What are the chances that the main studio rule will really be eliminated — that most U.S. radio and TV stations will no longer be required to keep a main studio and certain minimum staffing in or near their city of license?
We asked broadcast attorney John Garziglia for his thoughts on this.
The question came up after another law firm, Garvey Schubert Barer, which represents a number of U.S. radio and TV broadcast stations, formally petitioned the commission to eliminate the rule. Others have made the argument before, and with FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, now in the Republican majority, being vocally critical, and with Chairman Ajit Pai speaking often about modernizing FCC rules, the time seems ripe.
Garziglia, who works for Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, told Radio World, “The main studio rule is truly one of those anachronisms that make FCC rules laughable in the 21st century. But it is also the only remaining vestige of localism that even facially encourages radio broadcasters to maintain a local presence. Without a local presence, broadcasters lose that unique factor that distinguishes them from the ocean of other media services.”
Garziglia suspects that public interest groups — “in a kneejerk reaction” — will argue that the rule is needed to insure that stations continue to serve local communities. “Whether or not such public interest groups now carry the same clout in such issues as in previous years is yet to be seen. We certainly know that at least one of the FCC’s commissioners is in favor of ‘disappearing’ this rule (to use a Rachel Maddow euphemism),” he wrote in an email to Radio World.
Broadcasters, he has no doubt, will favor its abolition. “It is not just keeping the physical facility — the rule through case law requires two full-time licensee employees, which stations operating under time brokerage agreements have never procedurally figured out. These two full-time licensee employees are there for exactly what in a time brokerage arrangement — to be sure the transmitter does not spring legs and walk away?”
If there is push-back to a main studio rule change, Garziglia thinks, it may come internally from FCC staff, in whom he says there is “a sense of history, propriety and regulation that still questions the FCC decision of several decades ago that allowed the time brokerage of a station 24/7/365.” With no main studio rule and no required employees, he said, a time brokerage agreement becomes much less of a regulatory fiction.
But, he thinks, the end of the rule may indeed be in sight.
“My prediction is that the FCC will do away with the main studio rule. It is an easy target for regulation elimination, and there is absolutely no public constituency for it (unlike net neutrality and privacy that does have a constituency of millions to whom the chairman is about to be introduced).”
The attorney concluded by saying the main studio rule, once eliminated, will in some cases with weak radio stations enable radio service to continue in circumstances where the station would otherwise have gone dark. “In other words, its elimination may result in greater rather than fewer radio services to local listeners which should really be the FCC’s focus.”