It’s an idea that could bring major change to the way that broadcast businesses manage their facilities, staff and content distribution.
The Federal Communications Commission has formally released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, proposing to eliminate the main studio rule. It requires each AM, FM and television broadcast station to have a main studio in or near its local community. The commission had indicated earlier that it planned to do so as new Chairman Ajit Pai moves quickly to pursue his agenda of removing what he sees as outdated or unnecessary regulations.
The proposal would be a major change, removing a business restriction that U.S. broadcasters have taken as a given for decades yet chafed under. The notice also proposes to eliminate the requirement that the main studio have full-time management and staff present during normal business hours and the requirement that it be able to originate programming.
“The main studio rule, which the FCC adopted more than 70 years ago, was originally implemented on the premise that local access to the main studio facilitated input from community members and the station’s participation in community activities,” the commission stated Thursday.
“Today, modern communications enable stations and community members to interact more directly, without the presence of a local broadcast studio. In addition, community members already, or soon will, have online access to a station’s public file, removing the need for community members to visit the main studio to access the file. Television broadcasters completed their transition to the online public file in 2014, and radio broadcasters will complete their transition by early 2018.”
In commenting on the vote, which all three commissioners approved, Pai gave the example of a broadcaster in Minnesota who would like to build out a construction permit for an AM station in a nearby town, but who told Pai that the “Main Studio Rule is a killer; the cost to maintain a staff—it would make the construction of this facility a ticket of doom.” Read Pai’s full statement below.
His fellow Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said in a statement, “When it was implemented, this rule may have been the only available means to ensure that local broadcasters would remain engaged with and responsive to their communities. Now, however, with multiple electronic means of communication now overwhelmingly prevalent, the old rationale has dissolved, leaving the rule useful mostly as a means for potential micromanagement and “gotcha” setups of its licensees. Notwithstanding any main studio rule, broadcasters are ever focused on serving the needs of the local listeners and viewers because that is the only proven way to ensure station success.”
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the only Democrat on the panel (and its former acting chair), also voted yes but expressed reservations.
Below is the text of Chairman Pai’s statement on the action:
Re: Elimination of Main Studio Rule, MB Docket No. 17-106. The first commercial radio broadcast in the United States took place in Pittsburgh on November 2, 1920. That night, KDKA reported the results of the presidential election between Warren Harding and James Cox. The studio used for that broadcast was a tiny, makeshift wooden shack on top of the Westinghouse Company’s plant in East Pittsburgh.
Broadcast studios have changed a lot over the last 90-plus years—including KDKA’s, which I’ve had the privilege to visit. And so too have the purposes that a studio serves. That brings us to the FCC’s main studio rule.
The FCC first conceived the main studio rule almost 80 years ago. The rule requires each AM, FM, and television broadcast station to maintain a main studio located in or near its community of license. Back then, perhaps, this made sense. Local access to a station’s main studio enabled the local public to provide input, and it allowed stations to participate in community activities. But today, the rule appears outdated, unnecessary, and unduly burdensome. Community access and engagement remain important in the digital era, but technology has rendered physical studios unnecessary for those purposes. That’s because such activities are much more likely to occur via social media, email, or phone rather than through an in-person visit to a broadcast studio.
Furthermore, broadcasters have shown that the main studio rule is a continuous cost that keeps them from serving their local communities in meaningful ways, like broadcasting additional local programming. Recently, a broadcaster in Minnesota wrote to me saying that the “archaic” rule has “outlived [its] usefulness.” He added that he’d like to build out his construction permit for an AM station in a nearby town, but that the “Main Studio Rule is a killer; the cost to maintain a staff—it would make the construction of this facility a ticket of doom.” Unfortunately, despite his belief that he’d be able to air meaningful local content without a main studio, it appears that the cost of complying with the rule may make it hard for him to extend service to that nearby community.
The proceeding we begin today could grant this broadcaster and all others affected by this rule the flexibility to use their limited resources in a way that best serves their communities.
Today’s Notice is an important step towards bringing the FCC’s media rules into the digital age. And for that, we have Michelle Carey, Martha Heller, Holly Saurer, and Diana Sokolow from the Media Bureau to thank. We will continue to rely on your expertise as we move forward with modernizing many more media rules to reflect today’s marketplace.