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Clearing the Channels

Denver's radio shakeup may leave some big names without a home.

The Alice concept, meanwhile, could wind up in Clear Channel's pocket. Numerous sources report that the company is interested in buying the format despite the hit it took in the fall '99 ratings book (it tumbled from a 5.8 mark among listeners twelve and over to a 4.2). To make room for Alice, these folks say, Clear Channel could insert it at the 106.7 frequency currently occupied by struggling hard-rocker KBPI, shift KBPI to the 93.3 space home to alterna-rocker KTCL, and push KTCL back to Fort Collins, whence it sprang many years ago. (Some observers feel that Clear Channel's lite-jazz station, K-High, could be disappeared in favor of Alice, but that's doubtful; even though it doesn't fit in with what KTCL program director Mike O'Connor calls Clear Channel's "rock and talk" focus in Denver, it costs little to run and is quite profitable.)

To add more credence to the Alice/Clear Channel pairing, onlookers note that AMFM -- which, as you might recall, merged with Clear Channel -- already owns the Internet domain name www.Alice1067.com. The explanation for that likely has to do with the existence of a Detroit station that uses the Alice handle and broadcasts at 106.7 FM; because its Web site is www.TheNewAlice1067.com, the other name was probably procured for use once the station is no longer "new." But the two domain names would certainly give Clear Channel some options, wouldn't they?

There's no logical survival scenario for the Peak. Hispanic Broadcasting hadn't responded to repeated calls for comment by press time, but of its 45 U.S. stations, not a single one broadcasts in a language other than Spanish. This sets up a high-stakes battle for Spanish-language listeners in Denver, pitting Hispanic against California's EXCL, owner of KJMN-FM/92.1 and KMXA-AM/1090. It also leaves Peak staffers such as Rover MacDaniels up a creek. By the morning of March 6, MacDaniels had already updated his Web site, www.roverradio.com, with a new item: "Hey, Rover's Looking For a Job!"

MacDaniels doesn't have anything to worry about. His Arbitron triumph in the fall book, which saw his ratings for male listeners 18-34 climb from 4.7 points to 8.9, is a nifty calling card that's seized the attention of at least four stations outside Denver. But that doesn't mean he'll enjoy leaving. "I love Denver," he says, "and for a while, when CBS was trying to buy the station, it looked like I might be able to stay. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that with Howard Stern beating Lewis & Floorwax [the Fox morning team] and us neck and neck with KBPI, they didn't want to sell to a real competitor.

"The people of Denver really embraced the station," he adds, "so I'm a little disappointed. But with the big corporate behemoths that run radio anymore, what else can you expect?"


Clear Channel has been making news on other fronts as well; last week it announced that it was merging with New York's SFX Entertainment, owner of Bill Graham Presents/Chuck Morris Presents (BGP/CMP), a major player in Denver concert promotion. Considering the obvious potential for anti-competitive abuses, the pact is sure to catch the Justice Department's eye. Would Clear Channel restrict the access of other promoters to its airwaves to protect SFX's operation? Might SFX have an unfair advantage over its competitors because of its guaranteed access to major info conduits? No one can say for certain, but neither prospect can be dismissed out of hand.

Right now, though, Clear Channel clearly has a stranglehold on high-profile Denver radio stations -- so much so that until Infinity hits town, there are few executives from rival companies to even ask about the impact of the SFX purchase. North Carolina's Jefferson-Pilot Communications, which owns C&W-king KYGO and R&B-oriented KS-107.5, has the country and hip-hop markets sewn up, and will be largely unaffected by the Clear Channel-SFX marriage. That leaves just one other significant player -- Chicago's Tribune Broadcasting, whose holdings include classic-rocker the Hawk, adult contemporary KOSI and nostalgic KEZW -- outside Clear Channel's circle of influence. Yowza.

David Juris, vice president of Denver Tribune Radio, doesn't see Clear Channel's move as a reason to hit the panic button. He's worked with BGP/CMP often and expects that relationship to continue. "SFX will still need radio stations outside the Clear Channel group to help sell tickets to shows," Juris argues, "and I don't think it would make a lot of sense for them to exclude us or other stations outside the group." When asked if the Hawk, especially, will have difficulty lining up exclusive concerts, as it's done in the past with acts such as Boston, Juris underlines Tribune's attributes: "We benefit by being relatively independent. We're not threatening to record companies and promoters, and we're not looking to leverage or control the marketplace, which is something they're very concerned about."

Perhaps they should be. Music-biz insiders in Denver have long claimed that Clear Channel stations (especially when they were owned by Jacor Communications, a Kentucky firm subsequently swallowed by Clear Channel) threatened acts that chose to hook up with other stations in the market with airplay boycotts. Some area promoters have also whispered that the company made advertising difficult, particularly during the period when Jacor was putting a major push behind its concert division, Jacor Concerts.

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