Adelstein: Opportunity lost for HD Radio


Speaking at the NAB Radio Show in Austin, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said the Commission missed an opportunity by not including an agreement on HD Radio chips in the terms for approving the merger of Sirius and XM Satellite Radio. “That didn’t go very well,” he said of the FCC’s 3-2 vote approving the merger, with Adelstein and fellow Democrat Michael Copps on the losing side. Adelstein had indicated that he would have been willing to vote yes if some additional restrictions has been put on what is now Sirius XM. One thing he wanted was a prohibition on the satellite radio company subsidizing automakers for putting receivers in cars that “discriminate against HD Radio.” That’s not quite the same as requiring HD Radio and satellite radio to be side-by-side in all receivers, but would have kept Sirius XM from paying the car companies to exclude HD Radio from their satellite receivers. “We need to get HD into cars,” Adelstein said.

Now, without the possibility of including some sort of HD Radio receiver parity in the satellite radio merger settlement, Adelstein doesn’t think the FCC has the legal authority to mandate HD chips in receivers. He derided the Commission’s pending inquiry into the idea as just “political cover.” Adelstein said the proposal began as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and has since been reduced to a Notice of Inquiry, “which made it even more laughable.

While radio broadcasters found Adelstein a kindred spirit on the satellite radio issue, that was not the case with the FCC’s pending localism proceeding. “We don’t want another Minot,” Adelstein said, raising once again the refrain heard so often in Washington about an event that did not, in fact, ever occur. If the FCC doesn’t mandate 24-hour staffing of all stations, he asked broadcasters to explain if there is a better way to ensure that stations are able to respond when emergencies occur at night. The Commissioner said he also understood the industry’s concerns about restoring the main studio rule, which would require many broadcasters to build multiple studios for station clusters.

Asked by NAB Radio Board Chair Steve Newberry what he would like to see as a minimum standard for local service, Adelstein mentioned broadcasting what’s happening with the local community. As an ardent advocate for musicians, Adelstein lamented that although he was visiting a city known for its active music scene, he had not heard any local musicians being played on the Austin Country station he’d listened to in his hotel room.

The Commissioner noted that some broadcasters are much better than others about serving their local communities and said what he wanted to do was “lift everyone up to the higher standard of the best broadcasters.”

Adelstein admits, though, that no action on the FCC’s current localism proceeding is likely this year. He gave his audience the blame or credit, depending on your point of view. “You’ve raised such a ruckus,” Adelstein said, that no vote on a localism rulemaking is expected this year. However, he said it would be helpful if the NAB would engage the issue in a positive way instead of just fighting against the proposals.

Chairman Kevin Martin had told the Austin gathering a day earlier that he thought it would be possible to resolve the localism debate if broadcasters would develop a statement of “best practices’ to ensure that stations are serving their communities. Asked by RBR/TVBR if he might support such an outcome, Adelstein said he’d like to see what the Chairman proposes, but that “a statement of best practices would be a step forward.”

Adelstein avoided taking sides in the battle between broadcasters and the record industry over RIAA’s attempt to have Congress authorize collection of performance royalties from radio stations for playing music. The Commissioner said there should be some common ground. “They need you and you need them,” he said.