Broadcast welfare

I wonder how many Broadcast Engineering readers have lost their jobs because of the economic slump. Are you now unemployed because your radio or TV station laid you off? If not you, then I’ll bet you know someone who’s lost their job because of cutbacks.

Times couldn’t be much worse for broadcasters (and most other businesses). Yet, there continues to be an unending drumbeat to give more “free” money to certain segments of our economy.

First, Wall Street companies were given hundreds of billions of our (that’s you and me) hard-earned money under the TARP program. What did they do with the money? Many of the firms used the bailouts to pay themselves huge bonuses. When were you paid millions for running your company into the ground?

Then government gave more (of our money) to the banks, because they were too big to fail. These banks were then supposed to use that money to loan more to businesses and homeowners. Have you tried to refinance your home? Have you tried to get a small business loan? Is your bank loaning you money? Nope. Many bankers used taxpayer money to buy other banks or simply bolster their bottom lines, which meant the top guys got larger bonuses.

Oh, and let’s not forget the $1 billion given to car dealerships, and in turn the two government-owned auto manufacturers, in the “cash for clunkers” program. The giveaway was so popular it ran out of money in only four days. Eh, no problem says Congress, we’ll just use some TARP (see above) and refill the cookie jar. Add another $2 billion to the taxpayers' tab.

One Wall Street Journal article resulted in writers calling for other cash for purchases programs. Why doesn’t Congress offer $1000 to buy a new and more efficient refrigerator? Or, for our industry, how about giving away $1000 toward every new TV set purchased?

Tongue in cheek, I asked, “Where’s our bailout,” in a December 2008 editorial. No one seemed to object to the government offering up free money to broadcasters. But, of course, that didn’t happen. But, that’s all changed.

Just over a month ago, I received a press release advocating free money only for “minority” radio broadcasters. I put the story in the back of the stack, waiting to see if anything would develop. It has.

A well-connected Washington, D.C.-based PR agency has launched a campaign on behalf of its unnamed client demanding that “Obama, throw a lifeline to black and Hispanic radio.” The campaign is based on an Aug. 5, op-ed from the New York Daily News written by Pierre Sutton, chairman of Inner City Broadcasting Corporation.

The campaign claims that, "Now that the transition to digital television has stranded many low-income Americans, broadcast radio is the last remaining free over-the-air medium for millions of low-income families, including many African-Americans and Latinos. But as the economic crisis leaves wreckage in its wake, minority-owned and oriented radio stations are fast becoming an endangered species, with dire consequences for our diverse democracy.”

Doesn’t that just make you want to cry?

The writer’s failing attempt to connect the “transition to digital television” with radio is so obvious I asked myself why DTV was even mentioned. What does having a digital TV platform have to do with radio?

The writer continues his grossly-misleading diatribe saying, “First, banks and other lenders are becoming the de facto owners of the nation’s airways, 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.” Of course, his reference is to Arbitron’s Portable People Meter (PPM), which has revealed that minority-format stations may actually be less listened to than first believed. Mr. Sutton claims that these radio stations “have been suffering economic body blow after body blow.”

Okay, and other broadcasters haven’t encountered the same economic conditions? What makes him think that only black and Hispanic stations are affected by advertising cutbacks?

The purpose of the writer’s op-ed is to hold out the collective hand and demand more free (taxpayer) government money. The press release claims that “no new laws would have to be passed. The Treasury Department can easily [my emphasis] tap into funds already appropriated under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.”

According to the press release, minority broadcasters met with senior Obama officials to discuss how such a program could be implemented. Three Democrat U.S. House of Representative members were listed as going on record “urging that the federal government help minority-owned radio stations weather this financial storm.”

Why are these guys special? There could be 1200 television stations and maybe 10,000 radio stations that deserve equal consideration for free government money.

It’s a slippery slope when Uncle Sugar begins handing out our money. Suddenly every industry thinks they deserve a handout, and Congress seems way too eager to put their hand in our pocket to fund those demands.

My new motto is, “It’s my money, and I want to keep it. Hands off Washington!”