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FCC Rule Suspensions Could Help Broadcasters Now

Communications attorney has a few more ideas to help stations weather the coronavirus pandemic

Attorney Richard Hayes sent a letter last week to the FCC’s Enforcement Division asking that the FCC suspend EEO Public File Reports and Responses to Audit Requests. He also has called for the commission to suspend collection of regulatory feesRadio World asked him to comment on his latest request.

We have no choice but to embrace the idea of thinking outside of the box because they took the box away. It’s not business as usual, and it won’t be for a while. We need to reinvent what we are and what we do, especially during the next six months.

Many businesses are closed and some may never re-open, unless this economy reopens, soon. It’s purely Darwinian; the strong survive while the weak perish. None of this is our fault, yet we are forced to live with the consequences. Small businesses, the lifeline of the American economy and the American radio station, will not re-emerge as quickly as larger enterprises.

So we have a choice: Do we wait for the economy to return or do we invest our time and considerable creative energies in building our businesses for the future? I suggest that we all look toward the investment opportunity which stares us right in the face. I’ll dive deeper into this idea in a moment.

We have no choice but to embrace the idea of thinking outside of the box because they took the box away.

Broadcast attorneys are in no better shape than the broadcasters they represent. If radio station owners don’t make money, they are not very entrepreneurial and are less likely to make improvements to their facilities. Ergo, the lawyers don’t make any money, either. This is trickle-down pain which everyone in the economy is experiencing.

Station owners are not focused on FCC compliance when the threats to their businesses are existential. Consequently, I have some time on my hands. Instead of sitting on my hands and treating this crisis as an excuse to work in the garden, I thought my time would be better spent finding ways to help eliminate some regulatory expenses and compliance issues that broadcasters don’t need, right now.

I’ve been in the radio business since I was 14. This is my industry. This industry is worth protecting. I want to use this time to help make life a little bit easier (and affordable) for the people who keep this industry going, every day. 

I had a good meeting with the staff of Indiana Congressman Jim Banks (R-Indiana 03), on Friday, who has promised to help us find a way to try to eliminate the 2020 Mass Media Regulatory fees in September. I also wrote to Sen. Susan Collins’ office to elicit the support of my own Senator.

The only way to eliminate the 2020 regulatory fees is to temporarily amend the Communications Act. Jim Banks’ office is looking into this and will meet with member of the Energy and Commerce Committee to discuss the proposal. It is hoped that such an amendment to the Communications Act could be added to upcoming stimulus legislation.

ANOTHER IDEA FOR THE FCC TO CONSIDER

Last week, I also wrote a letter to Lewis Pulley, the chief of the equal employment opportunity division at the Federal Communications Commission. I suggested that it would be appropriate to suspend all EEO Public Inspection File Reports, suspend all responses to EEO audit letters and suspend all requirements to recruit or keep records.

Aside from the fact that the EEO program is a complete waste of time in a booming economy, it is a totally pointless exercise when there is no economy. Is this really a good time to host a social-distancing compliant job fair? We can’t keep all the employees we need on payroll, so does it make any sense to widely recruit for jobs which don’t exist? Is this really a great time to entice applicants to work in the radio business?

The FCC needs to suspend this program for the rest of 2020 and, perhaps, beyond. It is a pointless, time-consuming, bureaucratic, make-work program which cannot demonstrate that any of its policies have had any measurable effect on preventing discrimination. Besides, whom at the station will have the time to fill-out all of that meaningless paperwork? When our business is on a respirator it probably isn’t the best time to ask us to jump through hoops.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll be looking at other areas where rule suspension makes sense during this crisis. If you have any ideas, I would like to hear them.  

Now, about that box which was taken away and the investment opportunity it presents. I will sum it up, this way: If you can’t make money…make friends.

My client in Hawaii will auction rolls of toilet paper on the air. The highest bidder will walk away with 1,000 sheets, one whole roll, of brand new toilet paper! All auction proceeds will go to first responders. It will sound fun on the air, it will make some money for the first responders and it makes friends.

Another station airs the Pledge of Allegiance several times each day and this is sponsored by a local power company. A station down south airs the National Anthem twice a day and sells tasteful adjacencies.

These efforts bring people together. Most stations are offering bonus spots (just don’t call them bonus spots or it could mess up your political lowest unit rate), and this helps struggling businesses. There are a lot of examples, and you have probably done a few creative things, yourself. Here are a few more ideas.

CREATIVITY FOR A CAUSE

It’s entirely likely that your salespeople are bored. It’s time to mobilize them in a slightly different direction. First, make a list of the top ten charities and non-profits in your community. These big charities are run by the business leaders in your community. They donate time to these causes and charities are under the gun now, too. Have your salespeople contact the heads of these charities and have them work up promotions to showcase the charity on the air. Do remotes where appropriate. Be visible with each charity.

Coming this spring are a number of opportunities: 

  • Mother’s Day. Interview new moms and dads and have them tell you all about the great experience they had at the hospital during the birth of their new baby. Interview hospital staff and members of the hospital board. Father’s day is another opportunity to do something similar. 
  • Cancer Survivors Day. Record interviews for later playback about the work the local cancer center has been doing and how survival rates have improved over the years. Interview the board members and cancer survivors. 
  • Breast Cancer Awareness. Get behind this but make sure you speak with the organizers and the the board members. Put these people on the air.
  • Memorial Day. Memorial Day celebrations and remembrances are organized. They don’t just happen. Local business leaders organize these events. Put these business leaders on the air to talk about their efforts, made especially difficult during these crazy times.

Oh, but it won’t work with my format! Your format, right now, has about as much integrity as your rate card.

Remember, the board members who run these charities own car dealerships, food stores, department stores, fast-food chains, hospitals, banks and distributorships. You help their charities, by putting their feel-good stories on your air, and the board members will listen to your station. Other listeners will tell these board members that they heard a lot of good things about the charitable organization on your stations.

What should you expect from doing this other than a warm, fuzzy feeling? You will get buys. You will get buys you have never had. Your salespeople will have developed relationships with the movers and shakers in your communities, through their charities. These community leaders and business people will be much more inclined to hear your sales proposals when the crisis is over because you were there for them when they needed you. They know your station gets results because they experienced those results with your charitable assistance efforts! Win-win. 

For now, conserve your cash, apply for the government loans and please contact the office of Congressman Jim Banks and ask him to please do everything in his power to suspend the 2020 Mass Media Regulatory Fees. Also, send an email to Lewis Pulley at the FCC Lewis.Pulley@fcc.gov and ask him to suspend the EEO rules for the reminder of 2020. 

Good luck, and remember, it’s a great life. (If you don’t weaken).

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