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Pai Laments Cross-Ownership Decision

In Kansas appearance, he also touches on radio diversity, recalling Alf Landon’s work with Andrew Carter

“A newspaper purchasing a single AM radio station in rural Kansas? That’s where the commission decides to put its foot down!”

That’s Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai, speaking Monday to the Kansas Association of Broadcasters Convention. He was marveling at the FCC’s recent decision to retain its newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule. Pai characterized that as a “profound” mistake.

The FCC posted a copy of his remarks as prepared for delivery: “Put simply,” he told the KAB, “it makes no sense for the federal government to discourage investment in the newspaper industry. But that’s precisely what the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule does.”

He said the outcome is particularly unfortunate because broadcasters “are well-situated to partner with newspapers. The reason is simple. Investments in newsgathering are more likely to be profitable when a company can distribute information over multiple platforms.” Pai said the decision “had nothing to do with the facts, nothing to do the law, and nothing to do with common sense. Instead, it was all about politics. And I fear that at the rate we’re going, the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule will outlive newspapers themselves, absent judicial intervention.”

The commissioner grew up in Kansas, so you figure that a visit to the Kansas Association of Broadcasters convention would have particular meaning. He reminded attendees that Kansas Broadcasting Hall of Fame alum Bob Wells was the first Kansan to serve as an FCC commissioner. And Pai noted that the late Alf Landon was not only a politician and governor but a radio station owner who helped promote broadcast diversity.

“In 1948, Governor Landon read a letter published by Andrew Carter in Broadcast magazine,” Paid said. “Carter was an African-American man living in Chicago who wanted to own and manage a radio station. And in that letter, he described the discrimination that African-Americans faced at the FCC and in the radio industry generally. I’m sure that many people who read Carter’s letter sympathized with him. But they didn’t or couldn’t help. Governor Landon did.

“He hired Carter to run one of his radio stations, KCLO in Leavenworth, Kansas. Then, he helped Carter secure an AM radio license in Kansas City from the FCC and gave Carter a radio transmitter so that his station could start broadcasting. That station, KPRS(AM) in Kansas City, became the second African-American owned radio station in the United States and the first one west of the Mississippi River. And today, that station, now known as KPRT(AM), is still on the air and is still owned by the Carter family.”

Pai used the anecdote to discuss the commission’s AM radio initiative, which he has championed, noting that KPRT was able to obtain and move an FM translator recently to help expand its reach. He also updated the translator data: As of last week, the Media Bureau had received a total of 957 applications in this year’s two windows and has granted 854. He name-checked several AM stations in Kansas that have benefited including KFH in Wichita, KCCV in Olathe and KOFO in Ottawa. As he did at the recent fall Radio Show, Pai said he hopes the FCC will open the following translator windows as soon as possible and act on other AM revitalization steps where broad consensus exists.

He called on the commission to eliminate the requirement that commercial broadcasters maintain a public correspondence file by the end of the year. “The FCC deals with many difficult issues, but this isn’t one of them. Let’s get it done.”

On the TV side, he also urged that the FCC work toward adopting final rules authorizing the use of ATSC 3.0 in the first half of 2017, in part because of benefits to emergency alerting such as a “wakeup” feature to turn TVs on, as well as geographically tailored alerts and enhanced datacasting that can help law enforcement and first responders. But he expressed disappointment in a commission decision to re-impose restrictions on joint sales agreements that an appeals court had vacated. “Outside of large markets, advertising dollars are far less plentiful, and television stations need to find ways to cut costs and become more efficient if they’re going to survive and thrive,” he said in defense of JSAs.