November 21, 2006

City Strobe: Clear Channel sells out

Clear Channel Communications, the media behemoth we love so for the “access” it provides us, has agreed to an $18.7 billion buyout (plus $8 billion in debt) from a private equity group co-led by Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital Partners. The need for a bailout stems from the scramble-buys in TV and radio the company made when the FCC opened the floodgates of regulation a few years back. It’s the third-largest buyout in U.S. history. Clear Channel — which now owns 1,150 radio stations, 42 TV stations and some 870,000 outdoor displays (like billboards) — will sell off its entire TV division and 448 radio stations in smaller markets, according to a news release issued last week. Clear Channel owns eight radio stations in Louisville: On the FM dial, there’s WAMZ (97.5), WLUE (100.5), WQMF (95.7), WZFK (98.9) and WTFX (93.1). The three AM stations are WHAS (840), WKJK (1080) and WKRD (790). There are no Clear Channel TV stations in Louisville.Last week, Kelly Carls, regional vice president of programming in Louisville, told me it was business as usual at Clear Channel’s Louisville and Lexington stations. However, WHAS radio announced a few days later that it would lay off six employees, including five on-air personalities: Mark Travis, Night Train Lane (midday show on WAMZ), Doug Ormay (sports for Kentucky News Network), The Fox’s Scott Clark, Joe Hall (WHAS news anchor) and a production staffer. Carls said Tuesday that the cuts have nothing to do with the buyout, and that they were planned before last Thursday’s deal was announced. Clear Channel does plan to sell its Frankfort and Somerset stations, according to a list provided to LEO by a spokesperson for the mothership. The company is not openly discussing the impact in markets that will be sold. The buyout is part of a national trend for media conglomerates that find themselves hurting in the wake of more personalized forms of entertainment, like iPods, the Internet and all kinds of downloadable goodies. The Clear Channel buyout is the second high-profile move for a company with tentacles in Louisville: Last July, the Carlyle Group bought out Insight Communications stockholders; that company now owns 60 percent of the largest cable provider in the region. —Stephen GeorgeO TannenbombWaging war on Christmas is so 2005. So Louisville decided to take a fresh approach and inflict its abuse on a Christmas tree instead. Like a crazed Dennis Hopper (is that redundant?), the city cut down its “holiday” tree in Indiana (oh, the indignity), strapped it to a dual-rotor Chinook, dragged it across the river to a liquor store, dropkicked it, dragged it downtown, decorated it with red, white and blue lights and planted an American flag on top of it. When God showed his concern by toppling the tree with a storm, the determined city righted the green monster and gave it a little nip/tuck with some limbs from another tree (and then went bowling). The saga started when all of those Support Our Troops SUV ribbons began to fade, prompting 154 percent of Americans to say they now disapprove of the war in Iraq. Alarmed, the city opted to call this year’s tree the “Pride of America” and fly it into downtown using a military helicopter normally reserved for waging wars on other religions. High winds forced the copter to drop the tree at Stop Light Liquors on River Road instead of its intended destination, a crack house on Liberty Street. Workers installed the tree at Jefferson Square but the storm toppled it, forcing the city to reinforce it with cables strong enough to put the “iron” in “irony.”The 65-foot tree will be the centerpiece of Friday’s “Light Up Louisville” (formerly known as “Smoke ’Em If Ya Got ’Em, Louisville”), which is the traditional post-Thanksgiving tobacco-company-sponsored reminder to smoke early and often and go to the suburban malls (but not the ones in Indiana). The annual event includes music, food, fireworks and Santa Claus, who should be able to put the final hurt on a by-then thoroughly pummeled Christmas.Most Christians, who don’t take kindly to having their patriotism challenged, have already forgiven the city. But Pagans — who came up with the whole tree idea before Christians even existed — were just a little pissed. They did, however, declare their support for lighting up. —Jim WelpSmokestack Seum for Governor? Oh, dear God … State Sen. Dan “Smokestack” Seum, a known industry shill whose public profile and legislative history would do nothing if not convince one of his unbridled idiocy, is thinking it might be a good idea to run for governor in 2007. He says he’s getting lots of calls from Republicans who are angry that Gov. Fletcher is an utter jackass who’s sinking the party’s credibility just when the Republicans were set to gain real leverage in state government.This is rather astonishing when you consider that Seum — honk if you remember this one — is the genius who killed the VET program in Louisville, and has worked — still to no avail — to squash the STAR Program, because he thinks industry and manufacturers in Louisville should be able to spew as much garbage into the city’s air as they’d like.What he means, we think, is that it’s just not competitively fair that these businesses only have Rubbertown, the West End and big chunks of the South End to make virtually uninhabitable. Really, they want the whole Metro. No, they need it.Other career highlights for Gov.-in-his-own-mind Seum:• He sponsored a bill killing requirements for motorcyclists to wear helmets.• He also sponsored a bill making it illegal for cities to ban smoking in public buildings, which failed.On second thought, it may be useful to throw Dan “Slime” Seum into the mix — it just might seal the fate of political impotency in Kentucky for another four decades. —Stephen GeorgeGround to break on downtown arena (sort of)The Louisville Arena Authority, along with Mayor Jerry Abramson, Gov. Ernie Fletcher, several members of the General Assembly and the Metro Council, Greater Louisville Inc. and U of L officials, working in tandem with Humana and E.ON US officials, will seize shovels and turn over the symbolic first parcels of dirt Tuesday at the downtown arena site, at Third Street between Main Street and River Road.Thus will begin the taxpayer-funded relocation of the E.ON US power substation. The whole shebang should last about four years, at which point the city will have to figure out how to fill the arena consistently enough to pay for it (U of L men’s hoops will account for less than one-fifth of what they need). But that’s then.There is no immediate indication that this  body of public officials and business shakers expects to find anything new after digging up the dirt, although one observer joked that Arena Authority chairman Jim Host could be heard muttering something about leaving room for Billy Reed down there. —Stephen GeorgeCheck out The Lip: LEO’s News Blog at www.leoweekly.com for daily City Strobe updates. Write to us here: citystrobe@leoweekly.com