The FCC is allowing the already-approved Saga acquisition of two AMs and two FMs in the Ithaca NY market, and the subsequent addition of one more FM, over the objections of Finger Lakes Alliance for Independent Media. FLAIM made numerous arguments, to the effect that various Ithaca market definitions produce unrealistic results, and that factors such as news programming, and the fact that the Saga cluster would control 64% of market radio advertising revenue, were not considered when granting the applications, and noting that while it understands the FCC’s adoption of “bright line” market definitions using Arbitron/BIA, that it still has an obligation to consider the public interest and protect diversity when necessary – and FLAIM believes it is necessary in this case.
The FCC said that too much of FLAIM’s argument was based on subjective data, such as news programming and station “listenability.” The FCC said that in essence, FLAIM was arguing that every transaction should be examined on a case-by-case basis, and that the “bright line” incorporated in the new rules would protect against undue concentration in almost all cases, while providing predictable rules under which licensees could operate.
Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein issued a statement in which they concurred with the ruling allowing the cluster to stand, but said their fellow commissioners had not given the matter a “hard look.” They lamented the lack data that might have allowed a more thorough study, but agreed in the end that the cluster was within the local ownership cap limits.
The station acquired intact by Saga from Eagle Broadcasting in the initial deal were WHCU(AM), WYXL(FM), WNYY(AM), and WQNY(FM). With room for one more stations, Saga later picked up a pair from Citadel, keeping WKII-FM and spinning WKRT-AM to Bible Broadcasting.
RBR/TVBR observation: Every market is a snowflake, making it impossible to craft a one-size-fits all regulatory regime. Ithaca is a very odd snowflake. But the fact remains that under the old contour regime or the new Arbitron/BIA regime, this is a legal cluster, so a finding against it could be attacked as arbitrary and capricious. The good news is that few markets present similar regulatory challenges.