The author is vice-chair of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council.
I do love radio — especially radio that gives back.
That is exactly what iHeartRadio recently did by donating a station in Detroit to the brokerage program established by MMTC. Now, Detroit — which was the largest metropolitan city in the country without a full market Spanish-language station — has one.
This donation follows a string of others, including a package of seven stations donated by Clear Channel, and quickly followed by another large gift from Entercom. I was fortunate to be at the FCC when the original donation occurred. At that time, I praised the Mays family (Clear Channel’s founders) and others who recognized that they could do well and do good at the same time.
Like many other issues, although Congress actually demands in the Communications Act that the FCC “identify and eliminate market entry barriers” and “increase opportunities in the allocation of spectrum-based services for businesses owned by members of minority groups and women,” the reality is that the market itself moved the needle. While others were bemoaning the lack of minority- and female-owned broadcasting entities, MMTC was working hard to encourage large media conglomerates — radio and TV — to spin off stations in order to broaden the diversity of voices and diversity of owners.
It was not government, but rather corporate leaders, MMTC and small business people who made a difference and diversified the ownership of media outlets.
From the first Asian American station in Minneapolis to the first Hispanic stations in Salem, Ore., northern New Jersey and the entire Detroit metropolitan area, MMTC has quietly and methodically helped change the sound of America’s radio stations.
This is not merely about radio stations changing hands. This is about real investments in new communities, with radio that provides much-needed information — be it weather, traffic, music, news or local events — in the language of its listeners. MMTC acts as the broker in many of these investments, accepting the stations and assisting with financial discounts for the purchase, budgeting and other back office needs. In addition, MMTC provides extensive broadcast, financial and ad training for new owners. So this is not merely a generic business opportunity; it is about a diversity of voices by local business people with a passion to be a committed “next-gen,” and in most cases, a first-generation broadcaster.
This is truly a gift that keeps on giving: to the donor in terms of favorable tax treatment, to the new owner who is investing in often new business markets, to local advertisers who want to reach a specific demographic, and of course to “we, the people.”
This is what “in the public interest” means, and we need to encourage more of it. I hope other broadcast owners will consider this program as an honorable way to put underutilized radio assets to good use for all of us.
Deborah Taylor Tate is a former FCC commissioner and special envoy to the International Telecommunication Union for Child Online Protection.
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