A loud chatter of several hundred people echo off the walls and high ceilings of Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH headquarters in Kenwood. Technicians mill around the stage area, hooking up mics and speakers around the middle and two diagonal tables on the stage. Finally, the chattering reduces to a low hum and the four FCC commissioners and chairman take seats in front of an anxious audience. Behind them, an enlarged black-and-white photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., mid-speech. And so begins the Chicago FCC Public Hearing on Media Ownership, fifth out of six being held around the country.
The hearing includes a panel discussion from Chicago-area media pioneers, owners and activists. Each of them, about a dozen, sit calmly in front of their typed placards with names and titles. Moments before the commissioners address the crowd, MC KRS-One emerges from a back door on the right and drops a handwritten placard onto the table, the Sharpie letters taking up the entire space, and sits down.
KRS-One hollers into the mic and then quickly pulls back, “Oh, OK, this isn’t a club.” He continues, talking about the misrepresentation of African-Americans on the radio, and the impossibility of independent artists to get radio play. Turning to the commissioners, he chuckles, “We may have never met if I hadn’t been here.” Karen Bond, executive director of the National Black Coalition for Media Justice, pulls out a pair of children’s sneakers, a man’s dress shoes and a pair of gold high heels—meant to symbolize the voices not represented on the radio.
Following the panel discussion, audience members come up and share their opinions on media conglomeration. A wide range of speeches emerge from the audience, with representatives from CAN-TV, WLUW and Radio Arte, as well as college and high-school students, media activists and concerned citizens.
A couple of hours of that—a short break, and then a second panel discussion. Patric Verrone, president of Writers Guild America West, promotes the “real creamy goodness” of “integrity,” holding up a milk carton with the word printed on the side in his argument against product placement. Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks, fresh off the plane from Louisiana. The commissioners and chairman are in and out of their seats, provoking WLUW representatives to repeatedly yell out from their seats “Where’s the chairman!?” The commissioners stare with tired eyes as the night drags on, adjusting their neckties and sipping cans of diet coke. More media activists, more concerned citizens. “Clear Channel doesn’t owe me anything,” says one, “neither do a lot of child molesters—but I don’t give them free access to my family.”
It’s now 12:30am, eight and a half hours from the start of the hearing, and the few dozen people left, including CAN-TV—the only TV media that stuck around for the entire event—slump exhaustedly, through empty water bottles and crumpled flyers. (Stephanie Ratanas)