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Settle Down

Guess a jury won't get to hear about Clear Channel's fucksticks after all.

Denver-based representatives of Clear Channel, the nation's biggest concert promoter and largest owner of radio stations, mentioned these implements of destruction in messages quoted in an April 2 order by U.S. District Court Judge Edward Nottingham. The ruling pertained to a lawsuit filed against Clear Channel by Nobody in Particular Presents, an independent promotion firm that charged the San Antonio company with unfair business practices and assorted violations of federal and state anti-trust statutes. Nottingham tossed out some of NIPP's claims, but determined that others would be weighed at trial beginning on August 2 ("Clear Sailing," April 8).

Not anymore. On June 2, Clear Channel and NIPP issued a joint press release revealing in just 122 words that the two sides had settled their dispute, but providing few additional facts. The announcement was dominated by bland, heavily lawyered statements from Doug Kauffman, NIPP's founder and president, and Andy Levin, executive vice president and chief legal officer of Clear Channel. "This was a long and difficult battle, and we are very happy with this agreement," Kauffman said. "We look forward to continuing to be the leading independent concert promoter in the Denver area." Levin countered by declaring, "Clear Channel admitted no wrongdoing in connection with the lawsuit, but we are pleased to get the matter behind us. NIPP and Clear Channel can now get back to what we each do best -- providing great music to the people of Denver."

Unfortunately, these comments don't address Clear Channel's and NIPP's motivations for calling a truce. Levin, Kauffman and Jesse Morreale, who no longer has a day-to-day role at NIPP but retains an ownership stake, all declined to elaborate, citing the terms of the agreement.

It's likely that Clear Channel execs authorized a sum in the millions to buy silence like this, and they had good reason. Nottingham's memorandum contained damning evidence that Clear Channel's Denver office attempted to pressure acts into working with its concert wing by threatening to withhold radio airplay on its local stations. (The firm owns eight outlets in Denver, the maximum number allowed under federal regulations.) Included were e-mails from Mike O'Connor, Clear Channel's director of FM programming, telling minions from Reprise Records, "We are out of business with your label" and "You can all fuck yourselves as far as I'm concerned." Had such information gotten out in open court, Clear Channel could have been hit with a whopping judgment and faced increasing pressure to disentangle its concert-promotion and radio branches. Copycat suits might well have followed, and while the settlement doesn't eliminate that prospect, it prevents the buzz from reaching ear-splitting levels.

In interviews dating to 2001, when the original lawsuit was filed, NIPP's Kauffman repeatedly spoke about forcing Clear Channel to change its ways: In April, he said, "If we can play any part in that happening, then it's our pleasure." Achieving this goal became more difficult during the past year, when the firm suffered several major financial blows. NIPP owed the City of Denver such a hefty back-taxes bill that its offices were briefly shuttered, and it remains in debt to House of Blues, another promoter, in relation to Red Rocks shows featuring Björk and Gipsy Kings.

Either of these problems could have sent NIPP tumbling into bankruptcy, and they nearly did. Instead, the City of Denver and House of Blues worked out separate reimbursement plans, which kept NIPP alive long enough to cash in. "We structured a deal with NIPP," says Rodney Smith, director of programming and event services for the Denver Division of Theatres & Arenas. "Their back taxes are paid in full." NIPP signed a promissory note to the city for an additional $175,519.99, with a portion of that total due on October 1 and the remainder required in October 2005. According to Smith, "We've talked, and I know they're on pace to do that."

HOB executive vice president Alex Hodges, speaking from Los Angeles, tells a comparable tale. He declines to disclose the amount NIPP still needs to pay but says, "We're definitely encouraged by the progress they've made in taking some show earnings and paying us back debts that we incurred on their behalf. They've made consistent progress, and taking into account shows this summer, we anticipate even greater progress." Hodges emphasizes that he sees this process and NIPP's probable windfall as entirely separate, but he did phone Kauffman and company after the settlement was made public.

"Everybody in the business has been watching this, and it's made interesting reading," Hodges notes, chuckling. "I figured I'd have time to call now, because there won't be much to read about it anymore."

 
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