Deja Vu at the FCC

Greater Media CEO Peter Smyth comments on two recent FCC rulings in his current internal blog.

I’m having a déjà vu as I follow the recent proceedings of the FCC in Washington.

You may have missed the most recent chapter, since it was right before the holidays. Let me share it with you. Kevin Martin, chairman of the commission, and a one vote majority has pushed through a relaxation on the cross-ownership rules in the top 20 markets. This change essentially allows broadcasters and newspaper owners in those markets to consolidate. The second interesting development was the notice of proposed rulemaking that would reinstitute regulation of local content for radio stations. Specific items to be monitored and mandated include the type and amount of local programming, how stations are staffed and advised, and perhaps even explanations of how music is chosen for the radio station. On one hand, the government wants not only to deregulate media cross-ownership but also to deregulate satellite radio to form a monopoly, and on the other hand, they want to re-regulate local radio.

The irony of these contradictory positions is breathtaking.

Two satellite operators who have spent themselves into financial deep water get a regulatory hall pass, while local radio gets taken to the woodshed even though it has been both responsive to its communities and challenged by a multitude of shifting media habits. The FCC needs to be consistent across the board. The juxtaposition of these two developments is striking and reminds me of the stand that our company took back in the 90’s when the regulations for radio were being rewritten. Peter Bordes stood alone when he instructed Greater Media’s attorneys to file comments with the FCC opposing the deregulation proposals then being discussed. Peter set Greater Media on the road to compete aggressively within this changing marketplace without losing the characteristics that make our company unique. He continued to stress local origination and community involvement, not as required by the FCC, but as good business practice. Because Greater Media had its roots in suburban community radio stations, Peter was well-versed and a deep believer in community involvement as a key to success. It was self evident to him as an experienced owner of radio stations. No amount of paperwork or reporting will compel an owner to operate a good radio station, just as no amount of regulation will eliminate the franchise outlet stations that now dot the landscape.

It’s up to each of us to make today radio’s best days. A vibrant radio industry starts with a grass roots effort – not through government mandate. I’m talking about the men and women in Paducah and Poughkeepsie who are selling radio today. Instead of just focusing on agencies, they should also be attending Chamber of Commerce meetings to find out what its members need and how we can help. This is where local broadcasters can make a difference in the lives of their listeners and advertisers. When are we going to unleash the power of local radio and become solution providers? We can be that guiding light in the fog to help automobile manufacturers sell cars and retailers sell their goods and services. I refuse to participate in negativity. We need to work toward finding solutions as a unified group. Its going to be the many not the few – that make a difference in our industry.

Governmental attempts to regulate stations into genuine local involvement is as burdensome and silly as it was back in the 1970’s. The FCC cannot mandate good broadcasting; only good broadcasters can do that. Government cannot make a vibrant business. But government can surely regulate a business into trouble. Diversity of ownership and operating philosophies is what creates diversity and quality of programming, content and community involvement. All the FCC can do is outline the permitted size of our medium and give us consistent and coherent rulemaking on issues that arise.


<P>Greater Media CEO Peter Smyth’s “Corner Office”</P>

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