees this as a bad thing. He apparently likes broadcast, despite its public-owned qualities, for some reason he never gives. But it seems inevitable that, the government being what it is, technology will eventually find a way to replace broadcast as the standard thing that people watch. But it won't be any time soon, and it won't be because Howard Stern got kicked out.

But Jeff makes a mistake that far too many people on the Internet make if he thinks that satellite radio will replace regular radio within the next 10 years. We've had the Internet for over a decade now, and what has it replaced? Nada. Zilch. Zippo. It has provided competition, certainly, and a new outlet for people such as myself. And in the future, it may well replace another medium, or all of them, even. But even today, the number of people affected by something on ABC news or on nationally syndicated radio dwarfs even the readership of Instapundit by several orders of magnitude. Or take cable TV, which has been around for, what, 30, going on 40 years? It's as close to replacing broadcast as its ever been, but broadcast still has many, many more viewers. Similarly, satellite radio may be the future, but not for quite a while.

So relax, Jeff. The world's not coming to an end. The majority is just exercising its perogative regarding their airwaves. You say, " Yes, they are public airwaves. That means they belong to me, too. I want to listen to Stern. You don't. Fine. Change the channel. We have lots of them." I say, there are more of us than there are of you, and in a democracy, that means I win. You don't like it, change the medium. Go listen to satellite radio or watch cable TV.
Agree, disagree, have more information on the topic? Please, feel free to leave a comment. No profanity!

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