(orignally published in the Chicago Sun-Times)
What's in a name? For Clear Channel, an Elevated status
August 10, 2005
BY JIM DEROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
An aspiring monopoly by any other name is still an aspiring monopoly -- or is it?
The local office of Texas-based concert, radio and billboard giant Clear Channel Communications announced Tuesday that its Chicago music operations will now be called Elevated Concerts.
In the early '90s, Clear Channel (formerly SFX) launched an unprecedented buying spree as part of what critics called an attempt to monopolize the national concert business. The company gobbled up venues and long-standing regional promoters across the country, including many of the most famous names in the industry, among them Bill Graham Presents in San Francisco and Ron Delsener Presents in New York.
Chicago remains one of the few major markets in the United States that still boasts a powerful local concert promotion company. Jam Productions refused to sell out to Clear Channel, and it continues to dominate the Chicago market, though Clear Channel operates several major venues here, including the Tweeter Center, the new Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island, the Rosemont Theatre and the Allstate Arena.
The name change has been rumored for months as a way for Clear Channel to battle negative publicity stemming from several lawsuits accusing it of monopolistic practices.
So here's what they're doing: Companies such as those founded by Delsener and Graham are reclaiming their original names, though they will still be part of the same giant national corporation.
"Basically we were tired of getting the bad publicity and of having major artists refuse to work with a company called 'Clear Channel,' " said a veteran East Coast concert promoter who works for a Clear Channel company now reverting to its old name.
Coinciding with the name change, Clear Channel announced that its second-quarter earnings for live entertainment have decreased by 1 percent from 2004 -- down from $73.4 million to $72.9 million -- and rumors persist that the parent company may be about to divest some or all of its live music operations.
Other areas of the company's business are faring even more poorly. According to Tuesday's figures, revenues from radio and outdoor advertising are each down 7 percent.
Since Clear Channel did not operate in Chicago before it began to compete with Jam -- and therefore has no original local name to revert back to -- it needed a new name for its Windy City operations, and it chose a moniker that evokes the city's famous elevated trains.
Scott Gelman, a former Jam employee now a vice president at Clear Channel, was quoted in a press release that also found Clear Channel CEO Michael Rapino heralding a desire "to restore the autonomy and bring back the rich heritage and enduring reputation of each of our local businesses."
"The last time I checked, there was only one concert promotion company with a rich heritage and an enduring reputation in Chicago, and that company was Jam," said Jam Productions talent buyer Andy Cirzan. Added Jam co-founder Jerry Mickelson: "I wonder if the new concert company was aptly named due to 'Elevated Ticket Prices'?"
Mickelson often has charged that Clear Channel has driven up the price of concert tickets for Chicago fans. Clear Channel executives respond that the intense competition with Jam has been the real culprit, and concertgoers would be better off without the two companies vying to promote the same acts.
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