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Comments Fly on Radio Station Limits

Clear Channel again pushes for either ‘full repeal’ or easing of limits; others deplore the impact of consolidation

The battle rages on in FCC filings between those who support continued relaxation of radio ownership limits and those who don’t.

Reply comments (Docket 09-182) were due Monday in the commission’s review of its media ownership rules.

Tony Gray, president of Gray Communications, wrote that the commission should not lift local radio ownership limits and the agency would “better serve the American people if it set ownership limits at pre-1996 Telecommunications Act levels. Consolidation has proven to reduce diversity in ownership as well as reduce localism and nearly kill[ed] any real competition in radio, not to mention the loss of countless jobs in the broadcast sector.”

Matt Ganssle of Kemp, Texas, told the FCC it should either keep the current limits or raise them, noting that since the consolidation of the 1990s, “I have watched the quality of local radio and television programming degrade to an embarrassing level. Further consolidation will result in more voice-tracking, more automation, more network programming and fewer local jobs.

Ganssle continues: “I encourage the FCC to study the broadcast industry’s local non-executive and non-sales payroll records over the last decade. I can guarantee that you will find a significant decrease in radio funds expended on local talent and local content creation, and thus negatively impacting the local communities served by radio and television stations.”

The American Association of Independent Music wrote that since consolidation, major broadcasting groups have chosen not to re-invest in their local stations — including on-air talent, programming personnel or community engagement — but instead pursued increased profits, which in some cases resulted in leveraged buyouts by entities outside the broadcasting sector. This in turn has resulted in reduced spending on programming and staff.

The National Association of Broadcasters, though, urged the commission to reject the call of a few commenters to reduce the radio ownership levels set by Congress nearly 15 years ago in a less competitive marketplace, and instead continue relaxation of such limits.

“Calls for retaining outmoded restrictions on broadcast stations are based on erroneous assumptions, unsupported claims and willful blindness as to the fundamental changes in the media marketplace,” it wrote.

NAB said claims that there are virtually no small owners remaining in radio are inaccurate. It said stand-alone radio stations still represent a significant proportion of all stations in local markets. Some 22.4 percent, or more than 1,500 stations, of the approximately 6,700 full-power commercial stations operating in Arbitron markets are the only station owned within the market by the station’s owner, according to NAB.

“Thus, contrary to certain claims about the post-1996 Act radio marketplace, a substantial number of ‘independent’ radio voices remain in local markets,” wrote the trade group.

Clear Channel, which has pushed for two “upper tier” limits — if the commission doesn’t repeal local radio ownership limits entirely — now states in reply comments: “The current numerical limits on radio ownership are completely unnecessary and are therefore ripe for full repeal. In the alternative, the state of media competition demands that the commission increase the numerical ownership limits in the largest radio markets and repeal the AM/FM subcaps.” It said opponents of eliminating or relaxing the local radio ownership limits offer scant evidence to support maintaining the status quo.