Like the talking drum, Black radio has long been a crucial way for Black people to communicate, to hear the latest music, to share passions and outrage about the latest outrageous news stories. But in the last couple of decades, Black radio has been devastated by a host of developments, leaving very few stations standing that still deliver the same kind of scintillating radio that used to keep Black ears glued to the radio. So what happened?
Blame It on Bill Clinton
The 1996 Telecom Act was the beginning of the end for Black-owned and Black-formatted radio stations. Backed by President Clinton, the Telecom Act lifted ownership limits and, under the guise of promoting competition in the communications market, ushered in a new era of corporate ownership and deregulation, allowing huge companies to gobble up stations across the country. As a result, local programming, news, music and voices have been systematically homogenized, and Black radio’s microphone has been muted. While Clinton, at a glitzy signing ceremony, predicted that the act would produce more competition, more diversity of viewpoints, lower prices for consumers and more wealth and jobs for the economy, instead the public got more media concentration, less diversity and higher prices.