FCC Enforcement Cuts: The Fine(ish) Print

More details are trickling out about the proposal to dramatically slash the FCC’s enforcement presence in the field. To recap: two-thirds of the FCC’s 24 field offices would be closed, and staffing would be cut in half. To make up for the cuts, the FCC would establish a “tiger team” to descend on enforcement hot-spots, using pre-positioned equipment. Where the FCC cedes the field entirely, it seeks to establish relationships with private-sector interests to help with its job.

At a hearing on Capitol Hill last week on the FCC budget, Chairman Tom Wheeler attempted to explain the cuts. He said this is the first time the agency’s examined its enforcement activities in such depth in more than 20 years. They found the FCC’s “field footprint” to be “too large and inefficient.” His prepared testimony casts this as dispassionate math: simply put, the cost-per-employee out in the field is much higher than it is back at headquarters. Read More

Broadcasters: Music and Sports Payola is Okay

Several broadcasters have teamed up in a petition with the FCC seeking to change the agency’s sponsorship identification rules. Presently, if an entity pays a radio station to put a program on the air, the station must clearly disclose this relationship on the air at the time the sponsored programming is played. This rule is an old one, first instituted to crack down on the practices of payola and plugola — or the back-channel compensation of radio stations by record labels and promoters to spin their tunes.

The “Radio Broadcasters Coalition” reads like a who’s who of corporate radio: Beasley Broadcast Group, Cox Radio, Cromwell, Emmis, Entercom, First Natchez, Greater Media, Henson Media, and Clear Channel iHeartMedia. Their 20-page proposal seeks to flip the script on payola/plugola disclosures, allowing stations to air music and sports programming that the station is paid directly for without any on-air disclosure at the time of broadcast. Instead, the Coalition suggests that stations engage in a “robust listner education program” about sponsored programming, run “daily announcements” about sponsored programming, and post “enhanced disclosures” online. Read More

Massive Cuts Planned to FCC Field Enforcement

A very interesting memorandum was leaked last week to two trade publications detailing a plan to severely reduce the FCC’s enforcement presence in the field. Presently, the agency’s Enforcement Bureau has two dozen field offices scattered throughout 17 states and Puerto Rico. However, not every field office is created equal: there are Regional Offices (many employees), District Offices (a handful of employees) and Resident Agent Offices (one or two people).

According to the American Radio Relay League, two-thirds of all FCC Enforcement Bureau offices would be closed, leaving just half the staff (33 people total) in the field. And their management is positively evicerated: reduced from 21 positions to just five. Read More

Digital Radio’s Global Consensus

It’s a tale of two futures for broadcasting. In the United States, as the radio industry and regulators wrestle with a poorly-designed and proprietary digital radio standard, online competitors are eroding the market share of stations and redefining radio itself in the process. Our reaction so far has been carefully-cultivated denial and wild swings between cheerleading and hand-wringing. Contrast that with Europe, which has widely adopted the Eureka 147 DAB standard. Now nearly 30 years old, DAB has gone through an evolution of its own, and the latest variant is called DAB+.

Many countries that initially adopted DAB are rebuilding their networks to accommodate DAB+. Cross-compatible receivers are on the market, and since the system works on non-broadcast spectrum, countries have some flexibility on how to build and deploy their digital radio networks. Read More

Still Waiting for the HD Payday

There’s been a slew of news about HD Radio uptake, but as usual, not a lot of meat on the bones. Rather, it’s the continuation of a yearly practice of demonstrating signs of life. These are designed not so much for the radio industry or listening public as much as they are for investors waiting to see a return for subsidizing the system’s development and promotion. 15 years on from the founding of iBiquity Digital Corporation, they’re still waiting.

The most notable announcement is the (re)launch of an advertising camapaign to agitate listener interest in radio-via-smartphones. It’s based primarily around NextRadio, the Emmis-developed FM receiver application available on select Android devices. Until last month, the “Free Radio on My Phone” campaign generally advocated the benefits of having an FM chip enabled on mobile devices, but the new iteration directly promotes NextRadio itself, according to the campaign materials available online. Read More