Who Owns Charleston's Media?
As of August 2012 we counted 40 licensed radio stations serving the Charleston area – 31 FM and 9 AM stations. Of the 40, 8 are “FM translators,” which do not originate programming but relay broadcasts from other stations to some part of the Charleston area.
Twenty-six of the 40 stations (65%) are classified as primarily music, news, talk, sports, or Spanish stations.
9 of these are owned by two out-of-state corporations (Clear Channel Media and Entertainment of San Antonio, TX and Cumulus Media of Atlanta, GA)
2 are owned in-state but out of the Charleston area (SC Educational TV Commission in Columbia)
15 are locally owned stations
Fourteen of the 40 stations (35%) are classified as Christian, religious, or gospel stations.
8 of these are owned by out-of-state enterprises (4 in Idaho, 1 in California, 2 in North Carolina, 1 in New York)
4 are owned in-state but out of the Charleston area (3 in Greenville, 1 in Greer); and
2 are locally owned
Of the 8 FM translator stations (20% of all stations), 7 are Christian/religious and 1 is Spanish.
5 translate out-of-state stations
1 translates an in-state-station that is out of the Charleston area
2 translate local stations (one of which itself originates in-state but out of the local area)
In sum, 42.5% of licensed radio stations that broadcast on frequencies receivable in the Charleston area are owned out-of-state.
Nine popular radio stations in the Charleston area are currently owned by either Clear Channel Media and Entertainment (the largest radio station owner in the U.S.) or Cumulus Media (the second largest owner). Although audiences do fluctuate over time, our best estimate is that about 45% of the radio audience in the Charleston area listens to Cumulus Media or Clear Channel Media. So a very substantial amount of local listeners’ radio programming actually has been produced by one of these two media giants. It has been beamed from afar to towns and cities all across the country, including our own. This means, of course, that it has a certain “generic” quality about it and that most certainly it does not focus on local issues, needs, artists, entertainers, or events.
In considering the competitive tension between large media corporations and small local broadcasters, it’s important to remember that both make their profits by attracting audiences that are then ‘sold’ to advertisers. The bigger the typical audience, the more an advertiser is willing to pay for air time and the more profitable the broadcaster will be.
Programming on the 9 stations owned by Clear Channel and Cumulus is skewed to the corporate imperatives of these two media giants. Programs that gather and hold the largest audiences – thus enabling the corporations to sell the most big-dollar advertising – rule. Programs geared to smaller, more specialized audiences fall by the wayside. In the process, programming of local concern in Charleston (or any other specific locality) is very unlikely to make the national cut. And as a result the people of our area are less informed about local matters that could truly enhance our lives and at times might even be of life-or-death importance.
Unlike Charleston-area television and radio broadcasters, our print media companies are all locally owned.
The largest print media owner in the area is the Evening Post Publishing Co., publisher of the daily Post and Courier (circulation 89,224) and a number of local weeklies. These include the Charleston City Paper (circulation 40,000) Charleston Mercury (circulation 16,000), the Moultrie News, the Summerville Journal-Scene , the Berkeley Independent, the Goose Creek Gazette, and The Journal(circulation 16,000), serving James Island and Folly Beach. The Evening Post Publishing Co. also owns papers in Georgetown, Kingstree and Aiken, South Carolina, and three papers in North Carolina.
The Evening Post Publishing Co. is also a major owner of television stations through its Cordillera Communications group. These include 17 stations: one in Kentucky, one in Louisiana and the rest in the Western states, including seven in Montana.
There are seven television stations serving the Charleston area – five full-power commercial stations, one low-power translator, and one public television station. All six commercial stations (which include the low-power broadcaster) are owned out-of-state. Only the public TV station (really just a local transmitter) is owned in-state – by SC ETV, in Columbia, SC.
The NBC television affiliate in Charleston is Channel 2, WCBD, owned by Media General, is a leading provider of news, information and entertainment across broadcast television, digital media and mobile platforms, serving consumers and advertisers in strong local markets, primarily in the Southeastern United States. The company's broadcast operations include 18 network-affiliated television stations and their associated digital and mobile media services. Media General's network affiliations include eight NBC stations, eight CBS, one ABC and one CW.
Six of its stations operate in the Top 40 markets in the United States. Media General's stations reach more than one-third of TV households in the Southeast and more than 8 percent of U.S. TV households. Media General got its start in the television business in 1955 when it launched WFLA-TV in Tampa, Florida, as an NBC affiliate. Today, WFLA is the company's largest TV station, operating in the 14th largest DMA in the United States.
Media General continues to own The Tampa Tribune and its associated print properties and expects to enter into a transaction with one of several prospective buyers for the group.