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spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer February 12, 2009
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Study examines impact of media consolidation on radio

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Along with many forms of traditional media, radio has suffered a loss in listenership and relevance, according to some experts, over the last two decades—a scenario which has often been attributed to the rise in new forms of media and technology, including the Internet and the iPod.

Now, an RIT study is shedding new light on listener perceptions of radio programming and the impact that ownership consolidation might be having on the media.

The findings could assist the industry in addressing audience erosion and help policymakers arrive at more informed decisions related to serving the public interest in local communities.

“The banking and financial sectors aren’t the only areas in American society witnessing adverse effects from more than two decades of deregulation,” argues study author Michael Saffran, adjunct professor of communication and associate director for new media for RIT’s University News Services. “As the nation grapples with the mortgage crisis, U.S. citizens also face a growing ‘media crisis’ wrought by excessive ownership deregulation and consolidation.”

The study found that less than 15 percent of respondents described their satisfaction with local radio programming as “To A Great Extent.” In contrast, more than twice the number—nearly four out of every 10 listeners—expressed “Very Little” or zero satisfaction with local radio programming. In addition, young people (those under the age of 25) indicated listening to radio the least among all age groups.

Findings will be presented at the 100th annual convention of the Eastern Communication Association, April 22–26, in Philadelphia.

To address the current radio environment, Saffran offers several policy recommendations, including reversing the federal ban on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership—a proposal that could seem at first counterproductive, he concedes. However, Saffran supports tying the policy to stricter local and national radio ownership caps. He believes tighter ownership limits could be imminent under a new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission to be appointed by President Obama.

Saffran adds: “Stricter radio ownership limits—potentially benefiting local radio audiences through enhanced news, public-service and live-local programming and station responsiveness—realistically stand a greater chance for enactment with tradeoffs agreeable to all stakeholders.”

Web extra: Will Dube interviews study author Michael Saffran about his research exploring listener perceptions of local radio on the RIT news podcast “Studio 86: The State of Radio.” Visit www.rit.edu/news/podcasts.

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Will Dube

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