Tag Archives: FCC

Where Have All the People Gone?

It’s almost hard to believe, in an economy where employers are finding it difficult to hire and retain employees, that the radio industry continues to eliminate people.

iHeart Initiates Round of Cuts

Lance Venta of RadioInsight broke the news on Wednesday, June 8th about iHeart doing a new countrywide Reduction In Force (RIFs). On Friday evening, as I scrolled down my screen, Lance updated his initial report with locations of where some of the known cuts had taken place. Boston, Chicago, Des Moines, Jacksonville, New Hampshire and Tampa.

Reading the names of the people cut, I couldn’t help but notice they have been in their positions for decades, with titles like Senior Vice President of Programming and member of the National Programming Team. We’re talking some very senior level people with tenured radio careers.

Main Studio Rule Eliminated

It was back in October of 2017 that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to eliminate the Main Studio Rule, a provision that had been in place since 1934, and allowed radio owners to no longer maintain a main studio within its principal community contour. In other words, there’s no one home at your local radio station.

Lance speculated that in the future, we would see much leaner broadcast facilities. Welcome to that future.

Public Interest, Convenience and Necessity

The case broadcasters make for Over-The-Air AM/FM radio is that in times of emergencies, staying on the air is what makes radio an essential resource. They like to point out that other forms of communication, like satellite dishes, cell towers and microwave relays do not.

Ironically, without having a main studio in the affected area, broadcasters use satellite dishes, cellular communications and microwaves to feed local transmitters, often from hundreds of miles away from where a natural disaster is occurring.

Broadcasters have abandoned local staff being on the ground in their FCC licensed service area and with it, the vital connections with local emergency management officials.

Efficiently Eliminating Radio’s Advantage

Radio is a people business.

When I started in radio back in 1968, every radio station was a beehive of professionals dedicated to being the best they could be.

As an example, CKLW, a stand-alone AM radio station in the Detroit metro, had twenty-three people just in their news department.

Was radio efficient back then? No.

Was radio effective? YES!

Did radio make money? Tons of it!

Radio’s advantage has always been the people who make the magic happen.

Sadly, radio today operates in an “efficiency bubble,” where efficiency is valued over effectiveness.

Efficient radio chases away listeners.

Effective radio creates them.

The pursuit of efficiency is a rational answer to an emotional problem.

The radio business was never built on Excel spreadsheets and doing what was most efficient, it was built by creative people who touched others emotionally. Be it station imaging, air personalities, promotions, contests, community events, advertising or marketing, radio always went for people’s hearts.

Radio is successful when it delivers a sense of community and companionship to the listener.

Show me a successful radio station in 2022 and I will show you one that continues to foster emotions in their listeners and advertisers.

Radio done correctly still wins.

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Best Suggestions for Radio’s Purpose in 2022 & Beyond

This week, I will review the best suggestions sent in by readers of this blog about what Over-The-Air (OTA) radio needs to do in order to survive and thrive in a 21st Century world.

But first, let’s set the stage for these ideas with something Dale Parsons wrote in the comments on my blog site:

“Every time someone asks what radio needs to do to become relevant again, I hear the old chestnut, ‘be live and local.’ Everything you listed Dick, is a live and local function that is now being done better by another platform. Just being live and local isn’t going to make it. We need to discover the compelling reason for people to use their radio. In the 1950s, when the electronic eye of TV put the whammy on radio, that compelling reason became music and news. Now the online platforms can do that better and faster.

Here’s the scary part concerning radio’s future. You and I have been in the business for about the same number of years. I realized yesterday that we have only one working radio in our house. It’s a palm sized Sony and the battery is dead. Where I live there is little radio coverage, however, when I visit town on the other side of the island on which we live, I find that I tune in streaming choices, rather than radio stations. I find no compelling reason to listen to the radio.

We have always considered radio to be a useful household appliance, much like a toaster. My compelling reason to pull out the toaster is because I need toast. My compelling reason for pulling out my radio was to be entertained and informed.

There’s nothing on the horizon that will be replacing my need for toast, but if a better way of delivering that toast comes along, I’ll probably switch to the new appliance.

People have a compelling need for entertainment and information. In the future, those needs might just be satisfied by a new appliance.

Hopefully, radio won’t be discarded like my toaster will be.

Ramblings from out here in Hana Maui jungle.”

