One in a series of stories about public comments
filed with the FCC about whether U.S. broadcasters should still be required to maintain
a local main studio.
Why even require a phone number, when
an email address would do?
That’s the kind of discussion that has arisen in debate over the main studio rule. For some, the question of
whether to repeal that requirement is not just a yes/no decision.
Federal Communication Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposes
to eliminate the longstanding requirement that stations maintain a properly
staffed main studio in or near their communities of license. But the commission
also invited alternate
ideas and variations.
The National Federation of Independent Business supports
small and independent businesses, including broadcasters. It agreed that this change
would increase opportunity for small and independent businesses to operate
stations efficiently. Eliminating the requirement and the associated staffing
and program origination capability requirements opens a range of cost-saving
options, it believes.
However, the federation thinks stations
should have more flexibility with telephone numbers. The current rules say stations
must be required to maintain a local telephone number or toll-free number, and
the FCC’s proposal would keep that rule. The association though suggests that
each station could provide some sort of means of reasonably communicating, but
it could be an email as well as a local or a toll-free number.
commenter is REC Networks, a consultancy that does a lot of work with smaller
broadcasters including low-power FMs. Founder Michelle Bradley called for “universal”
Doing away with a local presence
requirement “will result in a major disconnect between the broadcaster and the
community that they are licensed to serve,” she wrote. REC said it can
understand that maintenance of a brick-and-mortar public location can be a cost
burden for stations, including some that REC supports; but the lack of a local
person would eliminate a true presence that helps ensure stations connect with
listeners. And a toll-free number answered somewhere out of state will not
press a station to demonstrate accountability to its community of license, she
Bradley suggests that the FCC eliminate the brick-and-mortar
requirement but keep a staff requirement. “We feel that every broadcast
facility must have a local contact person,” she wrote. This person should be
physically within 25 miles of the center of the community of license, REC said.
It also asked that the FCC consider applying this local contact requirement to
all facilities — including those currently on main studio waivers.
with multiple full-service facilities must be required to maintain a management
contact person in each of their facility’s local area,” REC said. “This way, if
someone wants to contact their local radio station, they are reaching a local
person and not the call center in California. … If an owner does not want to be
accountable to their community, then we need to stop rubber-stamping renewals
and allow the community to truly challenge these out of town owners so they can
get their local station back,” REC said.
Comments on the
main studio are being accepted in the ECFS database by July 3, with
reply comments due by July 17. Refer to MB Docket No. 17-106.
In its NPRM, the commission
invited suggestions about other ways to approach the main studio question. “For
example, should we only eliminate the rule for a certain subset of stations,
such as those that are located in small and mid-sized markets or those that
have fewer than a certain number of employees?” it asked. “Commenters
advocating this approach should explain with specificity how we should define
those stations that will be permitted to eliminate their main studio. We have
proposed to eliminate the main studio rule and the associated requirements for
all AM, FM and television broadcast stations. Is there any reason to
distinguish between our treatment of AM, FM, and television broadcast stations
in this context? We also invite comment on alternative ways we can reduce main
studio-related burdens on broadcast stations.”