Letters to the editor

Don’t let this be ‘the Truckstop of the New South’

Like most TV watchers, I have some commercials I love and some I love to hate. The good ones are so clever, the jingles are catchy, and the punch lines are funny. The creativity of humans never ceases to amaze me.

Have you noticed the car commercials shown back-to-back on prime-time television? Competition for the public’s car dollars is very stiff. In 1990, there were a record 190 million registered vehicles; this means there were 23 million more cars than licensed drivers.

Do you ever wonder how much of a car’s sticker price goes toward advertising?

Most Americans are so attached to their cars that the cars become extensions of themselves, much like their hair styles and their clothes. Our personal images are wrapped up in our cars; they are our status symbols. We do everything in our cars: eat, drink, bank, shave, and talk on the phone.

Some car commercials emphasize your car as your personal refuge, a place to escape from your demanding life. I know of one commercial that refers to your car as a tree-house, a fun get-away place! Commercials will have you believe that your car is where you have control of your life. The driver can adjust his temperature, his music and his direction — all within an arm’s reach. Cars are becoming more and more comfortable, a living room on wheels.

However, becoming too at ease in your car is risky. Driving is probably the most dangerous thing you do all day, most every day of your life.

What really bothers me are the car advertisements that encourage driving more and more, when driving less is what we need to do. Air pollution is a grave health risk, which our nation of tail pipes produces for us. The environmental benefits of reducing fuel consumption are substantial. Every step in the current fossil-fuel production-and-distribution chain represents a potential for pollution — ranging from air and water pollution to oil spills. The risk is minimized by reducing the amount of fuel running through the system. I doubt that we will ever give up the freedom and convenience of our cars, but the best thing we can do to clean up our act is to begin using cleaner fuels.

One car commercial that I love to hate begins: “Bosses will fire you, friends will forget you, women will leave you — but your truck … is forever.” Excuse me, did they say “forever”? What is the average lifespan of a truck? And the message that really burns me there is: Invest in your car, forget about the people in your life.

Allow me another: The TV screen shows a beautiful mountain curve, an unobtrusive two-lane blacktop. A voice says: “Honey, I’m going to the store for a gallon of milk.” Then the scene shows a little red vehicle zipping down the zippy little mountain curve and back up again. Then, “Honey, I’ve got to go pick up the kids at practice.” Zip downhill and zip uphill to home once more. Then again, “Honey, I’m going to drop off this library book. Back in a minute.” Message: Don’t plan and consolidate your trips — get out there and drive, drive, drive. Short trips in an automobile (those that are the most bikable or walkable) are up to three times more polluting than long trips.

I rant on… What about those all-terrain-vehicle commercials that show spinning tires tearing across sensitive wilderness areas? Message: Even if we can’t pave over all of our natural places, they are still available to us in vehicles. So get off the couch, go out there and buy an all-terrain vehicle: There is still some wilderness left to crush.

This commercial’s jingle sends me over the edge: “The South loves trucks, that’s all there is to it. For work or play, just get out and do it.” There are a few more catchy lines, and then I lose it, muttering to myself, “Oh yeah, Dodge Motor Company, what if I don’t want to live in ‘the Truckstop of the New South’?”

— Katie Breckheimer

Breckheimer is pedestrian coordinator for Quality Forward (254-1776), and chair of the Strive-Not-to-Drive Day planning committee.

Put pirate radio in its context

After reading about Asheville’s pirate radio station in Mountain Express [“Steal this airwave,” May 13], I felt compelled to offer some background information on the radio industry — so as to give people a clearer perspective. And as someone who has grown up in the business and is currently involved in a decade-long battle with the FCC, I felt qualified to do so.

Radio falls into two basic categories: commercial and nonprofit. Commercial radio takes a particular format and tries to reach the biggest audience it can, in order to attract business from local and national advertisers. Public radio stations, like WCQS and WNCW, rely mostly on listener contributions to cover their operating costs. For this reason, they are able to offer programming that might not otherwise be available, as it is not always commercially viable. Sadly, Asheville has no college radio, since UNCA gave up its station several years ago.