[Dale Parsons was the program director that would transition WNBC-660AM in New York City from a music-intensive to a full service radio station when he took over in 1984. WNBC featured Imus in the Morning, Soupy Sales in middays and Howard Stern in afternoon drive. There was no other radio station, on AM or FM radio, that sounded anything like it. It was one-of-a-kind.]

Curtis LeGeyt, President & CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)

The new leader of the NAB Curtis LeGeyt, appearing before a recent Congressional hearing, was asked to explain the viability of radio in today’s multi-media world. Here’s what he said:

I think where radio can stand out and where it will remain very, very viable in today’s media landscape is with a hyper-focus on local and a service to a demographic that simply can’t afford those subscription fees through other services. I believe there’s a really unique value and niche that we fill that none of our other competitors are hitting.

Hyper-Local Maynard Meyer

Maynard Meyer, or “Mr. Radio” as he is known to his listeners in Madison, Minnesota started in radio the same year I did, 1967. In 1983, he and his long-time friend, Terry Overlander, put KLQP-FM on the air.

Maynard is a member of the local Chamber of Commerce, the Kiwanis Club, a member of the city council, as well as serving on numerous boards and participating in several community activities. His dedication to radio and serving the community are credited with shaping the city of Madison, as well as much of western Minnesota, into what it is today. Maynard was inducted into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2011.

Responding to my question of “What is Radio’s Purpose in 2022,” Maynard wrote:

In rural America we are doing radio pretty much the same as we did when I started 50 years ago (as far as content goes), and the formula still works. Perhaps it would still work in larger markets, but, unfortunately, a couple of generations of programmers have led people to believe that radio is a music medium…there are a lot better ways to get music and people have found them.

The physical involvement of you and your staff in your community is as important, or possibly more important, than the content of your broadcasts. Everyone needs to know who you are and you need to become an indispensable part of the fabric of your community. You can’t just sound ‘local” you have to BE local. That formula continues to work for us in small town America where radio is often alive and well.”

Maynard Meyer certainly sounds like the type of broadcaster Curtis LeGeyt is referring to.

Randy Black, Radio Host

Another blog reader put it this way:

“You are going to have to personalize it for it to work. Included listeners. Cater to them. Put them on the air. Involve them. I am talking music stations here. Be informative. Be fun. Involve. Make it as 4d as possible.”

Steve Rixx, The Wake Up Morning Show on KSAM

“Radio in 2022 still serves its purpose by serving its local communities…IF it’s done correctly. My stations lean into the local, and are deeply involved with our people. Our listeners LISTEN because we are the source for everything happening in our area, and we support our youth and charitable organizations…and we just happen to play great music. BE the change you want. STOP complaining that ‘it’s not like it used to be.’ Most things aren’t. You can stay on the sidelines or get your hands dirty…you choose which.”

Darryl Parks on WLW’s Jim Scott

Can radio do this in a major market like Cincinnati? Yes, as Darryl Parks told us on his blog about the impact that Jim Scott made on the listener loyalty to The Big One – 700AM – WLW.

Darry wrote:

“Cities like Cincinnati are extremely provincial. Neighborhoods are strong. Some say our communities are closed to outsiders. Some of that maybe true. But, if you stick it out, once you belong, you will find the closest of friendships. Our little area of the Midwest is a very special place.

Now imagine that close friendship with over 2 million people. That’s how many people Jim Scott considers his friends – the entire market. I’m guessing that’s how many people might consider Jim a friend too.

As the radio story goes, when Jim first arrived in Cincinnati from WKBW in Buffalo, he made it a point to introduce himself to everyone.  And I mean everyone.  He’d finish his morning show on WSAI and then head to Cincinnati’s Fountain Square where he’d hand flowers to women and ask them to listen to him.  Other days, Jim would literally knock on doors, going house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood, introducing himself and asking those that answered if they would listen.  That was decades ago and he never stopped.

Years ago, at a wedding reception at Cincinnati’s beautiful art deco Union Terminal, I was standing with a small group of people, including Rich Walburg, my programming partner in crime at 700WLW. Another in the group noticed Jim going table to table introducing himself.  The fellow said, “Is that Jim Scott?  I want to meet him.”  Rich in his driest delivery replied, “Stay here.  He’ll make his way over.”  He eventually did and Jim introduced himself.

Jim has a way to make everyone feel special and he really is interested in how you’re doing.  He has a deep compassion for people.

