CBC questions localism proposals


27 members of the Congressional Black Caucus are questioning FCC localism proposals; particularly, proposals to require 24/7 on-site station staffing and to have a studio in the actual city of license of a station. The CBC members fired off a letter to FCC Chair Kevin Martin and the other commissioners, as did Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), acting on his own to address the same concerns.

"If adopted, these proposals would impose a significant financial hardship on minority broadcasters, with little tangible benefit to the public," the lawmakers wrote. "We urge the Commission either to reject outright, or significantly modify, these two proposals." They said that many Urban-formatted stations are staffed around the clock without FCC intervention, but that many “…do not have a strong balance sheet, and simply cannot afford to do so.” They added that the cost of coming into compliance with a new main studio rule would far outweigh any possible public benefit.

Rush noted, “Many small and minority-owned radio stations may not have the financial wherewithal to pay personnel to staff their facilities 24-hours a day.” He added, “Moreover…modern technology also renders unnecessary the need for a radio station’s studio to be physically located in the community of license. Many broadcasters have already made costly investments in the construction and maintenance of their studios…Localism is about unique programming serving the needs and characteristics of a particular community, not about a physical formality.”

RBR/TVBR observation: How many times have we seen watchdogs, legislators and others talk about a broadcaster’s free license, and act like it’s a license to print money? That may be true in some cases, but even in the best of times, most broadcast stations are small businesses scrapping day in and day out just to keep their heads above water. These small stations are precisely the ones that the FCC proposes to bludgeon without any proof that the rules it wants will lead to the results it desires.

Here’s something else to keep in mind. One of the enduring memories of our youth – it was a triumph, in fact – is something that doesn’t exist any more. But it wasn’t all that long ago, and we were very, very proud when we saw, for the first time, a station sign off with “The Star Spangled Banner.” That meant we had finally earned the right to a stay-up-late night. You never see or hear stations sign off these days (unless it’s an AM daytimer). But if the FCC installs a 24/7 staffing rule, you can bet that once again we’ll be seeing and hearing patriotic music to close out a broadcast day.