Taking on the Empire

A local lawsuit against the world's largest radio/concert firm threatens to expose the dark side of the entertainment business.

• A Peak-sponsored concert at the Fillmore Auditorium (now owned by Clear Channel as part of its purchase of SFX) was disrupted when hundreds of pounds of raw fish were deposited in an area where bands load equipment.

• On a number of occasions, agents, managers or band representatives who've scheduled dates presented by non-Clear Channel stations in Denver have received bogus faxes detailing unauthorized promotions intended to insult or confuse the artists.

• The logo on the side of a Peak van was splashed with chemicals, destroying it and necessitating an expenditure of hundreds of dollars to get it fixed. On another occasion, Peak personnel at an event where several local stations had erected tents for promotional purposes came upon two youths as they were attempting to set fire to a recreational vehicle owned by the station. The youths escaped to a Clear Channel station's tent.

Chris Swank, Doug Kauffman and Jesse Morreale of Nobody in Particular Presents are standing up to Clear Channel.
John Johnston
Chris Swank, Doug Kauffman and Jesse Morreale of Nobody in Particular Presents are standing up to Clear Channel.
Clear Channel's FleetBoston Pavilion is the model for a planned Denver venue whose tent was previously used at Boston's Harborlights Pavilion.
Clear Channel's FleetBoston Pavilion is the model for a planned Denver venue whose tent was previously used at Boston's Harborlights Pavilion.

Flames also figure in a previously unreported tale starring Stephen Meade, aka Willie B., morning-show host for KBPI. Meade found himself in the media glare after two highly publicized incidents: He was convicted last year of animal cruelty in relation to a 1999 on-air routine involving the dropping of a chicken from an upper floor at Clear Channel's headquarters, in the Denver Tech Center, and he was one of the parties accused of damaging private property near Nederland via a September 2000 gathering of off-road-vehicle enthusiasts labeled "Mudfest." But he received no ink for a physical attack on Rover MacDaniels, a former DJ at the Peak.

Three sources say that in late 1999, MacDaniels was sitting in an Old Chicago restaurant in downtown Denver when Meade came up behind him and began pummeling him. Police broke it up, but this incident, combined with other examples of harassment by Meade, such as threatening phone calls and at least one highly provocative appearance at the Peak's downtown Denver headquarters, led to a restraining order against the DJ that required him to stay at least a hundred yards away from MacDaniels and his producer, Erik "Squat" O'Connor, for the next year. Meade did so, but at a Limp Bizkit concert where both stations had a promotional presence, he heckled MacDaniels through a bullhorn and had an assistant purchase numerous Peak T-shirts that he then doused with gasoline and lit ablaze.

MacDaniels, who now lives in Los Angeles, would not discuss the incident, and beyond confirming the basic facts enumerated above, neither would Meade, who wasn't disciplined in any way by Clear Channel. But that's not surprising, considering that Meade's immediate supervisor, KBPI program director Bob Richards, was himself served with a restraining order in November 1995 for his role in a dirty deed aimed at a radio rival, Bryan Schock, program director for the now-defunct 92X. KBPI employees parked the station's van in front of Schock's house and placed a frozen turkey on the lawn beside a sign that read: "Unlike this bird, your goose is cooked. This will be your last Thanksgiving in Colorado."

At some companies, a restraining order under these circumstances might jeopardize a career. At Clear Channel, it means job security.

When Clear Channel bought SFX last year for $4.4 billion, executives talked about "synergy" -- the ability to use radio stations owned by the company to relentlessly promote its own concerts. "By partnering up with SFX, we're able to bring to bear for SFX some very key ingredients of the concert business," Don Howe said, in June. "Which is the research of what artists will do well here and what records sell well here. Those are all things that SFX will benefit from that our competitors will not -- and the benefits flow back to the stations as well."

Similar advantages accrue from radio-station-sponsored multi-act festivals of the sort that have become increasingly familiar throughout the industry over the past decade.

Not that musicians like them much. "The artist can lose two or even three times on these deals," allows Frank Riley of High Road, a California agency that represents artists such as Wilco, Lucinda Williams and Denver's 16 Horsepower. "Many of our artists make their money on live performances, not CD sales. So they have to fly to the city where the festival is, which may make them lose money on a date they could have been headlining, and then they have to fly back, which may make them lose another date -- and on top of that, they may lose a date they would normally have played in that city, and that would have made them a lot more income, because they've already played there on the tour. That's why artists hate them."

In contrast, radio stations adore such festivals. "They call it NTR -- non-traditional revenue," says a source. "A program director forces a band to play for nothing, because the show is supposedly for charity, and slaps a $35 price tag on the ticket. Then he gives the charity $10,000 and pockets half a million. It's out of control."

Jacor certainly wasn't the only radio conglomerate to recognize the profit potential of station-sponsored shows, but it was the first to formalize the arrangement and to attempt to expand it -- and the place it happened was Denver.

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