On August 6, 2020, the FCC voted in favor of an order that eliminates the radio duplication rule for AM stations … and FM stations. This marked a change from just three weeks earlier, when the Commission signaled it would uphold the rule for FM stations.
The move was pushed by the NAB. The FCC’s Republican majority said eliminating the radio duplication rule “will help struggling stations stay on the air; afford broadcast radio licensees greater flexibility to address issues of local concern in a timely fashion, particularly in times of crisis; assist with format changes; facilitate a potential voluntary digital transition in the AM service; and ultimately allow stations to improve service to their communities.”
That failed to satisfy REC Networks, the musicFIRST Coalition and the Future of Music Coalition.
On November 30, 2020, the groups teamed to file a Petition for Reconsideration of the Report and Order. Their big beef? The sudden re-inclusion of FM stations in the R&O.
For REC, musicFIRST and the FMC, eliminating the rule for FM stations will lead to a reduction in programming diversity and “encourage corporate radio owners to hoard spectrum.”
NAB General Counsel and EVP/Legal and Regulatory Affairs Rick Kaplan disagrees with that assertion. He laments that their arguments “exhibit a complete misrepresentation of the business fundamentals of the radio industry and the intense competition radio faces, and a total lack of understanding of the market value of AM/FM radio spectrum.”
There’s more: the NAB sees musicFIRST and FMC file in Commission proceedings concerning radio “not because the companies and organizations those groups represent care about the proceedings at issue, but rather to retaliate against broadcasters for those groups failing to convince Congress to enact a tax on radio stations when they play (promote) record labels’ music on terrestrial radio stations.”
This set up the basis for the NAB’s request that the FCC deny the groups’ petition as it “does not raise issues not already considered and rejected by the Commission.” Further, Kaplan states, the three groups “also fail to mention – let alone grapple with – the incredible growth in audio diversity since the radio duplication rule was created.”
How so? “Since 1992, more than 15,000 additional full-power and low power radio stations have launched service, the growth of online streaming music services has shattered expectations, and satellite radio has reached more than 34 million subscribers,” Kaplan says. “All of these outlets provide a broad range of programming options.”
While the Republican-led FCC passed the R&O, it didn’t come without the concerns of Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. In fact, his concerns could have given rise to the Petition for Reconsideration.
“I have concerns that today’s decision will undoubtedly make it easier and more cost-effective for large station groups to hoard local stations without any obligation to provide significant programming that meets local community needs,” Starks said in August. “Moreover, I fear it will reward ownership consolidation and thus will likely exacerbate an already huge disparity in the number of media outlets owned and controlled by people of color and women, which often translates to a lack of locally relevant and diverse programming that addresses local needs and interests.”