One thing these stations have in common is that they must be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. They all are, therefore, required to meet certain standards. They must have adequate equipment to effectively cover their area of license. They also have a responsibility, whether they are a commercial enterprise or not, to inform the public in the event of an emergency. The Emergency Broadcast System has, no doubt, saved many lives over the years.

These and other regulatory policies were created with the intention of serving the public’s best interest. But the last few years have seen sweeping changes in FCC policy, and the public’s best interest seems to have taken a back seat to deregulation.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which promised to increase competition and promote greater programming diversity, has, instead, opened the floodgates for mega-mergers, thus creating a concentration of media power unprecedented in modern history. The new law lifted all controls on the number of radio stations that a single company could own nationwide.

Capstar Broadcasting Partners, a company which didn’t exist prior to 1996, is now the nation’s largest owner and operator of radio stations, controlling well over 300, including WKSF-FM and WWNC-AM here in Asheville. And, in a pending merger with another communications giant, SFX, Capstar is about to take control of so many stations in the Greenville, S.C., market that the U.S. Department of Justice had to intervene and require the companies to divest themselves of four stations in that market in order to avoid a monopolistic situation.

Another result of the Telecom Act is that people are losing jobs. When companies consolidate their holdings and put several radio stations under one roof, the redundant employees fall by the wayside.

While introducing a Nightline segment about the Telecom Act, Ted Koppel said, “It’s possibly the most important communications bill in history, and here’s what the networks had to say about it. NBC said ‘No comment.’ ABC suggested that we talk to CBS, who also told us ‘No comment.’ And Fox? They said, ‘No comment.'”

George Gerbner, founding dean of the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, said the Act “was passed in virtual secrecy, without any discussion of its long-range consequences.” He argues that it “legitimizes monopolies” and “unleashes them on the global market.”

After the Budget Bill passed last summer and was in committee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona added an amendment that would cause all future radio frequencies to be awarded by auction to the highest bidder. Is this representative government, serving the public’s best interests, when the company with the most money, rather than the one best suited to meet a community’s needs, ends up with the license?

While conditions like these in today’s radio market might seem to justify the existence of pirate radio, there are other factors to consider. Those involved with Free Radio Asheville may think of themselves as activists for free speech, but when they play music, they are infringing on copyright laws if they are avoiding paying licensing fees to the music publishing companies: ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Perhaps artists who aren’t receiving royalties for their music might not share the same passion for this form of free speech if it’s at their expense.

It has been argued that unlicensed radio offers programming alternatives. Should that singular conviction for First Amendment expression exempt it from all other responsibilities? After all, there’s a reason why you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

Our government, after more than a decade of intense deregulation, does seem to favor big business. But if we don’t like it, we do have the ability to change it. The congressmen and senators who pass legislation affecting our lives have to be elected. Perhaps, “We the People” should spend our time more productively by actively participating in improving our communities — and being motivated by duty, rather than “rights,” thus lighting a candle, rather than cursing the darkness.

— Barry Lee
operations manager, WZLS-FM

Barry Lee’s father, Zeb, owned WSKY-AM from 1947 to 1994. The Lee family operates one station, WZLS-FM and, says the younger Lee, “takes very seriously their commitment to serving the community.”

Community radio belongs to the people

The members of the Free Radio Asheville Collective were very pleased with your recent article about our station [“Steal this airwave,” May 13], especially as regards the First Amendment issues that are being addressed in the Dunifer case.

We do have a couple points we’d like to bring up, though.

Number one is the use of the word “steal.” We are not thieves, and we have not stolen anything. As stated in the [Federal Communications Commission]’s charter, the airwaves are public property. We are merely using an unused channel. Use of the word “pirate” is also misleading, as it, too, implies stealing. We refer to ourselves as community radio.

Second is the very common notion that we are illegal. Certainly the FCC claims publicly that stations like us are illegal and actively tries to shut unlicensed stations down. However, there are serious legal challenges to their authority and many questions about their jurisdiction that are to be addressed by the courts. We are in a sort of legal gray area; hopefully, it will be resolved soon.

