FCC To Tackle 27-year-old ‘Duplicative Programming’ Rules

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UPDATED AT 4PM ET


Did you know that the FCC has a rule that limits the amount of duplicative programming commonly-owned radio stations in a market can air? The current version of these rules dates to 1992.

The Commission’s latest “modernization” effort could see a modification — or outright elimination — of these regulations.

Introducing MB Docket No. 19-310, formally opened Tuesday (10/29) by the Media Bureau.

Describing the action in a blog post distributed Monday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai explained, “Since the current version of this rule was adopted in 1992, the number of AM and commercial FM stations has increased from 11,600 to 19,500; the number of noncommercial FM stations has more than doubled; and more than 2,000 low-power FM stations have been launched. In addition, radio stations now offer content on station websites and through mobile apps.”

With so much more competition and program diversity, which Pai says were the objectives of the radio duplication rule, the FCC now wants to know if the rule is still necessary — or should be modified.

The NPRM focuses on 47 CFR § 73.3556, which consists of the following proviso:

  • No commercial AM or FM radio station shall operate so as to devote more than 25% of the total hours in its average broadcast week to programs that duplicate those of any station in the same service (AM or FM) which is commonly owned or with which it has a time brokerage agreement if the principal community contours (predicted or measured 5 mV/m groundwave for AM stations and predicted 3.16 mV/m for FM stations) of the stations overlap and the overlap constitutes more than 50% of the total principal community contour service area of either station.

A SPECTRUM SAVER, NO LONGER NEEDED

Fueling the FCC’s “modernization” effort on possibly removing the 1992 duplicative programming rule is broadcast spectrum use, says Scott Flick, a partner with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP in Washington, D.C.

In the past, efficient use of spectrum use was a key determinant in regulatory policy, and what a radio group could do.

Today, thanks to digital multicast technology, there’s a move away from that mindset.

“It makes more sense for broadcasters to decide,” Flick says, given the advancements in technology.

Importantly, Flick reminds broadcasters that the rule the FCC is referencing only prohibits simulcasting where there is significant signal overlap and both stations are in the same service.

What it does not involve, as RBR+TVBR incorrectly reported in an early version of this report, are AM/FM simulcasts and rules allowing them.

Even so, the biggest fan of AM radio the Radio industry could have — Chairman Pai himself — may have introduced a NPRM that could further revitalize a medium that celebrates its 100th year of continuously licensed service.

That’s because another AM could theoretically simulcast another AM, should the rule go away.

Indeed, the FCC Fact Sheet distributed late Tuesday notes that the Commission is specifically asking whether the duplicative programming rule should only apply to the FM band.

It also asks whether the 25% of total programming hours threshold should be raised or lowered, and whether the 50% overlap requirement should be raised or lowered.

Keeping the rule in place only for FM seems to be a likely route.

A HISTORY OF SIMULCAST RULE REVISIONS

Arguments for and against program duplication rule date back to the mid-1980s.

But, they had focused on cross-service programming restrictions.

Some 35 years ago, an AM and an FM station couldn’t air the same programming.

This resulted in modified versions of popular FM stations, on the AM dial.

In 1985, Gannett opted to have two versions of its successful Top 40 KIIS brand in Los Angeles by installing a Top 40 format on KIIS-AM 1150. Rick Dees’ morning show and the afternoon program were simulcast; all other dayparts were not, due to FCC regulations.

By March 1986, however, those rules — also impacting WRBQ-AM & FM in Tampa-St. Petersburg and KKBQ-AM & FM in Houston — were changed.

This action lifted rules prohibiting FM radio stations from devoting 25% of the average program week to duplicating the programming of an AM radio station.

Six years later, a 25% limit on AM or FM duplication was put in place. This is the rule the NPRM addresses, preventing a same-service station from becoming a defacto simulcast partner.

Now, the industry could have a say in revising it.


To view the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in its entirety, please click here.