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Clear Channel Loses Greek Theater Concerts

Tuesday March 30, 2004

A Berkeley-based concert promoter has struck a blow against corporate music behemoth Clear Channel Entertainment, winning the exclusive rights to promote concerts at the Greek Theater. 

The three-year contract between Cal Performances and Another Planet Entertainment (APE), announced last week, effectively ends Clear Channel’s monopoly over amphitheater venues in the Bay Area. 

It is also the latest salvo in an ongoing feud between Clear Channel and their former employees, UC Berkeley alumnus Gregg Perloff and Berkeley High graduate Sherry Wasserman, who left the company last year to start APE. The two parties are currently in litigation over APE’s first independent concert, a Bruce Springsteen show last summer at Pacific Bell Park that Clear Channel insists Perloff and Wasserman organized while they were still Clear Channel employees. 

Wasserman said she and Perloff decided to bolt from the company after repeated clashes with top management over ideas for shows. After years as one of the region’s dominant promoters for Bill Graham Presents, she savors her new underdog role. “Clear Channel wants to rule the world,” she said. 

Clear Channel has a poor reputation among free speech advocates and music lovers for the company’s banning of controversial songs from its radio stations following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and employing strict decency standards that led to the banishment of radio shock jock Howard Stern from its airwaves. In addition, the company maintains close ties to Republican politicians. But Robert Cole, director of Cal Performances, insisted politics weren’t a factor in his decision to sever ties with Clear Channel. 

“This was more about which group shared our vision for what the Greek could become,” he said. Cole received bids from three promoters—APE, Clear Channel and Nederlander, a Los Angeles-based promoter—and said the top two bidders offered similar (Cole would not reveal which company came in second).  

APE got the nod, he said, because the promoters pledged to make the 8,000-capacity theater in the Berkeley hills their signature venue and offered to put money into upgrading its facilities. That’s something the university can’t do on its own, Cole explained, because of its budget crunch. Cole said he didn’t expect the change in booking agent to affect ticket prices. 

Wasserman said the Greek Theater deal would give APE a base to compete locally with Clear Channel. “For us it’s extremely important to have a place to call home,” she said. “After leaving Clear Channel, there aren’t many buildings still open to independents.” Wasserman and Perloff are no strangers to the Greek Theater venue. They booked it for years when they at Bill Graham Presents. 

Lee Smith, Clear Channel’s vice president of the Western region of its music division, didn’t reply to telephone inquiries. 

Since a 1996 Federal communications law loosened restrictions on media ownership, Clear Channel has gone on a buying spree, gobbling up 135 concert venues, 1,225 radio stations and 39 television stations, according to its website. One of its purchases was SFX Entertainment, the parent company of Bill Graham Presents, which Wasserman and Perloff had co-owned with 14 other partners.  

“The deal bodes well for seeing the best schedule at the Greek in years,” said Gary Bongiovani, editor at Pollstar magazine, a music industry periodical. Previously the venue didn’t get high priority, he said, because Clear Channel shipped most of its top shows to its outdoor theaters in Concord and Mountain View. “In terms of pushing shows into the facility, it makes sense to go with Another Planet,” he said. 

Another Planet might also increase the number of shows at the Greek, said Cole of Cal Performances. The venue is permitted 15 performances a year, but Cole said in recent years Clear Channel had only booked between eight and 10.  

The Greek will now be shut out of some big name performers that have exclusive contracts with Clear Channel, but Wasserman said nearly all of the regular performers for the summer stage would remain available and that she was hoping to book a more eclectic roster of performers. 

Since forming APE, the company has taken over and renovated two clubs in San Francisco—The Independent, formerly known as the Justice League and the Grand Ballroom—and have promoted shows in Sacramento featuring Simon and Garfunkel and Metallica.