Does Radio Airplay Matter?
2. Musicians’ access to radio was stifled by deregulation.
In 1996, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act. This law drastically changed the radio ownership landscape. It greatly relaxed the local ownership cap, allowing one owner to control up to eight stations in large markets, and eliminated the national cap altogether. This led to a frenzy of radio station sales and acquisitions, and the quick development of a few radio titans, including Clear Channel, Cumulus, Cox and Citadel.
A couple Nashville-based interviewees explicitly mentioned how access to the airwaves changed after radio’s deregulation in 1996, and its subsequent impact on the music business in general:
In the early ‘90s you could take three acts — a Brooks and Dunn record, and a Diamond Rio record, and a Pam Tillis record…you could get them into the Top 10 for a couple hundred thousand dollars. You could spend some promotion money in Dallas, you could spend some money in L.A., you could spend some in Sheboygan, and Des Moines, and start fires in these markets and everybody, all of these independent stations in between would want to get involved and they’d jump in on it. Now with radio consolidation, you’d spend a lot more to move one artist up the charts. Basically the radio stations say, ‘Hey, this is how much it’s going to cost to get that record up, because we own everything.’
 For additional information on the impact of radio deregulation on the public, or on independent labels’ access to commercial radio, visit Future of Music Coalition’s additional research reports.