The station would be an anomaly regardless of which time zone it was in, thanks to legislation passed when some of its listeners were toddlers. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 lifted a cap on the number of radio properties a single company could own nationally. Its stated purpose was to promote competition, and if we are judging laws by stated purposes, it’s failed. Within three years, Bonneville International, the now-defunct Infinity Broadcasting, and Clear Channel dominated the market, collecting about 68 percent of the ad dollars while crippling the diversity of airwaves nationwide.
“It is very hard for us to be arbiters of taste, especially when we're responsible to shareholders."
“What we’ve noticed since the ‘90s is that this consolidation of commercial media ownership has allowed for an increasingly smaller number of people to impact what forms of Black cultural production become popular and then re-disseminated back to Black audiences here and around the world.”
“They have big teams who do nothing but maintain relationships with the people who are choosing which tracks appear on what order on which playlist,” Miller said.The songs that do get top billing on the main streaming platforms’ landing pages and playlists are often linked to major labels, a dynamic that raises its own ethical issues about ownership. Hip-hop is the driving force behind streaming’s dominance, yet the number of Black executives in the record labels that own stakes in Spotify—Sony Music and Universal—is still disproportionately small. What results is a permutation of two traditions that’s long gamed Black artists: The pre-1996 one, of predominantly white record execs feasting off Black music while controlling its artists’ destinies, and the consolidation of an industry that routinely refuses to give those artists any stake.“What is important to take from the Telecom Act of 96 is the process that it set in motion as it relates to popular culture—music in particular,” Ball said. “And that’s what needs to be revisited: Who controls the popularity and who controls the wealth that’s being created from what’s made popular. And that’s what needs to be targeted with whatever particular legislation we want to focus on.”Hypothetically, labels that already control the bulk of pop music don’t have much incentive to support legislation that would force them to relinquish such power. But streaming is still a fluctuating business, and while its fate is to be decided, radio’s fate—a fall from a diverse platform to a largely homogenous one—is already sealed, leaving stations like KJLH figuring out ways to support itself without a corporate pocket to reach into. But Slade remains optimistic. Los Angeles is still a major market, she said, and an audience will always be there.“We serve the community. We’re in the community,” she said. “So it’s like we’re helping ourselves. One of our slogans is, ‘We are you.’ And we are. We are the audience that we serve.”
Hip-hop is the driving force behind streaming’s dominance, yet the number of Black executives in the record labels that own stakes in Spotify—Sony Music and Universal—is still disproportionately small.