He’s a radio personality who understands his on-air role, the importance of being an active member of the community and the value of his personal brand in the market.  He treasures his relationship with listeners and advertisers.  He knows ratings must come with revenue.

Jim is actively involved with many of our community’s service organizations and charities, because he knows how important it is to give back. Being involved in community service is normally the job of a radio station’s Market Manager.  That wasn’t the case at 700WLW.  I joked over the years, we had no idea what he did.  We just knew at night he was representing the station at a fundraiser and the next morning he was on the air at 5am.

Year after year, decade after decade, Jim gave himself to his radio audience, everyone of them considered dear friends. He was there during good times and bad. Sunny skies or snow. Jim Scott is a radio personality to study from. There will never be another like him.”

[Jim Scott retired from radio in 2015 after more than 50 years in broadcasting.]

It was 18 Years Ago…

So, nothing about what radio needs to do in a 21st Century world is all that different from the way it all began. Oh sure, the technology has changed dramatically, the ways of sending our content out to our listeners has multiplied and also made it possible for anyone with a computer and an internet connection to become a entertainment/information provider.

It was at a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hearing 18 years ago, that Maynard Meyer sounded the warning about radio’s future.

On May 24, 2004, the FCC held a “Broadcast Localism Hearing” in Rapid City, South Dakota.  The president, general manager and co-owner of KLQP-FM licensed to Madison, Minnesota (population 1,767) addressed the commission.  (I’ve edited his comments. The full text can be found here.)

“Localism in radio is not dead, but it is in dire need of resuscitation in many areas.  I have been involved in the radio business in announcing, sales, engineering and management for about 36 years, all of my experience is in communities of 5,000 people or less.  We personally live in the communities we serve so we know the ‘issues,’ we work to address them in our programming and have been doing so for the past 21 years.

A few years ago, many stations operated this way, but much of that has changed for a variety of reasons.  I think the beginning of the end of local broadcast service started in the 1980s when the Federal Communications Commission approved Docket 80-90.”

Mr. Meyer went on to explain to the FCC how many communities which “on paper” had a local radio station, but actually had a transmitter that was being fed from another location tens of miles away.  Mr. Meyer went on to say:

“I don’t think this is the best way to promote local radio service.  From what I have seen through my personal experience, as soon as a hometown studio is closed and relocated, the local service is relocated as well.”

“Wednesday Was Not A Great Day for Radio”

That was the headline Radio Ink ran with its article recapping the previous day’s Congressional hearing on Respecting Artists with the American Music Fairness Act. What made it a bad day for the radio industry? Maybe because all of those things that were presented as reasons radio needed to be protected from the recording industry, are things that only a handful of radio broadcasters actually still do.

Gloria Estefan speaking on behalf of recording artists explained that music has value and the very people who create those popular songs – artists, singers and studio musicians – see no compensation for their efforts that are fueling a billion dollar radio business. Their songs are being used without their permission or compensation.

Estefan did credit her career’s success to radio, but also went on to point out how much the business model had changed since she had a hit record with her Miami Sound Machine song Conga (1985).

The Advertising Pie

Before the COVID19 pandemic gripped our world, Gordon Borrell hosted a webinar in early 2019 and told of how the media pie is today sliced too thin.

To put things in perspective, Gordon shared how an over-populated media landscape is impacting local advertisers.

  • 1,300 daily newspapers, 6,500 weeklies
  • 4,700 printed directory books
  • 4,665 AM radio stations, 6,757 commercial FM radio stations
  • 1,760 Class A TV stations
  • More than 1,000 cable systems with local sales staffs
  • 660,000 podcasts were actively produced in 2018
  • 495 NEW TV shows were introduced last year in addition to what’s already on
  • PLUS, local ad sales are taking place on Facebook, Google and Amazon

For radio broadcasters, Gordon Borrell said the solution to the future of media expenditures would be a process of “thinning the herd.”

Borrell said, the way advertising buyers are responding to a world of media abundance is by:

  • Decreasing the number of companies from which they buy advertising from 5 to 3.5, and
  • 90% of their media buys are being made with companies who can bundle traditional and digital advertising.

Quality Over Quantity

I believe that we’ve reached a point where quality will beat quantity. Whether we’re talking about Netflix vs. Disney+ vs. Apple+ etc. or ABC vs. NBC vs. CBS etc. or magazines, newspapers, TV stations or radio stations. The day of reckoning is arriving and only the best will survive.

