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Ohio Reallotment Highlights FCC Re-do of Radio Assignment Criteria

A change to city of license was disputed

A recent commission decision concerning a reallotment of Ohio station WLZT(FM) from Chillicothe to Ashville is interesting. It highlights how the agency depends on Arbitron and BIA data to determine how many and which stations constitute a radio market.

The Federal Communications Commission has reaffirmed an earlier decision to allow the switch.

The case goes back to 2003 when former WLZT owner Secret Communications asked for the reallotment. The commission allowed it under rules allowing a station authorization to be modified to specify a new community of license without giving other stations an opportunity to protest or file their own “expressions of interest.”

In the original decision the commission allowed the change because it would provide Ashville with its first local service while Chillicothe would continue to receive local service from six stations. Because Secret Communications did not propose a change in transmitter site, there was no loss of service to listeners, the agency said. It also denied opposition from Franklin Communications, North American Broadcasting Co. and WLCT, who had argued that the action was inconsistent with the new multiple ownership rules.

Clear Channel now owns WLZT. Before this proceeding, the group owned or controlled seven stations in the Columbus radio market. However, in 2004, the commission revised the definition of a radio market; under that revision, Pickaway County, where Ashville is located, is now included in the Columbus Arbitron Radio metro. According to BIA, the Columbus market has 43 radio stations.

The revised commission rule allows one owner to own or control up to seven stations in a radio market of 30 to 44 stations. Station WLZT would be the eighth radio station for Clear Channel in the Columbus radio market.

The FCC formerly relied on a contour-based methodology to determine how many stations you owned in a market. In 2003 it adopted a geographical-based methodology for stations in Arbitron-rated markets. However Clear Channel had applied for this reallotment before the market definition rules changed. Though its application was approved in 2004, the FCC said the broadcaster complied under the old rules and that’s why it granted the license modification request.

In its new review, the commission agreed with the earlier decision that Ashville is independent of the Columbus metro and that a first local service allotted to Ashville represents a significant public interest benefit. The agency rejected arguments that it was abandoning its requirement that a licensee provide local service to its community of license.

The FCC also agreed with the decision to continue the policy of not considering multiple ownership issues in conjunction with an allotment rulemaking proceeding.

Acting Chairman Michael Copps dissented, though, saying the fact that Asheville has less than 1% of the population of Columbus is not a sufficient disparity to justify allowing the change in city of license. He’s glad the commission is reviewing the radio allotment and assignment criteria as part of the recently released Rural Radio Service Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

The commission has proposed revising its allotment and assignment procedures to make sure the rules don’t make it easier to create rim-shot move-ins to a larger market, leaving rural areas starving for radio service. Its current review of the Arbitron Portable People Meter methodology also is expected to look at how Arbitron gathers its radio market data. If so, it would only be fair to look at how BIA accomplishes its data gathering for radio markets.