In eliminating the main studio rule this week, the FCC also decided to do away with the associated staffing and program origination capability requirements that had applied to main studios.
The main studio rule, which dated to 1939, came with minimum staffing requirements for full-time management and staff to be present during normal business hours within the community of license. The FCC’s 3–2 partisan vote on Tuesday nixes that requirement.
“We find that decisions regarding location and number of staff members should be left to broadcast licensees,” the FCC ruled.
“Although we acknowledge that elimination of the main studio staffing requirement possibly could lead to fewer employees available to interact person to person at the physical station office, we have explained above that technology enables broadcasters to interact with the local community and to broadcast information about local events even without a local main studio.”
Tuesday’s vote ended the need to maintain program origination capability from a broadcaster’s main studio. Until 1987, the FCC says, a broadcast station had to originate more than 50% of its non-network programs from its main studio or other points within its community of license.
The commission rejected arguments that elimination of the main studio rule would impair broadcasters’ abilities to broadcast emergency and time-sensitive information. “Additionally, we note that the elimination of the main studio rule will not in any way alter a station’s obligations to transmit emergency alerts received via the emergency alert system (EAS),” the FCC said in its Report and Order.
Radio stations will still be required to maintain a toll-free local number so listeners can contact the outlet by phone.
The FCC’s separate recent decision to move public file materials online was cited in the decision to end the main studio rule. The shift to online filing for most radio broadcasters is expected to be completed by March 1, 2018.
“The need for community members to visit a station’s local main studio to access its public inspection file is quickly becoming a relic of the past. While we take steps to ensure that community members will continue to have local access to public files when necessary,” according to the commission.