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Buzbee billboard lawsuit dismissed

I did say it was a dumb lawsuit.

“Objection Overruled”, by Charles Bragg

A state district judge has dismissed challenger Tony Buzbee’s lawsuit against Mayor Sylvester Turner and advertising company Clear Channel Outdoor over a series of billboards for the city’s AlertHouston campaign.

In the suit, Buzbee claimed Clear Channel and Turner had conspired to support the mayor’s re-election bid by “promoting him as a civic-minded safety conscious leader” on the ad campaign for a system that sends alerts to Houston residents during emergency situations.

The advertisements, which were taken down earlier this month, featured a photo of Turner next to the words “Be Prepared. Be Safe. Be Alert Houston.”

Buzbee, a trial lawyer, said in a statement Tuesday that he plans to appeal the ruling, which was issued last Friday by 281st District Judge Christine Weems.


Weems did not explain the dismissal in her ruling, writing only that Turner and Clear Channel had 21 days to set a hearing or file a motion to determine how much they would be reimbursed for attorney fees and other costs.

See here for the background. The billboards were taken down, which is what Buzbee wanted, though the Turner campaign says they were going to be coming down around this time anyway. The motion to dismiss was filed by the defendants, so in that sense Buzbee lost, and unless the suit is reinstated he’ll be on the hook for court costs and attorney fees. This has been your irregularly scheduled Dumb Lawsuits Update.

This was a busy week for dumb lawsuits

Exhibit A:

“Objection Overruled”, by Charles Bragg

Houston mayoral challenger Tony Buzbee followed through his pledge to sue Mayor Sylvester Turner Wednesday, claiming that donated billboards for the city’s AlertHouston! campaign violate campaign finance laws because they feature a photo of Turner.

The lawsuit, filed in the 281st state district court, names Turner and Clear Channel Outdoor Inc., the company that donated the 27 billboards, as defendants.

Buzbee’s petition claims Clear Channel is “blatantly supporting” Turner in the November mayoral race “by plastering his smiling face across this city while promoting him as a civic-minded, safety conscious leader.”

The billboards promote AlertHouston!, a system that sends alerts to Houston residents during emergency situations.

I’m not going to waste our time on the details here. Let’s refer to this earlier story for the reasons why this is dumb.

Buck Wood, an Austin-based campaign finance lawyer, equated Buzbee’s allegations to a hypothetical real estate agent who, after announcing a run for public office, would then have to take down any advertisements for their private business.

“I have never seen anything like that,” he said.

Proving the billboards are illegal, Wood said, would require Buzbee to show that the company and Turner struck a deal explicitly aimed at aiding the mayor’s re-election.

“You’d have to have good, strong evidence that they put up these pictures just for the purpose of helping elect him,” Wood said. “…You’d have to prove a conspiracy, and that’s basically impossible to do in this situation.”

Each year around hurricane season, former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett would appear on billboards, in some years directing people to the county’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management website. Emmett said he used campaign funds to pay for the billboards during election years.

I mean, I know Tony Buzbee is supposed to be a super duper lawyer and all, but maybe he might have asked another lawyer about this first? Just a thought.

Exhibit B:

Months after being denied media credentials for the Texas House, the conservative organization Texas Scorecard — a product of Empower Texans, a Tea Party-aligned political advocacy group with one of the state’s best-funded political action committees — has filed a First Amendment lawsuit arguing that its rejection from the lower chamber constitutes “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”

Before the legislative session kicked off in January, two employees of Texas Scorecard, Brandon Waltens and Destin Sensky, applied for media credentials in both chambers of the Legislature. In the Senate, their credentials were granted; in the House, they were denied. The two chambers follow similar rules about who is allowed special journalistic access to the floor, and both prohibit lobbyists. But the chambers’ political atmospheres are different.

House Administration Chair Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who has sparred with Empower Texans and its PAC in the past, told the group in a January rejection letter that it was ineligible for media credentials because “the organization you are employed by, Texas Scorecard, has a close association with a general-purpose political committee (GPAC) and that the organization’s website prominently displays advocacy on policy matters before the legislature.” As evidence of the group’s affiliation with the PAC, Geren cited the organizations’ shared address — but by the time Geren’s letter was issued, the lawsuit claims, they no longer shared that address.

Empower Texans PAC has backed primary opponents to Geren and has given Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Texas Senate, more than $850,000 in the last five years.

Now, Empower Texans is very likely to get a friendly hearing from the State Supreme Court, so at least from a strategic perspective, this isn’t a dumb lawsuit. It’s very likely to be a successful lawsuit. But come on. If these Empower Texans flunkies count as “journalists”, then that word has no meaning. All of us are made a little more dumb by the existence of this lawsuit.

Bringing rock music back to Houston

Mike McGuff notes the reappearance of an old Rock 101 KLOL billboard, and muses about having a real rock station in Houston again.

