Other Relief for Radio Unlikely, Though Clear Channel Official Calls Industry Losses ‘Unsustainable’

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin reiterated during this week’s hearing on the Hill that he intends only to change one media ownership rule, the cross-ownership ban.
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FCC Chairman Kevin Martin reiterated during this week’s hearing on the Hill that he intends only to change one media ownership rule, the cross-ownership ban.

He said the rule has not changed since it was imposed in 1975 though Congress relaxed other ownership rules in the 1996 Telecom Act.

“Testimony we’ve heard at public meetings has convinced me we need to be careful about relaxing radio” local ownership limits, said Martin.

Clear Channel EVP/Chief Legal Officer Andy Levin testified that the FCC has the responsibility to review all the media ownership rules.

“Prior to ‘96, more than 60% of radio stations were losing money. Congress acted and it worked. Now, we’re sitting here 12 years later.”

Radio revenues have been flat for over 5 years and projections for 2008 call for more of the same, Levin said. “It’s unsustainable. The FCC can’t just look the other way.”

He called on regulators to further relax local radio ownership limits. At a minimum, the cap should be raised in the largest markets, he said.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who just sold his family radio stations, said that “some level of cross-ownership relaxation would make sense.”

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, called the ban, “a relic of the past” that should be abolished.

Jim Winston, executive director of NABOB, Juan Gonzalez, past president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Dr. E. Faye Williams, national chair of the National Congress of Black Women and Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president and CEO of the Media Access Project, said the commission should finish the localism proceeding before making any decisions about ownership, including addressing low levels of station ownership by women and minorities.

Martin said several proposals to do that made by the FCC’s diversity committee would be voted on Dec. 18.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey, D-Mass. said, he said he spoke with the chairman about taking more time before making a decision about cross-ownership.

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