|Emily Robinson (left), Natalie Maines and Martie Maguire are Dixie Chicks. Their music was banned by two music station networks after Ms. Maines criticized U.S. actions in Iraq.
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Senators also heard comments from an advertising industry executive, John Mandel, co-CEO of media services agency MediaCom, who told the Senate Commerce Committee today that radio consolidation has dramatically pushed up ad prices far above levels that competitive markets would allow.
The committee's chairman, John McCain, R-Ariz., sharply questioned Cumulus Media CEO Lewis W. Dickey Jr. if he felt his decision to ban the Dixie Chicks from all of Cumulus' country music stations demonstrated the political danger present in having too few owners of the nation's media.
The country trio's lead singer, Natalie Maines, in a concert in England just prior to the start of the war in Iraq, told the crowd: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." The group is also from Texas. Her comments caused a furor among some country music fans, and radio stations organized boycotts. Ms. Maine's later issued an apology.
Mr. Dickey defended his decision, saying Cumulus had pulled the songs only on its country music stations, and that the decision had come as a result of a "hue and cry" from local listeners and requests for local programmers for direction.
Sen. McCain said that while individual stations have the right to pull songs, the decision by Cumulus (as well as by all stations of another media company, Cox Radio) to pull songs was a "total contradiction" of statements made by media executives that they were serving local markets. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., suggested Mr. Dickey's decision smacked of Nazism and McCarthyism rather than of free speech.
In a statement issued after the hearings, Gerry McCracken, format coordinator for Cox County Stations, said, "In the case of Cox, the decision [to cease playing Dixie Chicks music] was not a corporate directive." He said all seven of Cox's country stations made their own "local, research-based decision" to cease playing the group's music.
Mr. Dickey later admitted he would not repeat the move in light of the committee's criticism and would let local stations make their own decisions.
Ad prices are higher
Meanwhile, Mr. Mandel told the committee that because of radio consolidation ad prices in Atlanta are 155% above what they should be, 30% higher in New York, 95% in Austin and 78% in Minneapolis.
Radio consolidation has brought "an extreme cost to advertisers" and could be a tremendous drag on the economy, he said.
In other testimony today, U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., warned about media consolidation in the Hispanic market. He specifically pointed to the proposed merger between Univision and the Hispanic Broadcast Corp., warning that if the merger goes through "virtually all Latinos would see and hear their news and entertainment from a single source."