There's an old saying that goes, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
With this being Black History Month, the quote rings especially true in light of a Dec. 18 article written by National Newspaper Publishing Assn. Washington, D.C., correspondent Freddie Allen. The headline: "Blacks Poised to Own Smaller Share of Media Outlets." The disturbing takeaway: That additional consolidation regulations proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will place black media ownership even further out of reach.
Despite African-Americans' growing consumer power and mainstream brand-marketing clout (Beyonce, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj)-one key voice is slowly and systematically being silenced. That African-American communities across the country are losing a vital means of local engagement, while new and established artists, especially in R&B, are losing a key vehicle for exposure.
According to the National Assn. of Black Owned Broadcasters, black ownership has declined precipitously since 1995, when Congress passed legislation repealing the minority tax certificate. Then the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was signed into law, allowing broadcast companies to own an unlimited number of radio stations.
The affect on black radio ownership has been significant. In 1995, according to a docket filed by NABOB, the number of African-American companies owning radio stations--like Inner City Broadcasting, owned and operated by New York's Sutton family, and Radio One, launched by Cathy Hughes--was 146. In 2012, that number dropped to 68.
Now, Inner City is no more. The chain filed for bankruptcy and was bought last year by YMF Media (whose owners include Ron Burkle and Magic Johnson).
With African-Americans comprising 13.6% of the U.S. population, both NABOB data and the FCC's Ownership Data Report come to the same conclusion as NABOB states in its docket: "African-Americans are woefully underrepresented in the ownership of broadcast stations."
Radio remains a vital component in breaking artists. But in this era of radio conglomerates and programming homogenization, only the same few "hits" are recycled repeatedly. And only a small percentage of R&B/hip-hop acts make that pop-crossover cut. So where do equally deserving and diverse new (and in some cases established) R&B/hip-hop acts go for airplay exposure?
Yes, there's still Radio One and other black owners like Greg Davis of Davis Broadcasting (with stations in Atlanta and Columbus, Ga.) and Stevie Wonder (KJLH Los Angeles). But there's a need for more. A situation, which improved, can only help further benefit the music industry's bottom line and that of local communities. African-Americans can't just stay on the sidelines providing content and not also have a stake in distribution.
Organizations like NABOB are still fighting the good fight. But also needed is the return of the FCC as an ally in helping minorities and women become owners, along with support from savvy African-American entrepreneurs.