For radio stations that have always operated like Maynard Meyer’s, there’s no reason to fear the future. Stations that aren’t just saying they’re local, but proving it every day by their total involvement in their communities. Great radio means being dedicated and invested in operating in the public interest and fulfilling, as Dale Parsons said, “a (listener’s) compelling need for entertainment and information.”

 “In the struggle for survival,

the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals

because they succeed in adapting themselves to their environment.”

-author unknown (often attributed to Charles Darwin) updated 2/13/2022 thanks to Tom Asacker

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What Purpose Does Radio Serve in 2022?

I often think about how much radio has changed since I began my career as a professional broadcaster in February 1968, 54 years ago. Local radio at that time told us who was born, who died, whether school was open or closed, what happened at the city council or school board meetings, what was going on in the world, our nation and our community. We depended on our hometown radio station for weather, sports and entertainment.

In 1968 local radio was the way we often learned about events first; it was “magical.”

Radio’s Prime Purpose

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia 6th ed. in 2012 defined radio’s purpose this way:

The prime purpose of radio is to convey information

from one place to another through the intervening media

(i.e., air, space, nonconducting materials)

without wires.

Isn’t that the same thing my iPhone does? It conveys information to me through the same intervening media without wires.

In fact, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued my broadcast license back in ’68, it was called it a “Radio Telephone Third Class Operator Permit (Restricted Radiotelephone Certificate).” This always made me wonder why it was called that, as I studied to earn this permit for the sole purpose of being able to operate a broadcast radio station, not work for a telephone company.

Radiotelephone

A radiotelephone, it turns out, is a phone that uses radio transmission. Wikipedia defines it this way:

A radiotelephone (or radiophone), abbreviated RT,[1] is a radio communication system for transmission of speech over radio. Radiotelephony means transmission of sound (audio) by radio, in contrast to radiotelegraphy, which is transmission of telegraph signals, or television, transmission of moving pictures and sound. The term may include radio broadcasting systems, which transmit audio one way to listeners, but usually refers to two-way radio systems for bidirectional person-to-person voice communication between separated users, such as CB radio or marine radio. In spite of the name, radiotelephony systems are not necessarily connected to or have anything to do with the telephone network, and in some radio services, including GMRS,[2] interconnection is prohibited.

Today’s smartphones are both radios and televisions – and a whole lot more.

First Source for Breaking News

In 2011, a rare earthquake shook our nation’s capital and then Hurricane Irene added to the area’s misery as she swept up the coast causing fatalities and billions of dollars of destruction. Both of these events disrupted lines of communication for millions of residents in the Washington, DC area.

Larry Thomas, a former Shift Commander for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services who lives in Annapolis, wrote in the Association of Public-Safety Communications newsletter, about the important role radio played in both of these natural disasters. Thomas wrote:

“Public safety authorities know that radio is the single most reliable outlet for information, which is why a battery-operated radio is so important and always part of any preparedness kit recommended by every organization from local agencies to FEMA and the Red Cross.”

Yet, stranded motorists on I-95 during a recent winter storm found their car radios providing none of the needed information they sought.

Those within range of a news station like WTOP, were kept informed, but sadly, those types of radio stations prove to be the exception rather than the rule.

Has Radio’s Purpose Been Appropriated?

When I think of all the things that made radio important in people’s lives, I can’t help but notice that these very attributes are now fulfilled by other sources, and often done better than broadcast radio. Here’s a partial list of what I’m talking about:

  • Weather: The Weather Channel, Accuweather etc.
  • News: NY Times, Washington Post, TV News Apps, other News Apps etc.
  • School Closings: Schools notify students, faculty & staff via text messages, websites etc.
  • Births/Deaths: social media etc.
  • City Council/School Board meetings: watch them online live
  • Road closures or other important information: text messages, websites, emails
  • Sports: the schools broadcast games online
  • Or to put it more simply, everything radio was famous for, today is easily accessible via the internet on a smartphone

I’m not saying these things to be hurtful to the radio industry, but to ask the fundamental question about its future.

What is Radio’s WHY?

Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why” is a deep dive into why “some people and organizations are more innovative, more influential and more profitable than others.”

Sinek says what all the successful individuals and companies have in common is their starting point. They first clearly must define their WHY.

