Playola

Most radio stations pick songs that are good for everyone but aspiring musicians and listeners.

Not that anyone should expect lower ticket prices as a way to lure customers back to theaters and arenas. Indeed, Smith went so far as to deny that Clear Channel's policy of paying astronomical amounts to buy entire tours by big-name performers has driven prices to new and frightening heights, as is almost universally believed by industry observers. "That arithmetic is fundamentally wrong," he argued, stating that "efficiencies" actually keep costs down. Guess those 'N Sync tickets you went into debt to buy were bargains after all.

•The rumored sell-off of the concert branch. Some investors feel that Clear Channel Entertainment grew too fast too quickly and that it should be split up and peddled piecemeal in an effort to lessen losses that are sure to blossom as the economic downturn worsens. But Smith flatly rejected this prospect: "It's absolutely untrue, and I'm in a position to know if it were true...I don't know where this stuff comes from. It's just preposterous."

•The rumored expansion of the radio branch. Gossipmongers have suggested that Clear Channel isn't content with possessing a mere 1,200 radio stations; rather, it wants to own the maximum allowable number of stations -- the FCC limit is eight -- in each of the top one hundred radio markets in the country. Smith said, "I've never heard that goal articulated...I can't imagine that our company or any broadcast company would make that kind of blanket statement." But he emphasized that Clear Channel wouldn't necessarily mind getting bigger, even if doing so makes it more difficult to keep tabs on all of its component parts. "We will do things tomorrow that will have the potential to offend or shock you -- that you will think are inappropriate," he said. "But we'll also do something tomorrow that you will think is brilliant, genius, great work...And my suggestion is to just judge us by our body of work."

Clear Channel's Steve Smith excels at the business of music.
Clear Channel's Steve Smith excels at the business of music.

Tight times: Slow ad sales are hitting publications of every kind, with a variety of repercussions. Last week, the E.W. Scripps company, owner of the Rocky Mountain News, announced that the News would take longer to return to profitability than had originally been predicted following the finalizing of a joint-operating agreement linking its business operations to that of the Denver Post. Meanwhile, the Denver Business Journal reported that salespeople for the Denver Newspaper Agency representing the Post and the News have gone off their advertising rate cards in an effort to lure advertisers back into the papers. DNA spokesman Jim Nolan energetically refutes this assertion and swears the News is pulling its weight; he says the DNA recently registered a quarter's worth of positive cash flow for the first time since the JOA. But, he admits, "We've felt the effects of the national stuff just like everybody else."

Smaller papers are being hit as well. The bi-weekly magazine Go-Go is hanging in there, having just hired a new editor, former Go-Go intern Matt Davis, but the music publication Soundboard has been forced into hiatus. Mat Hall, Soundboard's editor and publisher, is spinning the move as a "restructuring"; he says he's had meetings with several potential investors and hopes to have the publication up and running again "soon." He just can't say when.

As for The Onion, a satirical publication based in New York, with a secondary operation in Boulder, it seemed all but certain to be hurt in the wake of September 11, because no one in America was in the mood to laugh about current events. But after a one-week break from new material, the paper returned with some of the best, funniest and most trenchant prose imaginable, including pieces with headlines such as "A Shattered Nation Longs to Care About Stupid Bullshit Again" and "U.S. Urges Bin Laden to Form Nation It Can Attack." Says Boulder Onion publisher Dave Haupt, "We've gotten a lot of praise, and no one's pulled out because of the content. I don't know that we're going to be affected by what's happened much at all."

Finally -- amid all the bad news, a glimmer of hope.

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