Media ownership in the US has never reflected the diversity of our society, and recent media consolidation has further reduced the number of women and people of color who own media. In the case of radio, it’s not difficult to see how past inequality has created the ownership context today.

Most radio licenses were given out for free in the 1930s, during a time when outright discrimination and segregation were legal in the United States, so only white men got them . Now that the spectrum is crowded and virtually no new full power commercial licenses are available, these same stations are bought and sold for tens of millions of dollars, requiring enormous upfront capital. It’s a high barrier to market entry for women and people of color, who face discrimination when applying for bank loans and the jobs needed to gain high-level industry experience.

Since the FCC almost never revokes existing licenses, the pattern of ownership set up in the thirties endures to this day. Despite the fact that 33 % of the US population is part of the minority, only 7.7% of radio stations are owned by minorities. There is evidence that this has serious political consequences. Studies have shown a correlation between minority owned media and minority voter turnout; political disenfranchisement is perpetuated by disenfranchisement in media ownership.

The FCC does not keep reliable statistics about minority ownership. They have recently proposed better record-keeping in order to provide more data, which could one day help the Commission make decisions that increase minority ownership. Prometheus supported the FCC’s efforts to obtain more information from licensees of radio stations in the hopes that this will be able to inform better policies to support media ownership that reflects the diversity of our society.

Background Reading