Is the cup getting fuller, losing liquid, or staying level? That's the question that faces investors in media giant Clear Channel (NYSE:CCU), as news agencies sift through the complex morass of the firm's full-year and fourth-quarter numbers for 2003.

For the record, the company claims flattish Q4 results, with a 4% revenue uptick that yielded $0.30 per share in earnings, the same as last year. For the full year, the second paragraph proudly reports a 58% increase in earnings, to $1.85 per share. But things aren't quite so simple in the spin zone known as investor relations. It may be a buzz cramp, but approaching the truth takes a bit of elbow grease, or at least requires us to read a couple more paragraphs in the release.

As Alyce Lomax pointed out last fall, the firm's previous numbers were juiced not by advertising sales, but by shedding investments in the raging success story of Univision (NYSE:UVN). It's the same story for those full-year numbers. Subtracting the one-time gain leaves full-year EPS from normal operations at $1.17 per share, down a penny from last year. But the 2002 results were also kludged up by special items. Setting aside the madness, 2003's $1.17 per share was a 3.5% gain over last year's $1.13.

Investors waiting for better ad revenues should be enthusiastic about its successes with two important core businesses: outdoor advertising and concerts. These posted 17% and 8% revenue gains for the year, respectively, while generating improved gross margins in the fourth quarter. Some of the outdoor unit's gain is owed to currency fluctuation and an acquisition, but this is still some news worth hearing.

Overall, Clear Channel is holding its own when compared to other advertising-dependent media heavies like Knight Ridder (NYSE:KRI), The New York Times Co. (NYSE:NYT), Tribune (NYSE:TRB), or Gannett (NYSE:GNT). It also looks better than recent results from competitor Westwood One (NYSE:WON). Not to mention, the firm trades at a good-looking, sub-20 ratio to its free cash flow.

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Fool Contributor Seth Jayson prefers to listen to Cheap Trick. He owns no stake in any company mentioned here.