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Public Radio Execs Call for Merger Set-Aside and a New Rulemaking

They don’t like the merger and also ask the FCC for conditions that include HD Radio in receivers.

A group of public radio leaders this week, expressing deep concern over the possible merger of Sirius and XM, called for the FCC to take six to 12 months to collect comments in a new rulemaking about a possible “public interest set-aside.”

The executives of nine organizations — including Public Radio International and Minnesota Public Radio — said they were “deeply troubled” by the Justice Department’s decision to wave the deal through. NPR was not one of the signers.

“We believe that consolidating these two competing broadcasting operations will reduce the diversity of programming and choices available to consumers,” the group wrote to the Federal Communications Commission.

But they told the commission it has a “one-time opportunity” to protect the public interest by establishing conditions on the merger.

Terrestrial HD Radio technology should be required in all new satellite radio receivers. Also, 25 percent of the satellite spectrum should be set aside for noncom public service channels, minority broadcasters and emergency services. The details of that set-aside should be outlined in a rulemaking, they urged; and during that time, XM-Sirius should be required to maintain its content and financial relationships with NCE and minority broadcasters.

The public radio groups noted that the FCC in 1945 set aside 20 percent of the FM band for NCE use.

“A key mission of public radio is to encourage the exchange of ideas and search for common principles fundamental to a civil society and to our democracy,” they wrote. “This is only possible when an independent and diverse broadcast media exists. Reserving an appropriate percentage of the satellite radio spectrum for NCE, minority and emergency programming would contribute to the multiplicity of voices that is fundamental to a democracy.”

The group also includes American Public Media, American Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, WNYC Radio in New York, WGBH in Boston, Chicago Public Radio and Classical South Florida. The nine organizations noted that their collective audience from individual programs and affiliate stations includes 29 million weekly listeners. The letter was signed by Alisa Miller, Tom Kigin, Jeff Nelson, Torey Malatia, Bill Davis, Noreen O’Loughlin, Marita Rivero and Doug Evans.