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Hip-Hop Fridays: Davey D, Clear Channel, Activism; and Assets versus Liabilities Part 1

On Monday, October 1st 2001, Hip-Hop opinion leader Davey D. was called into the offices at 106 KMEL, "The People’s Station", and told that due to a corporate downsizing, his position as community affairs director was being eliminated. Davey was told that his position was being eliminated as part of a larger reduction in the corporation’s workforce and that he was not being let go due to his professional performance - in terms of ratings or otherwise. Regret for having to make the decision was expressed to Davey. Ironically, on Thursday of that same week, Davey D.was honored as a community leader by the San Francisco Urban Service Conference.

To understand the implications of Davey’s dismissal it is important to get a better idea of who Clear Channel Communications Inc. (New York Stock Exchange stock symbol: CCU), the parent corporation that owns 106 KMEL, is. Clear Channel has 31,850 employees and is headquartered in San Antonio Texas. Much of what you see and hear is brought to you by Clear Channel Communications. The corporation owns most of the billboards and numerous nightclubs in the Bay area as well as the Shoreline Amphitheater. The company's acquisitions of rivals Jacor and AMFM made it the #1 radio station owner in the US. Clear Channel owns, programs, or sells airtime for some 1,200 radio stations (including pending transactions) throughout the US; it also has equity interests in more than 240 radio stations internationally. One of the world's largest outdoor advertising companies, Clear Channel has nearly 700,000 outdoor advertising displays worldwide. The company also owns or manages 18 TV stations and is the leader in live entertainment through subsidiary Clear Channel Entertainment (formerly SFX Entertainment). And just this past week the company has announced it will purchase media company The Ackerley Group, for $500 million in stock, the deal would allow the San Antonio-based company to enter Boston, Seattle and Portland, Ore., which have three of the top 25 U.S. outdoor advertising markets.

Clear Channel has a very clear balance sheet that it operates from. Evidently Davey D.’s talent, audience, and contributions, as assets, were not worth his salary to the numbers crunchers, managers and executives at Clear Channel and KMEL. That is the bottom line.

But what is the bottom line for the Black, Latino and Asian radio audience, and Hip-Hop community that provides a significant level of financial support (assets) for Clear Channel? What is the balance sheet that the Hip-Hop community informally keeps of its assets and liabilities?

We ask this question in light of our impression of the manner in which Davey’s firing is being viewed and handled by the Hip-Hop community. Much like when Tavis Smiley’s contract was not renewed by BET, we received a slew of e-mails from angry, disappointed and shocked individuals who spread the word of Davey’s termination. We were asked to call KMEL and Clear Channel; we were encouraged to write and e-mail certain individuals. The efforts all appeared to be sincere and considerate thoughts about how to react to what happened. But we could not get out of our heads what we witnessed with the Tavis Smiley-BET incident. When Tavis was let go, it was as if a revolutionary had been assassinated - the level of reaction was so intense. But today what is the result of all of the efforts to make BET and Viacom re-think their decision? Where are the Black community, Tavis, and BET/Viacom today as a result of the various campaigns aimed at 1)getting Tavis back on the air at BET or 2)using dollars to make a statement of displeasure over his no longer being on BET?

By our count, BET seems to have a bit more resources since Tavis left; a different look; and a bit more news, although not anything like what Tavis provided. Tavis has signed a multi-million dollar deal with several major corporate media outlets to provide content and the Black community seems to be pacified or satisfied over what happened. At least the matter seems like it is lost in the distant past.

Davey D. has been and continues to be an asset to the Black, Latino, Asian and Hip-Hop community. His show, "Street Knowledge" was one-of –a kind, featuring Hip-Hop artists, politicians and elected officials, community activists, and the Bay Area and national community. The very first Street Knowledge show, in 1995 centered around affirmative action and featured Rev. Jesse Jackson, Chuck D., Paris and Willie Brown. His topics, over the years, have ranged from the FBI’s counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO); political issue debates; and Hip-Hop culture. In addition, no one denies the influence that Davey’s show had on influencing the effort that defeated Prop 21 – the controversial juvenile crime bill. Moreover, Davey and his show provided a non-partisan forum for Black politicians – Black conservatives and Black radicals were equally welcome and everyone from Shannon Reeves to Rev. Al Sharpton were featured as guests on the show. He has also had Senators Hillary Rodham-Clinton and Diane Feinstein on his show. All is not lost in the elimination of Davey’s position - Davey’s presence is still being felt and is available on 94.1 KPFA - "Hardknock Radio", but the loss of Davey as community affairs director at KMEL is a severe one to anyone who loves Hip-Hop and is interested in the effort to make culture relevant to current events and the most important community and national issues.

In our opinion, Davey, as a "youth leader"(to borrow Minister Farrakhan’s identification of Hip-Hop artists) deserves our support, personally and professionally, and if his service rendered to all of us was an asset on our balance sheet, then we should act accordingly. That support can take shape in a variety of ways, according to each individual and institution’s measurement of Davey’s value. Certainly one manner of supporting Davey would be to have the phones at KMEL and Clear Channel ring off the hook. And another manner would be an effort to encourage investors to divest of their holdings of Clear Channel stock. But what of the fact that the sad reality is that it is Clear Channel Inc., a corporate communications and entertainment conglomerate that has provided a home for our youth, community, cultural and political "leader"? To attack Clear Channel without taking a balanced look at the obviously pathetic condition of Hip-Hop, Black and Latino radio may work off some righteous indignation, anger, and dissatisfaction but in the long-run how does it help the respective communities? In addition to opposing Clear Channel, why not lobby the largest Black-owned radio company, Radio One, Inc. (stock symbol: ROIA) to hire Davey D. on one of its stations, like it did with Tom Joyner (after he became a "liability" to his former employer)?

If a coalition cannot be formed to support Davey professionally and personally, independent of confronting Clear Channel, how could such a failure be anything other than an indictment and indication of the lack of unity and commitment that exists in the Hip-Hop, Black, Latino and Asian communities that have been served by Davey?

When thinking of Davey's situation let’s remember the success and failures in the effort to support Tavis Smiley, as well as the actual results obtained. If we don’t learn the lessons of history we are doomed to repeat past mistakes.

If Clear Channel’s financial liability is our human asset, then let’s individually and collectively think and act like it. How should we use our words, actions and dollars in valuing our assets and opposing those, who by nature of their disrespect of our assets, have themselves become liabilities?

Remember, we have a balance sheet to keep track of, and we certainly have a duty to protect shareholder value, just like Clear Channel does...

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, October 12, 2001

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