Why did Clear Channel kill Rock 101? I’ve been told it was because you had 93.7 The Arrow KKRW which was classic rock on one side and on the other was alternative 94.5 The Buzz KTBZ. Rock 101 was stuck in the middle and kind of played music from both formats. The company realized that it had too many stations playing the same music. Which one was the one to die? The one that played what the other two did. Never mind that Rock 101 was a 30 year heritage station with a lot of history and a sense of community. Sure the station sucked in later years, but listeners were hopeful and still loyal. I was told the station was still making money too.

I have nothing against Mega 101. But it should have been Mega 93.7 in my opinion. Does anyone really care about 93.7 The Arrow? It gets listened to because it is one of the few places to play classic rock, but it has no real emotional connection with listeners like Rock 101 did. I suspect the 101.1 target looked viable for a Mega format because it was close on the dial to 102.9 FM.

Clear Channel does not own KLOL anymore. CBS now does. CBS should take a dead station like Mix 96.5 (it also recently acquired) and change that to Mega 96.5. Then bring back Rock 101. Just don’t make it suck this time like Rock 103.7 KIOL please. The new Rock 101 should have a fresh coat of paint and updated image/music.

I agree that in its heyday, KLOL hit a sweet spot between “flavor of the week” and “same stale old ‘classics’ over and over again” that is sorely missing among commercial radio stations. I’d argue that 89.7 KACC fills that niche pretty nicely, and goes a step farther in that it includes local music, something we haven’t really had on the dial since Donna McKenzie’s “Made in Texas” show on the old 107.5 KZFX, but KACC suffers from a frustratingly weak signal, which makes listening to it a hit-or-miss experience. I’d love for there to be another Houston-based station, one you could listen to anywhere in town, that catered to real rock music fans. If there were to be such a thing, here are the three things I would beg of it, so that it would have a chance of not ending in bitter disappointment, as so many other “new” stations (like Jack and The Point, to name two prominent ones) have done.

1. Don’t insult our intelligence

Of my three wish list items, this one is non-negotiable. Please, for the love of Wolfman Jack, don’t be another focus-group-driven no-imagination limited-playlist atrocity. Hell, don’t have a playlist at all. Hire DJs that know their stuff, and set them free to spin what they want. When you play older music, don’t just give us the same moldy “classics” we’ve all heard a million times since the “classic rock” format was created 20 years ago. Play deep cuts. Play new music by classic artists – believe it or not, some of these acts have made albums since Ronald Reagan was President, but you’ll never hear it on any station in this town. Play artists that aren’t as well known, like the artists that inspired the guys we’re all familiar with. Play stuff from different eras, and different genres that influenced rock music, like blues music. Play local music, and promote live music events that feature local artists. Treat us like intelligent consumers that are fully aware we can go other places on the dial to hear “Stairway to Heaven” one more time.

2. Use social media to create a community

First, accept the fact that the vast majority of radio station websites are a wasteland of stupid games, popups, ads, annoying Flash intrusions, and brain-dead content, and vow not to be like that. Make your website a useful resource. List and maintain an archive of every song you play, with a brief clip so that when someone hears a tune they don’t recognize and they don’t hear it identified on the air, they can figure out who and what it is. Hell, include links to Amazon, iTunes, artist sites, and other places where we can buy a copy of each song, if we’re so moved. You could probably make some money off of that. Let local bands submit their tunes to you, as KACC does, and partner with them to provide some free downloads. Let (or make) the DJs, who are what gives a station its personality, have their own pages on the website that they regularly update, so they can tell us more about the bands and songs they love. Take requests via Twitter and/or Facebook. If you create specialty shows like Donna McKenzie’s “Made in Texas” (and you should), especially ones that air at odd hours, create podcasts of them that can be freely downloaded. Create Flickr and YouTube groups for pictures and videos taken at events hosted by the station, or even just for fans who want to share concert experiences. Needless to say, there’s a million things you can do here.

3. Don’t be afraid to experiment

I hope I’ve made it clear that the last thing we need is another cookie cutter station. Surely by now it must be obvious that the dull, dumbed-down homogenization of commercial radio is the reason for its decline in a media environment that allows so many choices for so many tastes. I also hope it’s clear that in this fragmented, diverse media environement, there is always a demand, and an audience, for quality. It may seem scary to experiment, and safer to do the same old same old, but consider how much successful TV programming is unconventional, “Mad Men” being the latest example. The beauty of all this is that with flexible playlist-free programming, and with a good social media presence, experimenting should be easy because you can get and respond to feedback quickly. That song list I said you should be publishing? Let people rate what they’re hearing and tell you if they want more of it or less of it. Act accordingly and you’ll never get too far off track. Doing stuff like this will help you establish a strong brand, with a loyal following, and that’s a mighty valuable thing.

What’s strange about all this is that I don’t see anything I’m suggesting here as being radical, or even all that unusual, and yet I feel like there’s no chance that a media behemoth like CBS or Clear Channel would ever think of doing these things. I suppose I could be overestimating the audience size for a non-brain dead radio station. Maybe the type of person that I think would tune in to this has given up on radio for good. But I don’t think it’s that hopeless, and I do think it’s worth the effort. Sadly, I don’t ever expect to see it happen.