Tale Of Two Clear Channels

Two books have recently hit store shelves about radio giant Clear Channel Communications, one authored by Alec Foege and the other by former Radio Ink editor Reed Bunzel.

Foege’s effort, “Right of the Dial: The Story of Clear Channel and the Fall of Commercial Radio,” zeroes in on the company’s role in radio consolidation and includes some reportedly unflattering anecdotes about Clear Channel’s founding Mays family, according to the Wall Street Journal.

It may well have been the only book proposal to see the light of day, according to the paper, had Clear Channel not caught wind of Foege’s project and decide to hire a writer to produce a competing, and presumably more favorable, tome.

This is where Bunzel reportedly came in. He told the WSJ he was paid by Clear Channel to write the book, but declined to say how much. Another writer told the paper that he was offered more than $100,000 for the project.

As the Journal notes, it’s not unusual for large corporations to self-publish their own histories. But Peter Hawes, editorial director of Greenwich Publishing, told the paper he has “never seen a situation in which a company has said, ‘Hey, there’s another book coming out. We don’t think we’re going to like it. Let’s get our own book out.’”

What likely raised Clear Channel’s hackles was that Foege’s original working title for his book was “The Monster That Ate Mass Media.”

Bunzel reportedly worked with Clear Channel Communication Director Lisa Dollinger to produce what she called an “evenhanded look at Clear Channel” that “was written from an independent point of view by a journalist with decades of experience in radio.” They inked an agreement in 2005, and Clear Channel secured a publisher shortly after.

He was given a year to deliver the book, and total access to Clear Channel execs. At the same time, Foege was reportedly blocked from any access to Clear Channel execs or employees.

“Several aspects of the project, not the least the working title, ‘The Monster That Ate Mass Media,’ raise concerns for us with regard to substance, objectivity and accuracy,” Dollinger wrote in an e-mail, reported by the Journal, to Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Foege’s publishing house. “We will be letting Mr. Foege know that we will not be granting him access to company executives.”

Foege traveled to San Antonio, Clear Channel’s home city, but got nowhere. He attended a radio industry dinner in New York City and introduced himself to CEO Mark Mays, who quickly excused himself, according to the paper.

Ultimately, Bunzel’s book was published by Texas-based Bright Sky Press just as Foege’s hit shelves in April.

“I was aware of the [other] book, sort of like parallel worlds, but like parallel worlds, I didn’t want to go there.” Bunzel told the Journal.

His book contains some criticism of Clear Channel, including a quote calling the company “almost oblivious to the mounting criticism that was bombarding it from all directions,” according to the paper.

Foege’s book, as might be expected, hits a bit harder. In it, he reportedly describes the company “bullying” musicians into playing at Clear Channel amphitheatres, a commonly heard complaint at the time that was never fully proven. He found a former board member willing to dish on the Mays family, calling Mark and CFO Randall Mays “arrogant.” And it includes an anecdote about Clear Channel patriarch Lowry Mays leaving an anniversary cruise via airlift in order to save a radio deal that was hitting the rocks.

Clear Channel spun off its live entertainment division, which became Live Nation, in 2005. With the recent departure of Michael Cohl, Randall Mays is now chairman of the Live Nation board. Lowry Mays is also a director of Live Nation.