Longform

Taking on the Empire

Page 6 of 10

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.

In 1998 the company inaugurated Jacor Concerts, handing the reins to former Fey Concerts employee Rob Buswell. At the time, Buswell, who'd already put together numerous radio events for Jacor, wouldn't directly link concert booking and radio support, which could be construed as anti-competitive, but he came awfully close: "Having the stations at our disposal is a nice tool, and it's something that the other promoters in the market don't have to work with. I don't really go to artists or managers or agents and say, 'If you play this show for us versus Universal [now House of Blues], you'll get more spins for your record.' That's not really what we're all about. But by the same token, when we have an artist we're promoting, they'll get a lot of on-air support."

In the end, Jacor Concerts wasn't the cakewalk its founders envisioned. The company was called on the carpet by local promoter Bill Bass, the man behind the Reggae on the Rocks series, for promoting an alternative reggae concert as "Reggae at Red Rocks"; the Jacor Concerts version eventually moved to a smaller venue, where it tanked. Other concerts were big money losers as well (an L.S.G./Patti LaBelle date reportedly came up $178,000 short), and a KTCL Big Adventure fest had to be moved from the University of Colorado-Boulder campus to Fiddler's Green after a confrontation with the CU administration.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts