Who’s Looking Out for You?

A couple things:

Mea culpa: Mere hours after I asserted that only classical music fans make a fuss when their radio station changes format, soul and gospel fans are raising a fuss over the sale of WILD-FM here in Boston. With good reason: Entercom Communications plans to use WILD’s frequency (heretofore a stream of soul, neo-soul, and classic R&B) to simulcast WAAF, a cookie-cutter classic-rock affair. (Again: they’re buying the frequency so thay can broadcast the exact same thing in two places on the dial.) So radio listeners in the predominantly African-American neighborhoods of Dorchester and Roxbury (as well as suburban soul fans like yours truly) are being screwed in favor of the presumably more advertiser-friendly South Shore frat boy demographic. The only other station that could be euphemistically classified as “urban” in Boston is “Jam’n” 94.5, which limits its playlists to whatever passes for hip-hop these days. (Yeah, I’m even a rap snob. What did you expect?)

In other news, the Music Publishers’ Association and the National Music Publishers’ Association (yeah, they’re two different organizations; so much for the efficiency of free markets) are going after Internet sites that post guitar tabulatures—amateur transcriptions of the guitar parts for pop and rock songs. To put it another way: music publishers apparently aren’t making enough money, so they’re taking legal action against their own customer base. That’ll teach the little ingrates. (And do check out the photo of the head of the Music Pulishers’ Association. That has got to be the most Freudian, over-compensatory SUV of a tuba I’ve ever seen. You think this guy reads Forbes?)

About the only mildly impressive thing I can do on a guitar is play “Day Tripper.” I didn’t buy the music; I didn’t even buy the record. I did essentially what a guitar tab site does: I learned it from another guitarist. Is that really illegal? Am I to live in fear of the giant tuba?

What do these stories have in common? To my thinking, it’s two instances of government organizations—here, the Federal Communications Commission and the United States Congress—completely screwing the pooch as custodians of culture. The FCC could theoretically have blocked the WILD sale as not being in the public interest, but since 1981, they’ve been content to let market forces determine the public interest, and only get up from in front of the tube long enough to pull an Olin Blitch every now and again. Congress could have theoretically ignored gazillions of dollars’ worth of lobbying and not passed the DMCA, or at least could risk ticking off some corporate types by clarifying “fair use” guidelines in light of the Internet, but… well, they just aren’t going to do that, now are they?

So who’s watching out for the public cultural interest at the federal level? Nobody. (Even the NEA seems more content to promote that noted American playwright William Shakespeare and spend money to translate the literature of other nations, presumably so future generations of Americans won’t have to suffer the indignity of learning a foreign language.) What this country needs is a cabinet-level Secretary of Culture, with dominion over not just the arts and humanities endowments, but the FCC, the Copyright Office, and, for good measure, the Marine Band (and you thought they were just a harmonica). Send me to Congress, and I promise you… oh, wait, that’s right, I’m unelectable—I used to carry a copy of the Communist Manifesto around as a teenager. Anybody else want to handle this one?

Leave a Reply