On the brink: Clear Channel saddled by debt

No media corporation is immune to today's advertising downturn, and Clear Channel Communications, an immense and fearsome force in radio, is no exception. A radio conglomerate in business since 1972, Clear Channel, based in San Antonio, Texas, seemed invincible back in 1996, when new regulations allowed it to snap up multiple stations in many markets. Today, however, company fortunes have fallen so fast that it's said to be weighing a prepackaged bankruptcy.

Though it spent its first two decades as a sleepy owner of stations mostly in the Southwest, Clear Channel exploded across the nation after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 relaxed station-ownership restrictions. A glance at Clear Channel's current roster reveals a still mighty empire that encompassed some 900 stations, controlling much of the dial in markets great (11 stations in Los Angeles) and small (eight stations in Huntington, West Virginia). No question Clear Channel seemed invincible when private-equity firms Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners acquired it less than a year ago, in a leveraged buyout, for $27 billion.