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Aurora Argues for Retaining the Main Studio Rule

Small-market broadcaster: this move will disconnect radio from communities it bears an obligation to serve

Text has been updated to clarify that Aurora Broadcasting is an LLC based in Minnesota and is not related to a similarly named entity in Puerto Rico as we reviously reported.

For those who support the elimination of the main studio rule, one strong argument continues to come to the forefront: Instead of being forced to allocate resources to keep a staffer on site, those funds could be invested in improving programming.

But one broadcaster has put up a passionate argument in the Federal Communications Commission’s ECFS database to refute that theory. Aurora Broadcasting, an LLC in Minnesota formed to purchase two FM stations there,said in comments filed under MB Docket No. 17-106 that it staunchly opposes a blanket repeal of the main studio rule.

Contrary to what some believe, said Aurora Broadcasting President Matthew Butler, the removal of main studios will not increase investment in or renew focus on local programming concerns. Rather, the removal of a local presence will further disconnect radio stations from their communities of license.

Lose it, and you lose the local connection, he said.

“In an increasingly globalized digital media world, doing harm to small businesses, minorities and local communities by removing any pretense of local presence requirement would not revitalize radio,” he said. “It would in fact damage it, and further disconnect the medium from the communities it bears the obligation to serve.”

Many feel otherwise. In comments published in 2016 on the issue of revitalizing AM radio, the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council said that by reducing the cost of operating radio stations, “broadcasters will be provided with more capital to invest in community-oriented programming and diversity initiatives. Investment in these initiatives would increase listenership and ultimately aid in the revitalization of radio.”

But for Butler’s experience operating in a small market, the local studio performs a valuable function.

“At the most vibrant local stations, community members routinely bring in public service and news items, are interviewed on-air, and local advertisers interact with sales and production departments, often voicing their own commercials,” he said. “All of these functions are valuable and bring a station closer to the community and its unique concerns.”

To offer a blanket repeal of the main studio rule for commercial stations would “damage local service and distort the market values of stations and construction permits, and disadvantage … minority and small owners from entering the broadcast field and providing truly localized programming,” he said.

Butler also said that the technological argument used against maintaining a local studio works against those suggesting a complete removal of these rules. The digital revolution in production and programming tools has made creating radio on a local level more inexpensive than ever, he said, adding that the cost of maintaining at least a basic studio and EAS presence on a local level has never been more affordable for responsible broadcasters.

The costs of maintaining a local presence are not only reasonable, but also beneficial to broadcaster’s relationship to their communities and broadcast radio as a local medium, he said. “In fact, our local presence ensures we stand apart from our digital competitors and reminds our audiences and advertisers daily that we view our license as a public interest and trust.”

For those looking to pursue a license, maintaining a local presence is a built-in expectation that broadcasters are well aware of and must embrace, he said. “To suddenly change this dynamic would distort the wise and carefully negotiated balance between business successes and the important trust that has long been understood to exist in broadcasting as a public service,” Butler said.

Comments on the issue are being accepted in the ECFS database using MB Docket No. 17-106.