What I’m not reading in any of the radio trades, in any of the materials from the Radio Advertising Bureau or the National Association of Broadcasters is what is radio’s WHY in the 21st Century. Instead I’m reading about how radio is developing podcasts, streaming, centralizing their news operations around regional hubs, consolidating their radio dayparts around national hosts…and on…and on…and on.

As Sinek says:

“Any organization can explain what it does; some can explain how they do it; but very few can clearly articulate why. WHY is not money or profit – those are always results. WHY does your organization exist? WHY does it do the things it does? “

What does your radio station do, that provides your advertisers and listeners, with a unique experience that has them coming back day after day?

“How do you get there if you don’t know where you are going?”

-Lewis Carroll

The WHY for commercial radio to survive and thrive in a 21st Century world is not the same as when it was born over a hundred years ago, because both radio and the world were different then.

Without a clearly defined and articulated WHY, I fear that radio will continue to be tossed like a rowboat in the stormy sea of mediated communications.

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Why I Stream ALL My Radio Listening

Twelve year ago, radio broadcast engineer Tom Ray, penned these words: “Unless we give Joe Consumer a reason to go out and purchase an HD Radio for his car – until he can obtain it easily and at a reasonable cost, and a device that works – I fear HD Radio is going to go the way of FM quad and AM stereo, relegated to the scrap pile of history.”

Tom Ray wrote his article for Radio World when he was the vice president/corporate director of engineering for Buckley Broadcasting/WOR Radio in New York City. He was a strong and vocal supporter of HD Radio and his WOR was one of the first AMs on the air with an HD Radio signal. So, any broadcaster that read Tom’s article, “HD Radio Shouldn’t Be This Hard,” should have taken it as a wake-up call about steps the radio industry needed to take to stay relevant in their listeners’ lives.

Buying a New Car in 2010

Tom is a loyal Ford customer, so when his Explorer went to the automobile graveyard with 230,000-miles on it, Tom wanted to get a new Ford Escape, equipped with HD Radio. The only problem was, Ford wasn’t putting HD Radios into their Escapes, instead, they were pushing Satellite Radio. (Tom noted that his wife listened only to Satellite Radio in her car, saying “in her opinion there is nothing worth listening to in New York’s Hudson Valley, 50 miles north of New York City.)

This should have been yet another radio industry wake-up call about its future.

I encourage you to click on the link and read what Tom Ray wrote a dozen years ago about how difficult it was to put an HD Radio into a new car which, at that time, didn’t offer OEM HD Radios and how he, as a broadcast engineer, was totally frustrated trying to install an aftermarket one.

Streaming Radio at Home

Since Christmas 2017, when my wife gave me my first Amazon Echo smart speaker, our Echo family has quickly grown to four of these devices. There is nowhere you can be in our home and not ask Alexa for something.

Since 2017, all of our in-home radio listening is via streaming.

While we also occasionally streamed radio in the car, on all of our road trips from 2018-2021, SiriusXM always seemed to be offering a 3-month free listening trial that I can honestly say we enjoyed the listening to. But, I’ve never been a subscriber, because other than road trips I spend very little time in the car.

Streaming Radio in the Car

In October, while enjoying my latest free 3-month trial for SiriusXM radio, I decided it was time to bring my in-house streaming radio habit into both of our cars. We own a 2006 Subaru Forester and a 2009 Honda Accord.

The Subaru doesn’t have an AUX input, the Honda does.

Streaming in the Subaru was accomplished with a Blue Tooth receiver that will broadcast on any FM frequency (88.1 works best). In the Honda, this same device’s output was plugged into an AUX receptacle.

The result is, as soon as either my wife or myself enters one of our cars, the Nulaxy KM18 immediately pairs with our iPhones. I installed the AINOPE Car Phone Holder Mount to hold our phones, and keep them easily assessible to control whatever we would like to listen to.

Total cost for each car: $33.43. Time to install, virtually nil. I just plugged the Nulaxy KM18 into a power port and it was operational. The AINIOPE holder easily clamps to an air vent on the dashboard and holds any smartphone.

Unlike the nightmare that Tom Ray experienced back in 2010 trying to put HD Radio into his car, this installation by me, a non-engineer, was a piece of cake.

A Call to Action

I recently sat in on a Radio World webinar called “A Call to Action, radio’s existential battle for the dash.” Paul McLane, Managing Director of Content/Editor in Chief of Radio World at Radio World/Future U.S., hosted the webinar and did an excellent job. However, one particular piece of information shared during the presentation that I thought was crucial was, how Mercedes Benz was equipping their vehicles’ radio screens with the following pre-sets: SiriusXM, FM, AM and TuneIn Radio.

