Last weekend, I started reading Right of the Dial: The Rise of Clear Channel and the Fall of Commercial Radio. By now, most everyone in the United States has felt the cold, clammy hand of Clear Channel, as it has spent the last several years chewing up radio stations and billboards and concert venues, etc, etc, spitting out the flat, dead remains for our enjoyment (yummy...homogenization!!) Author Alec Foege (who also wrote Confusion Is Next: The Sonic Youth Story) does an excellent job chronicling how Clear Channel went from just a small group of arrogant Texas businessmen to a goddamn monolith known to most in the radio and music biz as the "evil empire".
While I'm not the radio wonk Foege admits to being, Right of the Dial is still a fascinating read. It's a classic American story...y'know, business is allowed to mushroom with little to no government intereference, things get out of control and American citizens are left dissatisfied with their options. Early in the book, Foege states that he did not set out to do a hatchet job on Clear Channel...but he inevitably finds through research that it is indeed responsible for destroying American radio. And though this is the sum of his findings, he manages to tell the history of how all this came to pass with remarkable clarity (example: it makes complete sense that the company's founders were not interested in radio, so much as sales).
It goes without saying that the Mays family (the owners of Clear Channel) did not agree to participate (when you're that sketchy, it pays to steer clear of truth-seekers, dig?) But he did get some good first-person accounts from the old-timers who were there for the company's early days.
As the story unfolds, it can be a bit jarring (Clear Channel is as wicked as Howard Stern always claimed). But jarring or not, it's an important book not just for music geeks, but Americans in general. Corporations should not be allowed to get away with this kind of shit.
Oh, and I also learned from Foege's book what a "clear channel" actually is. If you're like me and never knew before, a "clear channel" was a Class One AM radio license allowing a station to be heard nationwide in the evenings. Cool, huh? So, it can be argued that Clear Channel has the clearest channel of them all nowadays.