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Radio Duplication Rule Up for Discussion

Modify or eliminate, times have changed since the last rule change

There have long been strong opinions on whether or not the Federal Communications Commission should modify — or maybe outright eliminate — the radio duplication rule.

Now, the FCC is looking for comment on that proposal, which currently prohibits any commonly owned commercial AM or FM station from duplicating more than 25% of its weekly broadcast hours a week if the community contours of the stations overlap to a specific degree.

[Read: FCC to Tackle Duplicative Programming Rule]

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was released by the commission on Nov. 25. Now the commission is asking whether the rule remains necessary to service the public interest goals of competition, programming diversity and spectrum efficiency.

It was back in 1964 that the commission first limited radio programming duplication by prohibiting FM stations in cities with populations over 100,000 from duplicating the programming of a co-owned AM station in the same local area for more than 50% of the FM stations broadcast day. The current version of the rule was adopted in 1992 and since there have been considerable changes in the industry since then, the NPRM is looking for comment on what modifications should be made.

Specifically, the notice will:

  • Ask whether the radio duplication rule remains necessary to foster competition and program diversity in light of significant changes to the radio broadcast industry since the current rule was adopted in 1992.
  • Seek comment on whether the radio duplication rule remains necessary to promote spectrum efficiency, or whether current demands for spectrum now push radio broadcasters to maximize efficiency and supply varied programming to the local market.
  • Seek comment on whether the rule should be modified or eliminated based on the changes that have occurred since adoption of the rule.
  • Seek comment on whether and how the rule should be modified to reflect the current radio market if the commission determines that the radio duplication rule should be retained.
  • Ask whether the rule should only apply to the FM band.
  • Ask whether the 25% of total programming hours threshold should be raised or lowered.
  • Ask whether the 50% overlap requirement should be raised or lowered.

“There are clearly circumstances in which some measure of program duplication in the same market is beneficial, such as rebroadcasting locally oriented programming that is often expensive to produce but is of particular interest to local listeners,” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr when the NPRM was released. “At the same time, there aren’t always going to be compelling reasons to rebroadcast 100% of another station’s programming. But those decisions should be determined in the market by the listening public and not in the pages of the Code of Federal Regulations.”

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel concurred with the NPRM as well, but said that she hopes “any changes made do not lead listeners to find fewer voices and sources of local news the next time they tune in.”

Comments can be made via the FCC’s ECFS database using Media Bureau Docket 19-122.