continued "We held a press conference to announce that we were writing a letter to the chair of the FCC to request an investigation and whatever punitive action was appropriate," said COST official Ray Hutchins. "We said that Jacor, which dominates talk radio in Denver and is a close ally of the Denver Broncos, was trying to manipulate an election in which it had a financial interest and was using the public airwaves to do so. We thought this was in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Communications Act of 1934, and we wanted the FCC to do something about it."
One of Hutchins's most dramatic charges was that Jacor employees were being ordered to support the Broncos stadium project -- or else. "We also charged in there that there was a Jacor employee who had called me personally and said that he was told to support the Broncos or face losing his job," Hutchins said. "I would not reveal the name of the individual, but they were incensed that they were being told what to do. Since then another Jacor employee has called me and said that he was told that he could not oppose the stadium; that if he wasn't for it, to keep his mouth shut."
Hutchins said his group filed the complaint knowing full well that there were no legal grounds for it. "I had already called up there, and I had read the Communications Act as it pertained to this component of elections, and I knew that they weren't in violation. I talked to an FCC lawyer who reconfirmed that notion, and so I knew that. But it didn't matter. It was the press conference and the chance to raise hell on the issue. And we got a bunch of publicity out of it, in all the newspapers and on the radio talk stations."
Jacor officials denied Hutchins's charges of employee intimidation. "I defy them to find one radio or television station in this state that had more anti-stadium issues brought up," Jacor general manager Lee Larsen told the Denver Post. "Overwhelmingly our hosts are pro-stadium, but that's not because of orders from us." But Hutchins said his group's charges against Jacor gave them the leverage they needed to get onto local radio talk shows -- including Jacor's -- and discuss not only their allegations against Jacor but the overall issues involved in the stadium campaign.
Ironically, until the 1980s Hutchins's group probably would have had legal leverage to challenge Jacor's coverage of the stadium issue. The original Communications Act of 1934 contained a so-called "equal time provision," which said that licensed broadcasters who covered one side of a political issue had to give the same amount of time to the other side. In 1949, the FCC enacted the so-called "Fairness Doctrine," which required broadcasters not only to cover all sides of controversial issues but to seek out spokespeople to make sure their broadcasts represented all points of view.
In 1963, the FCC issued the Cullman doctrine, which went even further. Cullman required a broadcaster, under certain circumstances, to present free time to opponents of a point of view promoted on a sponsored program. The theory was that denying time on the air to people representing a legitimate point of view on a political or social issue just because they couldn't afford to pay for it would "thus leave the public uninformed." Under Cullman, underfunded campaigns for candidates or for-or-against ballot measures could get some compensation against the paid commercials of wealthy opponents -- usually one free spot for every four to seven paid spots on the other side.
All these laws and FCC policies were reversed after Ronald Reagan became president in 1981. Reagan's appointee as FCC chair, Mark Fowler, announced from the moment he took office that he would deregulate the broadcasting business as much as possible and leave licensed broadcasters free to do whatever they wanted with political issues and other public affairs. In 1987, the FCC finally abolished the Fairness Doctrine. Congress attempted to re-enact it legislatively, but President Reagan vetoed the bill. In 1989, President Bush announced that he, too, would veto any such legislation.
According to Robert McChesney, assistant professor of journalism and mass communications at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and author of Telecommunications, Mass Media and Democracy, it was the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine that made the current popular conservative talk-show format of broadcasters like Hedgecock, Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, and Oliver North possible. But it was another major change in broadcasting law -- the Telecommunications Act of 1996 -- that allowed chains like Jacor to take near-monopoly positions on radio stations in certain cities. The 1996 law "deregulated ownership of radio stations dramatically," McChesney explained. "Companies can now own up to eight stations in a single market, or up to 50 percent of the area's total radio revenues. That law has led to a sweeping wave of consolidation of ownership of U.S. radio in the past two years, and Jacor is one of the main beneficiaries."
McChesney identified four companies -- Jacor, Dallas-based Hicks Communications, Investment House (owners of the Capstar and Chancellor radio chains) and cbs -- as the companies most aggressively using the 1996 Telecommunications Act to expand their market shares and revenues. These four companies own 20 to 25 percent of all radio stations and revenues in the U.S., McChesney said.
Among the 205 Jacor-affiliated stations are 12 in the San Diego area (2 of which -- XTRA-AM and fm -- are technically based in Mexico and therefore aren't subject even to the few FCC rules that are left) and 8 in Denver. Two of Jacor's Denver stations, khow-am and ktlk-am, are talk stations, while the format of a third, koa-am, is listed as "News/Talk/Sports" on Jacor's Web site. In San Diego, Jacor acquired ksdo-am from Gannett Communications in 1996 and moved ksdo's flagship talk hosts, Limbaugh and Hedgecock, to KOGO to create the kind of continuous conservative talk programming that had been successful in other cities. Jacor's only sports coverage in San Diego is on the "Sports/Talk" station XTRA-AM.