Hasta La Vista, Main Studio Rule

How can you miss something that was never really there?

Larry Langford is owner of WGTO(AM) and W266BS in Cassopolis, Mich. His commentaries on radio issues such as those facing AM owners are a recurring feature. Read his past articles by searching for “Langford.”

Main studio rule death? Or just the end of smoke and mirrors?

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Okay, the old guy is about to speak ... 50 years bouncing around radio stations as an engineer, a talent and an owner. Like the insurance commercial says, we’ve seen it all.

Those who say the end of the main studio rule will hurt localism make a nice point. But they are assuming that the station really does something local with the “main studio.” That’s where the smoke and mirrors comes in. Let’s stop fooling each other. Most stations that needed to set up a studio operation in the town of license when really running from some distant place, did so to give the illusion they were being local and satisfy the FCC.

I speak from experience.

A station that shall remain nameless has rented a back room of another station licensed to the same town for 10 years, yet has never broadcast one word from that studio or even had a real manager stop by. The station was running as a rimshot to another town 30 miles away. They would bring in a console to pass the state alternative inspection program to keep the FCC away then remove it as soon as the inspection was over. They used the secretary of the local station as a so called manager of the renting station. A unique situation? Not in the least.

Larry Langford, main studio rule

Time and time again I have seen so called “main studios” that were nothing but a mic mixer and an internet connection or old phone loop and a public file. Nothing ever originated from the room and no real manager was ever there. So why all the controversy over something that was in many cases a fabrication to give an illusion?

The FCC is not in the programming business so they can’t tell a station what to put on the air and what the focus of the programming should be so they can’t force a station to do anything for the city of license. Such control should start from the local community at license renewal time.

The main studio rule was about as far as the FCC could go, and it was skirted regularly. In my county there were two local stations — both were owned by local operators, me being one of them. The other guy did local programming just like I do and we served the community. But the other guy was FM and sold out to a major corporate broadcaster and nothing local has ever come from that dial position again. In fact they sold me the old local studio building because they had no need for it anymore. It’s now all about a town in the next state!

If a station wants to serve the community of license they will find a way to do it and a so-called main studio is not required. The main studio rule never forced anyone to be local if they did not want to be.

I agree that some folks will be out of work, but in many cases they were just babysitting a room or a phone and probably not doing any real radio work other than keeping a sharp eye out for the FCC guy. We all know that almost nobody looks at the physical public file and it’s not unusual to listen for 24 hours to a station licensed to Community X but never hear one commercial from a business in that town or a news report about the town or ever see a remote from the football field or the high school gym.

I used to pass the time reading FCC applications to put stations in small towns as first service when they were really suburbs of a big city. The application was full of promises and details about the little town and how they really needed a station. But the moment the station signed on all those promises went out the window. The only time you heard the little town even mentioned was on the split ID that had the big city as the second mention. Sound familiar? So, yes, the main studio rule is dead, will anybody really notice?

How can you miss something that was never really there?

 



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