The FCC’s Trumpian Shift is On

The governing paradigm in contemporary U.S. communications policy is genuflection to principles that invoke the “free market,” especially post-1980 when economics captured the policymaking process. As such, all Federal Communications Commissioners, regardless of party, will couch their positions and rationales in this language, though nearly all also make the effort to connect their rationales to something akin to “the public interest,” which has been the principal ideal as mandated by the agency’s own authorizing statute.

But the FCC’s also been a safe space for the occasional ideologue who worships capitalism as the human condition most worthy of emulation. It is not a radical notion to believe that an economic theory may not be an appropriate paradigm by which to organize all of the workings of an entire society. Folks who do believe that are market-fundamentalists; and whether it comes in economic, political, or religious flavors, fundamentalism is an extreme that the act of being civilized tends to temper. Read More

Thanks to Translator-Mongering, AM Broadcasters Now Openly Advocating Band’s Abandonment

It’s still more than two months away, but in late November Americans will sit down with their families/friends and gorge themselves on food, then satedly lounge around giving thanks for their bounty. The U.S. radio industry’s going through that process presently, having spent most of the year scarfing up and then trading around FM translator stations.

In quick summary: FM translators are a class of radio station limited to a broadcast power of 250 watts but unlimited in antenna height (the key factor for good FM coverage). They are considered secondary services, in that they must rebroadcast another radio station. For decades, translators have been used as stand-in broadcast nodes by interests who wanted to build out radio networks on the cheap — by and large, these have been religious and public broadcasters who pipe in programming via satellite to air on a translator. Translators don’t require any staff and since they don’t originate their own programming all they need is a shack for the RF-boxes and a tower nearby.

This all began to change last decade when, after a multi-year freeze on new translator stations in order to implement the LPFM radio service, the FCC opened a filing window for new translators in 2003. Several cunning parties were well-prepared for this opportunity, flooding the agency with tens of thousands of translator applications — a 250-watt FM spectrum gold rush. Out of these came thousands of new translator stations, which in the intervening years have been fodder for speculative development of the FM dial around the country. Read More

NAB Show Leaves Radio in Shadows

According to reportbacks from the just-concluded NAB Show in Las Vegas, it was a lopsided affair in favor of the future of television. And why not: broadcasters stand to make billions over the next year selling off their spectrum, and those who stay on the air will be rolling out a new digital television standard with new content and datacasting potential.

Meanwhile, the radio industry’s been rocked back on its heels by a slew of bad fiscal news. iHeartMedia, for now, has managed to stave off several billion dollars’ worth of its debt being called in early by angry bond-holders, but the company’s effectively now engaged in increasingly nasty legal maneuvering to decide its debt end-game sooner rather than later. #2 conglomerate Cumulus Media’s still squeezing its broadcast properties also in hopes of keeping bankruptcy at bay. Emmis faces delisting by NASDAQ in early June. Even the relatively fiscally-sound CBS has announced its intent to spin off its entire radio division into a separate company, selling it also seems to be an open option. Read More

Actual Fake News Costs TV Station $115,000

Back in 2009, Journal Broadcast Corporation’s KTNV-TV in Las Vegas ran a series of “special reports” on the liquidation sales of auto dealerships formatted like news stories, aired immediately adjacent to the station’s weekend newscasts, with a “staff person…posing as a journalist” in each one. Surprise: the dealerships paid for the “coverage.” After a five-year investigation, Journal and the FCC entered into a consent decree released on Friday that has Journal fessing up to the deception and making a voluntary contriubtion of $115,000 to the U.S. Treasury.

According to the decree, the caper was the brainchild of Vegas-area advertising agency, and the complainant was another TV station in the market. It originally alleged that three stations were involved in the pay-for-coverage business, but the FCC’s only dimed one of them. Between May and August 2009, KTNV ran 27 of these “special reports.” Read More

NABing the Airwaves

By Jennifer Barrios

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) held their annual conference this year in Las Vegas, and high on their agenda was what to do with those pesky microbroadcasters, or “pirates” as they like to call these crusaders of the airwaves. FCC officials turned out to this event en masse, for it is the NAB who really controls the FCC, not Congress. The FCC spent much time telling the NAB what they wanted to hear: that the FCC is on a single-minded mission to obliterate microbroadcasters from the airwaves and save the precious NAB corporate monopoly. FCC Chairman William Kennard, however, in an interesting comment, indicated that he was not averse to licensing small, micropower stations. “Let me be clear about one thing,” he admonished an old NAB broadcaster at the FCC Chairman’s Breakfast. “Let’s not confuse pirate radio with microbroadcasting.” Is this a sign of the FCC finally cracking, or simply another example of straddling the fence? Will the NAB’s monopoly over the airwaves finally be toppled? Read More