It's been a long first quarter for radio and advertising giant Clear Channel Communications (NYSE:CCU). With the New Year in its infancy, Janet Jackson's malfunctioning wardrobe brought down threats from those darn government regulators, provoking the firm to conduct a disingenuous, exculpatory purge, plus pay fines for the sins of jocks like "Bubba the Love Sponge."

Since then, the airwaves seem to be clearing, and the numbers are looking healthy. The corporation's first-quarter numbers trumpet a 58% increase in earnings per share, but stick your fingers in your ears for a minute and read below the headlines.

When we last checked in with the firm, it took a fair bit of squintin' and cipherin' to figure out that 2003's full-year results were salvaged, mostly by gains from sales of the firm's stake in Univision (NYSE:UVN).

There's more of the same for first-quarter 2004. Dropping its stake and shedding radio stations juiced the numbers, yielding $0.19 per stub. Without these onetime credits, the earnings improvement was a mere 33%, meaning $0.16 per share -- impressive by any measure.

Revenues grew across the board, though outdoor advertising and live entertainment notched markups in the high teens, much better than radio's 5% uptick. But any sales gain looks good when viewed to other media peers. As we've seen in recent results for other media conglomerates, advertising dollars aren't rising everywhere.

Clear Channel has produced healthy free cash flow over the past few years, and it looks like the extra green is being put to good use. Debt was reduced by $780 million last quarter, and there's an ongoing share repurchase plan. With ad sales increasing, the slimmer, trimmer Clear Channel looks well positioned to profit should the economy really kick into high gear.

If talk radio hosts keep you on hold, try ranting on the Fool's Current Events discussion board.

Fool contributor Seth Jayson prefers NPR. He owns no stake in any firm mentioned above. View his Fool profile here.