Third, the assertion by the FCC and commercial stations that allowing community-based micro-broadcasting would lead to “massive interference” or a “battle” over the airwaves is extremely misleading. The key to community-based micro-broadcasting is low-power transmission. We put out less power than a standard light bulb; our broadcast radius is intentionally kept very low. If we wanted to, we could keep our station in Asheville, put one in Enka, one in Swannanoa, one in Arden, and another in Hendersonville — all on the same frequency — and there would be no mutual interference!

On April 3-5 of this year, at the East Coast micro-broadcasters convention held in Philly, all of the represented stations, including FRA, voiced their firm commitment to a strict policy of non-interference.

Finally, in response to Mr. [Bill] McMartin’s comments on community service, we congratulate WKSF and WWNC in bucking the trends in commercial radio by keeping their local news department. However, they are the only commercial outfit in the area that has one [editors note: see rebutting letter from David Hurand]. The other stations do provide emergency info, but it’s important to remember that they are forced to do so.

Free Radio is a vibrant, rapidly growing movement that was born of a need — the need of ordinary people to access broadcast media, as is our inalienable right as Americans. We will continue to be an outlet of, by and for the people.

Thanks again for a great article.

— Furious George
Free Radio Asheville Collective

Break the spell of political correctness

Your commentary titled “Defining Diversity 101” [May 5, by Jon Sanders] was priceless. It’s exciting to find such common sense in entertainment newspapers like [this] one. [Entertainment newspapers’] main object always seems to be to celebrate depravity as much as they can get away with. I read them very occasionally to see what’s up in the underworld. “Culture shock rock” and clubs with sexy “shower dancers” and “table and couch dancers” — just what civilization needs about now (all advertised in the same issue of Mountain Xpress).

[I] Shall use [this] article in my own war against political correctness. Right now, I am at war with the American Choral Directors Association for allowing me to ante up for life membership 15 years ago, and then turning itself mainly into a lobby for so-called multi-culturalism via school-music programs, etc. Everywhere we turn, people are throwing themselves under the juggernaut wheels of P.C., even though they themselves don’t want national suicide. Someone must break the spell. …

— Randolph Waller
Anderson, S.C.

Asheville has more than one source for news radio

I found reporter Jill Ingram’s article “Steal this airwave” [May 13] informative. The number of sources quoted in the story indicates she did a thorough and responsible job of reporting — but I must take issue with an inaccuracy in the sidebar, “How the waves were lost.” Our colleagues at WWNC-AM and WKSF-FM are not the only stations with a news department. Public radio station WCQS, a community licensee broadcasting from its home in downtown Asheville, has had a news department for 12 years.

Radio news coverage of local events has evolved over the past two decades. Some stations do spot news; others rip-and-read wire-service copy. WCQS relies on the Associated Press and some locally produced spot news for its newscasts at 6, 7 and 8 a.m. On occasion, in-depth interviews or produced news stories are inserted into the body of our morning news magazine, “Morning Edition.” WCQS is also a member of the North Carolina Public Radio Association. The Association has created a Raleigh bureau lead by an experienced reporter, Tim Crowley. Tim’s stories are heard during “Morning Edition.” This award-winning program airs Monday through Friday, from 5-9 a.m. The local host for “Morning Edition,” Tom Graser, is an experienced radio as well as print journalist.

Wednesday night at 6, WCQS produces “Conversations,” an hour-long listener call-in program. “Conversations” often explores issues of importance to the region, i.e. politics, economics, education and the environment.

Friday evenings at 6, WCQS produces “Byline,” a program that looks at some of the top local and regional stories of the week with the reporters who covered the stories. Reporters from the Asheville Citizen-Times, the Charlotte Observer, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, WWNC, the Fund for Investigative Reporting and Mountain Xpress are frequent contributors. WCQS appreciates the work of all these news departments.

Every week, WCQS broadcasts more than 40 hours of news and information programming. We are committed to offering listeners fair and thoughtful in-depth news and analysis. With or without the fairness doctrine, WCQS continues to broadcast in the public interest.

— David Hurand
news director, WCQS, 88.1 FM

About Webmaster
Mountain Xpress Webmaster Follow me @MXWebTeam

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.