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Clear Channel fights back

Responding to charges that his company has "destroyed" the radio and recording industries, Clear Channel Radio Chief Executive Randy Michaels denied using national play lists that shun new and hometown artists.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Michaels wrote in a letter accompanying Clear Channel's formal reply in the FCC's radio rules proceeding. "Each local market is too different in its demographics and tastes for such a strategy to succeed."

Michaels was responding to a complaint by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which charges that play-list dictates of the country's largest radio owner make it nearly impossible for local and independent musicians to gain airplay in the many markets dominated by Clear Channel's 1,200 stations.

The union for on-air talent, producers and writers also charged that Clear Channel chokes off support for artists signed with other companies by leveraging its airplay muscle through its control over powerful concert promoter SFX Entertainment.

Michaels said no national play list exists, although the company does have music-scheduling software that program directors "are free to select" from to build their own music databases. Program directors at poorly rated stations also may seek assistance from counterparts at larger-market stations, he said.

The replies were submitted as part of the FCC's effort to revise ownership rules limiting the number of stations one company can own in a market. The limits are based on a sliding scale according to market size. In the largest markets, one company may own eight stations.

Clear Channel, which currently has deals pending to buy 186 more stations, has cited studies showing that markets with greater levels of consolidation have lower ad prices and greater diversity of formats.