FCC Pirate Radio Enforcement Drops to 2004 Levels

This year has been fairly unremarkable regarding the FCC’s unlicensed broadcast efforts: just 111 actions against a few dozen stations across 10 states. However, the overwhelming majority (76%) of enforcement efforts this year have been have been focused on the FM dials of New York and New Jersey. This is a clear sign of the broadcast industry’s active involvement in the enforcement process, acting as a conduit for complaints on which the FCC follows up.

That said, enforcement tactics remain almost wholly administrative. Only five Notices of Apparent Liability totalling $70,000 have been issued this year, while just one fine of $20,000 has been levied against a pirate radio operator. In every case, the FCC built up at least six months’ of evidence; in some instances (particularly involving pirates facing threats of fines in New Jersey), the unlicensed broadcasters have been on the agency’s radar since 2012. Read More

HD Proponents Seek Protection for “No New Spectrum”

An interesting trial-balloon was floated last month in Radio World. In it, John Kean, one of the founding employees of NPR Labs (who was let go in a reshuffle this past August) suggested that the FCC’s spectrum allocation rules be revised to better “protect” FM-HD Radio sideband signals.

Before going any further, it’s best to cover some history. HD Radio was adopted by the FCC in 2000 primarily on the premise that the system used “no new spectrum.” In fact, FM-HD signals double the spectral footprint of FM stations — but HD’s proponents got around this by appropriating fallow spectrum the FCC leaves between stations as the stations’ own allocation. Read More

FCC Facilitated Right-Wing Hit Job on Workers Independent News

A year and a half since I tendered my Freedom of Information Act request with the Federal Communications Commission on its disturbing foray into determining the legitimacy of broadcast news outlets, the agency has finally responded. And it was with a big middle finger: of the more than 4,200 pages of documentation the agency identified as related to the case, the FCC released a paltry 88 (embedded at bottom).

The vast majority of this release is meaningless. It includes copies of the official orders in the WLS sponsorship-identification case, copies of the spot-sales contracts Workers Independent News entered into with WLS (it spent more than $33,000 to air its newscasts and feature programs on the station over a three-month period), official correspondence between the FCC and WLS’ attorneys related to the initial complaint inquiry, and some redacted e-mail correspondence between FCC staffers regarding the collection of the $44,000 fine assessed against WLS.

However, what little useful information gleaned from the disclosure only heightens the suspicion that the sponsorship-identification case against WLS was not motivated by the station’s failure to disclose (in a fraction of instances) that Workers Independent News had paid for its airtime, but rather by a right-wing operative seeking to muzzle Workers Independent News on ideological grounds. Read More

NextRadio Cuts Costs to Spur Adoption

It’s been a good year for NextRadio. The Emmis-developed smartphone application that enables FM listening on compatible devices is making great headway with wireless carriers. After paying Sprint to become the first-adopter, well-coordinated lobbying and social media campaigns this summer convinced T-Mobile and AT&T to request that the device manufacturers they work with enable FM reception. (Verizon remains a holdout, but that campaign continues).

With the consumer-side adoptive trend gaining momentum, efforts are now afoot to bring more broadcasters into the NextRadio fold. The back-end system that broadcast stations interface with is called TagStation; it maintains the NextRadio directory, provides all images and supplementary content to the audio broadcast, and manages the in-app advertising experience. Stations can sign up with TagStation for free, which means they’ll be listed in the NextRadio app and can display their logo to users. Read More

Cumulus Meltdown Continues; is iHeartMedia Next?

Things continue to spiral downward over at Cumulus Media, whose stock closed at 29 cents at the end of trading last week. That put the company’s total market capitalization at just $67.8 million dollars, or just 39% of what the HD Radio system sold for two months ago. NASDAQ has threatened to delist CLMS stock next spring unless it can resume consistent trading above $1.

Perhaps a better comparison might be to a direct competitor: see Townsquare Media, one of the second generation of radio consolidators formed in the last half-decade and now the third-largest owner of radio stations in the country (right behind Cumulus). Townsquare owns about 100-150 fewer stations than Cumulus does, has no holdings in network syndication or distribution companies, but it is making acquisitory forays into online platforms/apps and just three months ago purchased a traveling carinval company. Sound familiar? Only on the surface, because Wall Street valued Townsquare at 106 million dollars last Friday ($10.70/share on 9.94 million shares). Read More