TuneIn Radio is the App I use for most of my radio listening, but why was it chosen by Mercedes Benz? Turns out the answer is, “TuneIn’s radio stations can be accessed worldwide in 197 countries on more than 200 different platforms and devices.” TuneIn says it “provides the displaced radio listener a connection to home with local, national, and international stations anywhere they go and on any device.”

In other words, why would any audio consumer need DAB, DAB+, Digital Radio Mondiale, HD Radio, AM or FM when they can receive any radio station in crystal clear audio via streaming?

With the exception of the proprietary content offered by SiriusXM, everything else is available via streaming at no charge.

Cellular Plan

Now it goes without saying, that streaming consumes data. Each cellphone service provider offers different plans and different price rates. My wife and I are on Verizon’s unlimited phone/text/data plan. We have no landline phone in our home and our iPhones are our lifeline to being connected with each other, our family, our community and the world.

I’ve found streaming radio in our cars provides us with audio quality that is pristine. There’s no buffering or dropout, and it’s been a more reliable signal than AM, FM or SiriusXM radio, especially when traveling through tunnels.

Streaming Apps

I thought you might be interested in knowing what streaming Apps I have on my iPhone, here’s the current list:

  • TuneIn Pro
  • Audacy
  • Pandora
  • Spotify
  • Amazon Music
  • NPR ONE
  • YouTube
  • Simple Radio
  • StreamS
  • Apple Podcasts
  • AccuRadio
  • 650AM WSM
  • Stitcher

Why I Prefer Streaming My Radio

We live far enough away from Washington, D.C. that radio signals for WTOP or WETA experience lots of noise and dropout, depending atmospherics, sometimes making them totally unlistenable. However, their streams are always crystal clear.

This fall Sue and I escaped to Cape Cod for a week and when I get on the peninsula, I love turning on WFCC – Cape Cod’s Classical station – 107.5 FM. Now with streaming radio, I can dial up WFCC on my TuneIn radio App and listen when we’re back home in Virginia.

Full disclosure, I am the midday DJ on WMEX-FM in Rochester, NH. But even if I weren’t on the station, WMEX-FM would be my #1 pre-set for streaming. Gary James, the station’s morning man and program director, puts together a music mix that I find absolutely fabulous. It’s the music of my life.

Which brings me to another important point, radio today is global. No longer is your radio station competing just with other local stations, but radio that is streaming from anywhere on planet Earth.

Streaming also makes it possible for ON DEMAND spoken word radio, also known as Podcasts, to be easily available in the car.

Simington on Streaming

FCC commissioner Nathan Simington recently addressed Ohio broadcasters saying, “content delivery power had shifted away from broadcasters – stations and networks – and toward ‘online platforms,’ something he thinks the FCC needs to recognize in its quadrennial review of media ownership regs.”

He warned that:

  1. “Online media platforms are growing rapidly and threaten dominance over traditional media platforms; and
  2. Broadcast advertising revenue has flatlined, having been siphoned off from higher margin online platforms.”

The Future is Streaming

88% of the world’s population now uses mobile broadband as its main source of internet access, and nearly 90% of homes in the United States now have internet streaming. 2021 saw an estimated 22% ad industry growth rate, which Magna Global said was “the highest growth rate ever recorded” by this agency, beating a 12.5% growth rate recorded in the year 2000. The caveat however is, digital dominated traditional advertising raking in 64.4% of the growth in ad spending.

RAIN reports “The U.S. recorded music industry will exceed a 48-year revenue record set in 1999 (based on current estimates),” all coming from revenues paid by streaming music services.

The Harvard Business Review recently published “4 Principles to Guide Your Digital Transformation,” by Greg Satell, Andrea Kates and Todd McLees. In it, the authors wrote, “digital transformation is not just about technology. We’re desperately in need of a shift in focus. Leaders must inspire and empower their entire organization to boldly reimagine their work environment, customer needs, product offering, and even the purpose of the enterprise.”

Tom Ray was the proverbial “canary in the coal shaft” back in 2010, with few paying attention. Sadly, based on the early news coming out of the 2022 CES in Las Vegas, nothing has changed.

We’re living in a communications revolution,

bringing about changes that will be both

permanent and irreversible.

