Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai is feeling his oats. After conducting a calculated and ideologically-driven campaign against a proposed FCC study of the practices and processes of journalism, the agency capitulated, killing the idea entirely. Pai reveled in his accomplishment: "In our country, the government does not tell the people what information they need. Instead, news outlets and the American public decide that for themselves."
It’s common for members of the Federal Communications Commission to use their positions as bully pulpits for favored causes. For example, Frieda Hennock (the agency’s first female Commissioner) pressed for an expansion of noncommercial broadcasting in the United States. Former Chairman Mark Fowler spoke loudly and often from the bully pulpit, decrying the regulation of media more broadly and precipitating the wildly neoliberal paradigm that has captured contemporary regulation.
More recently, Chairman William Kennard spoke out against media consolidation by advocating for the creation of the LPFM radio service, while Commissioner Mignon Clyburn spearheaded a drive to drastically reduce the rates for making calls from prisons, among many other initiatives during her stint as interim Chair.
But sometimes the bully pulpit provides a way to dissent from agency practices, the idea being that public scrutiny may pressure some change from within. Former Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein were famous for touring the country and holding public hearings to learn what actual Americans thought about the state of their media environment.
The quiet collection of "evidence" on which to justify an all-digital HD Radio mandate for AM stations continues.
After some stealth experimentation on a CBS station in Charlotte, North Carolina late last year, there’s word of two other AM stations in the state conducting all-digital broadcast-tests this summer. The guinea pigs were WBT, a 50,000-watt station owned by Greater Media (also in Charlotte) and WNCT, a 50,000-watt (day)/10,000-watt (night) Beasley Broadcast-owned AM station in Greenville.
WBT secured experimental authorization from the FCC to conduct these tests just two weeks before they took place; WNCT also asked for fast-track authority less than a month before its all-digital broadcasts.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai recently spoke at the the Missouri Association of Broadcasters’ annual convention, where he repeated his call for the FCC to undertake an "AM Revitalization Initiative." Telling the assembled broadcasters that "you’ve got a friend in me," he again listed off the possible policy options to help the beleaguered band, one of which includes its complete digitalization.
If Pai is truly a friend of broadcasters and the public interest, and seriously considers digitalization a viable option for AM, he should open the inquiry to alternatives to HD Radio, such as Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM).