Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Bigger Fight behind the Sirius/XM Merger

For purposes of full disclosure, I must state that I am not only a subscriber to Sirius Satellite radio and have been for two years, but I also am currently a holder of 100 shares of Sirius stock. While this is not a large amount, I can be reasonably judged to have a vested interest in what I write about. I disclose this because it’s the right thing to do.

With that out of the way, I’d like to join the chorus of those in the world who aren’t legislators and government "regulators" being bought off by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), a front group for the Republican-leaning Clear Channel Communications. There is absolutely no reason in the world why the Sirius/XM merger should not go through. Anyone who says otherwise is on the take and not arguing the point honestly.

The main thread of argument is that the combined company represents a satellite radio monopoly. This is absurd. The combined company would represent slightly more than 5% of the entire audience for all broadcast radio. This number does not include broadband streaming of FM stations, which presumably decreases the percentage for satellite radio if included. Satellite radio currently does not compete against itself. It competes against terrestrial radio, MP3 players such as the IPod and CD’s. With such a small percentage of the total listening audience, the combined company wouldn’t cease to be a fly on most windshields, but rather it would become a rubber fly that could bounce and compete on its own merits.

The NAB is paying legislators, including Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), to put forth the monopoly argument because anyone, like myself, who experiences satellite radio for 15 minutes knows that they never want to listen to terrestrial radio again. If the NAB could be honest and argue that they want to see satellite radio die because it’s cutting into their action, I could be persuaded to listen. Lying doesn’t get my attention.

Yet there is a bigger reason why everyone in this community should be fighting tooth and nail for the Sirius/XM merger to go through.

It is currently being argued by the usual suspects (such as Michael Smerconish) that talk radio leans heavily to the right due to overwhelming demand for that kind of opinion on terrestrial radio. All one needs to do is look at the ratings Al Franken drew in New York City when he was up against Bill O’Reilly to see the right wing argument for the lie that it is. Left wing talk is buried because Clear Channel wants it buried.

Air America Radio, begun with the best of intentions, is still for the most part sequestered in smaller radio markets. I live in Milwaukee and the closest Air America station is in Madison. Unless I turn up my AM radio in my car to volume 43, I’m not hearing Air America Radio.
Enter satellite radio. I can’t speak for XM not being a subscriber, but Sirius channel 146 supplies 24 hours of left wing talk radio. I realize that it is mostly a work in progress, as it’s currently populated by DLC types like Bill Press and Alex Bennett, who spend far too much time taking cheap shots at progressives to stroke their own egos. Lynn Samuels in the afternoon, while funny, is the human vocal equivalent of a horse getting a pitchfork suppository. Having said that, it’s nice to know that the channel is there and thriving. Air America Radio is currently on its third ownership group, tilting at the Clear Channel windmill on terrestrial radio while constantly downgrading the on-air talent and cutting costs.

I’m particularly annoyed with Louise Slaughter on this subject. Anybody with half their hearing notices that progressive voices are being shut out of terrestrial radio. Why empower these people further by killing one of the few national outlets for progressive talk in the country? Is $1,000 really the financial threshold for stabbing your own constituency in the back? The Pharisees would have loved Louise.

John Conyers isn’t immune from criticism on this. The people in his district have contacted him in large numbers telling him the obvious, but he appears to be in Clear Channel’s pocket as well, as he is putting forth the monopoly straw man at every opportunity. Decades of independence and fighting for progressives shot to hell. Way to go, John!

It surprises me little that Democrats constantly vote against their own beliefs. With a wide swath of broadcast media lined up firmly against them, they worry more about appearances and appeasement than standing up for what they believe in. Cowering in fear is the new bravery in the Democratic Party. This thought process gave us the rogue regime we currently have in power in the White House. The only question to be asked, as we have asked it with net neutrality, the Iraq War, telecom immunity, the Justice Department scandal and other scandals too numerous to count is "With the president at a 19% approval rating, why cave"?

If you insist on shutting down one of the few outlets to get your side heard for the convenience of a little money, why not just sever your own vocal chords and get it over with? Think of the windfall!

One last point. Sirius isn’t completely immune from criticism. Sirius 146 is called Sirius Left. The right wing equivalent (I don’t know the station number for obvious reasons) is called Sirius Patriot. I happily call bullshit on that, but at least Sirius Left is in existence. It should stay that way. It has now been over a year since the merger proposal was put forth. Sirius and XM have expanded their own deadline for the merger to go through thanks to the NAB’s money gumming up the wheels of the decision making. Enough already!

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