Revolutions never maintain or preserve the status quo.

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Oh, The Insanity

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) submission to the Federal Communications Commission for the FCC’s 2018 Quadrennial Regulatory Review is eye-opening.  You can read it for yourself HERE. It left me shaking my head.

The NAB told the commission that “’local radio stations’ Over-The-Air (OTA) ad revenues fell 44.9% in nominal terms ($17.6 billion to $9.7 billion) from 2005-2020.” Local 2020 digital advertising revenues by stations only increased the radio industry’s total ad revenues by $0.9 billion bringing them to $10.6 billion.

The NAB’s solution to the problem is for the radio industry to become more consolidated.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over

and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

Say What?

Back in the mid 90s, the radio industry was telling anyone who would listen that the problem with the state of radio broadcasting in America was that the industry was made up of little “ma and pa” radio stations/groups which could not scale and if the ownership caps weren’t lifted the radio industry would perish.

Excuse me, but I’ve already seen this movie and how it ends. So, why would doing more of what didn’t work, result in a different outcome.

The Media World Has Changed

I don’t think anyone would contest that the media world we live in has changed dramatically since 2005. Facebook, the world’s largest social media company with over 1.84 billion daily active users, opened its doors on February of 2004. YouTube began in 2005 and Twitter in 2006.

Google, the dominate search engine on the internet, began in 1998 and internet retailing behemoth, Amazon, began in 1994.

The new internet kids on the block that dominate our day are WhatsApp (2009), Pinterest (2009), Instagram (2010), Messenger (2011), SnapChat (2011) and TikTok (2016).

The Top 10 internet companies at the end of 2020 raked in 78.1% of the digital ad revenue ($109.2 billion).

All Ad Dollars Are Green

While we like to break money spent on advertising into distinct categories like digital media, traditional media etc. the reality is the total number of advertising dollars is a finite number and in the end you can’t tell a dollar from digital from a dollar from analog advertising.

“You can’t handle the truth!”

Colonel Jessup

(played by Jack Nicholson in the 1992 film “A Few Good Men”)

Since 2005, many young entrepreneurs have created a better mousetrap to capture those advertising dollars. No one ever made a regulation or a law that prevented the radio industry from doing what any of those internet companies did. The passenger railroad industry never thought of themselves as being in the transportation business but only the railroad business. That’s why it found itself challenged by other means of people transportation, namely the airlines.

The radio advertising industry was born by entrepreneurs that learned how to create a product that attracted a large listening audience, which in turn enabled them to sell audio advertising to companies wishing to expose their product or service to these consumers.

Unfortunately, we found ourselves challenged by new media competition. Initially, it was television, but transistor portable radios, along with car radios, allowed our business to reinvent its programming and flourish once again.

With the advent of the internet, radio was caught flat-footed.

If that were its only problem.

Radio Stations (2005-2020)

In 2005, America had 18,420 radio signals on the air.

  • 13,660 AM/FM/FM Educational radio stations on the air
  • 3,995 FM translators & boosters
  • 675 Low Power FM stations.

By 2020, those numbers increased to 26,001 radio signals.

  • 15,445 AM/FM/FM Educational radio stations
  • 8,420 FM translators & boosters
  • 2,136 Lower Power FM stations

18,330 vs. 26,001

That’s a 41.8% increase in the number of radio stations.

While radio folks were busy trying to steal radio advertising from the station across the street or consolidating with their former competition, the internet folks were focused on selling more advertising. From 2005 to 2020, the sale of digital advertising grew from $12.5 billion to $139.8 billion. That’s an increase of 118.4%.

But during that same time, radio grew its digital advertising footprint by $0.9 billion.

Quantity vs. Quality

When radio regulation began in America under the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) the decision was made by that regulatory body to focus on the quality of radio programming versus the quantity of radio stations they allowed to broadcast. Only people or companies with the economic capital to operate a radio station in the “public interest, convenience and/or necessity” would be allowed to obtain a radio broadcast license.

I believe you could say that the radio industry’s downfall began when we ceased worrying about quality and went with the more signals we license, the better for radio listeners mantra.

Sydney, Australia

Sydney is a major city in the country of Australia with a population of 5.312 million people. There are 74 radio stations on the air in Sydney.

By comparison, Los Angeles (America’s second largest city) has a population of 3.984 million people and 158 radio stations serving its metro.

