NW lawsuit targets religious concert monopoly

Lawsuit alleges monopoly on local Christian concerts
By Christian News Northwest

A Vancouver, Wash., agency’s complaint against America’s biggest Christian broadcaster over alleged anti-competitive practices locally has garnered attention in national news.  ABC News last month reported that LMG Concerts has filed suit against Salem Communications — owner of Portland’s KPDQ AM-FM and KFIS “104.1 The Fish” —claiming that the broadcaster is using “monopoly control” that locks up the market for concerts in Portland and many other large cities across the U.S.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Portland June 21, the lawsuit alleges that Salem Communications has built a “monopolistic, multimedia empire” that is severely harming LMG’s ability to compete in the concert industry, thus creating “higher prices and fewer offerings for consumers.” LMG seeks punitive damages as well as an injunction against Salem Communications for alleged violations of state and federal antitrust law.

Salem Communications owns and operates about 100 radio stations, including in 23 of the top 25 markets of the nation. According to the suit, 104.1 The Fish — the only commercially licensed contemporary Christian music radio signal in the Portland area — dominates the Christian music airwaves locally with about 214,000 listeners in an average week.

The suit goes on to charge that Salem Communications’ live entertainment arm, Fish Concerts, seeks to dominate the Christian concert promotion business.

Lowell McGregor, LMG’s principal, has nearly 30 years experience in concert production work. His firm has produced concerts for many of the biggest names in contemporary Christian music, including Michael W. Smith, Third Day, Steven Curtis Chapman and Toby Mac.

The lawsuit states that among the various advertising options, radio is a critical tool for promoting concerts. But in the case of the Portland market, it alleges, The Fish controls “100 percent of the market share for commercial contemporary Christian music,” and it is necessary for LMG to have access to advertising and promotion on the station.

C. Evan Stewart, a partner with a New York City law firm, told ABC News that allegations of anti-competitive practices are increasing as the music industry becomes more heavily concentrated among fewer companies. But Stewart said LMG’s claims might not hold up today, because much of the anti-trust law developed decades ago when public access to media was more limited. He said LMG will need to prove that radio remains a vitally important way to promote concerts even though communications have become more diverse over the years, including such options as the Internet.

Citing pending litigation, the legal counsel for Salem Communications declined to comment on the lawsuit to ABC News. Likewise, MacGregor and his attorney declined comment to the media.

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