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FCC’s Clyburn Reiterates Concerns for Radio, Local Communities

Concerns on laying down a blanket main studio rule, deregulation and for a little “School House Rock”

Mignon Clyburn had something sharp to say about radio, the main studio rule, who is listening to the little guy and the need for more “ands” from her fellow commissioners.

Typically, the quiet press briefings held after each monthly Federal Communications Commission meeting are attended by Chairman Ajit Pai (starting when he was a commissioner) and usually by Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Rarely does Commissioner Clyburn arrive to speak; instead, she typically shares her thoughts in detailed, thoughtful comments during the meeting itself.

But she was present at the Thursday meeting, speaking after Pai and O’Rielly, and addressing radio off the bat when she was asked if there was any version of a main studio rule elimination that she would support without reservation. Her concerns, she said, are with applying a blanket rule.

When it comes to very small or mid-sized stations, she said she fully understood the burden of having a full-time employee on staff. Rather, what she is particularly concerned about is eliminating the main studio rule outright particularly when it comes to radio.

“Really, I am concerned about what used to be one of my biggest criticisms — excuse me — observations when it comes to radio … when things started changing and we started getting simulcast and it was very clear that you could go from city to city and every station sounded the same,” Clyburn said to reporters after the meeting.

“I just thought we lost a lot,” she said. “Now when you talk about broadcast stations and what it means to the community, and what they serve … I think we need to be very careful in what we do, and I think it serves the stations’ interests to not get caught flatfooted if, indeed, something were to happen in a community.”

Radio broadcasters may be the one source that people can rely on because they can be the broadcaster in the area with a signal on 24/7. “If they don’t have either boots on the ground or someone there answering the phone to ensure that the public interests are upheld, that’s my biggest concern.”

Clyburn reiterated her earlier assessment that she wouldn’t necessarily be against waivers of the main studio rule for some broadcasters. “If there’s something with a smaller station or smaller footprint that you can demonstrate that is a hardship, I am not so closed-minded or naive to think that a one-size-fits-all approach applies here.”

Clyburn went on to share her concerns about the deregulatory path the commission seems to be pursuing under Chairman Pai.

“The majority [on the commission] seems to have a problem or an issue with conjunctions. And what I mean by that is, we look at one side of the coin and not the other. There’s not an ‘and,’ ‘but’ or ‘or’ when it comes to a policy,” she said, referring jokingly to the 1970s song popularized by the ABC program “School House Rock.”

The main studio rule is a good example of a place where the FCC leadership should finesse together a bit more of the “Conjunction Junction” language of our youth, she said.

“We can’t look at this in a vacuum,” she said. “If we just look at something that’s 20, 30 or 40 years old, adopted when the ecosystem looks much different, and not take into account what it would mean to get rid of that rule — the economic impact … the impact be for the community — if we don’t do that, honestly I believe we run the risk of not upholding the standard and we will leave communities and consumers worse off.”

When asked if the marching orders at the FCC are to eliminate as much regulation as possible, she agreed.

“Everything that I hear and sense, you know, since the transition [to a new chairman] has seemingly been about big consolidated business only, and [there is] very little feedback that is listened to when it comes to how communities will be impacted and what the impact will be on [individuals and smaller businesses].”

But even so, she said, the path forward on these various issues, including Net Neutrality, is to continue to listen to the voices of the American people. “I believe in the power that they have to influence boards and commissions, and their elected officials,” she said. “I never believe all is lost. If we truly listen to those who weigh in.”