In July 2021, radio revenues in Sydney were up 11.3% year-on-year according to Milton Data.

The Benefits of Pruning

Gardeners know that pruning is the act of trimming leaves, branches and other dead matter from plants. It’s by pruning a plant that you improve its overall health.

A beautiful garden is one where the plants have been trained to grow properly, to improve in their health/quality, and even in some cases to restrict their growth. Pruning is a great preventative gardening and lawn care process that protects the environment and increases curb-appeal.

The irony of gardening is, the more fruit and flowers a plant produces, the smaller the yield becomes. Pruning encourages the production of larger fruits and blooms.

Why do I share this with you?

I believe that everything in the world is interconnected. You can’t for a moment think that what makes for a bountiful garden would not also make for a robust radio industry.

Today’s radio industry is so overgrown with signals and other air pollution, that it has impacted its health.

Doing more of the same, and expecting a different result is insane.

It’s time to get out the pruning shears.

Less Is More

I believe that the way to improve the radio industry in America, to have more advertising revenues to support quality local services including news, sports and emergency journalism, along with entertainment by talented live performers, is by reducing the number of radio signals.

AM radio is the logical first place to start.

Elsewhere in the world we are seeing that not only the AM band being sunset but the analog FM band as well. The world has gone digital.

American radio has one final chance to get it right by correcting for past decisions, hurtful to radio broadcasting, in creating a new and robust digital broadcasting service.

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What Do Radio Broadcasters & Almond Farmers Have In Common?

Last week, an article in The Atlantic titled “The Well Fixer’s Warning: The lesson that California never learns,” was a terrifying read about the water supply used to irrigate the almond orchards on the farms of Madera County. So many of the farm’s wells were coming up dry and the farmers were puzzled as to why water flowing out of their wells had been reduced to a trickle and were mostly producing sand.

Matt Angell is not only an almond farmer himself, but owns Madera Pumps, a company that drills wells and repairs well pumps. He knows that droughts, like the California sunshine go hand-in-hand, and as John Steinbeck wrote: “no one (forgets) the last drought faster than the farmer.”

Since the middle 1970s, almond farmers have persevered through at least five droughts and their solution to the problem was always the same – BUILD MORE DAMS.

BUILD MORE DAMS

Those three words stopped me cold. Who else thinks like this? Radio people, that’s who.

Today in America, there are now 26,076 radio stations on the air, 2,500 of these stations are broadcasting in HD which adds another 2,100 multicast radio channels to the mix. That’s about a 93% increase in the number of radio signals from when I started in high school.

The radio industry and almond farmers, have both felt that the way to grow is by adding more and more and more. Almond farmers added more acreage of almond trees and radio owners added more signals.

Aquifers

The dam reality was the San Joaquin River already had a half-a-dozen dams diverting its water, so the next solution to obtaining more water for almond irrigation was to drill down to the aquifers beneath the farmlands. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the farmers of Madera County to pump out the easily available ground water and see their wells coming up dry. As they were drilling deeper and deeper into the earth, a hidden lake beneath the farmlands was discovered in 2014. It was shocking to see it pumped dry in only seven years.

Angell noted that the snow on the mountain had melted two months earlier than “normal,” and the water level of the San Joaquin river was so low, it was now nothing more than a series of unconnected ponds as well as the wells – residential, business and farming – all over the community were running dry.

The reality is, the Madera County underground water table is one of the most over-tapped aquifers in the West, and all those wells had depleted the underground water source, causing the aquifer to collapse.

The Advertising Pie

It was before the COVID19 pandemic gripped our world, Gordon Borrell hosted a webinar back in early 2019 and told of how the media pie (the radio industry’s aquifer, if you will) is over-tapped.

To put things in perspective, Gordon shared how an over-populated media landscape is impacting local advertisers.

  • 1,300 daily newspapers, 6,500 weeklies
  • 4,700 printed directory books
  • 4,665 AM radio stations, 6,757 commercial FM radio stations
  • 1,760 Class A TV stations
  • More than 1,000 cable systems with local sales staffs
  • 660,000 podcasts were actively produced in 2018
  • 495 NEW TV shows were introduced last year in addition to what’s already on
  • PLUS, local ad sales are taking place on Facebook, Google and Amazon

Same Old Answer

Despite the fact that the water from the aquifer and river was being depleted by droughts, climate change and being over-tapped, the almond farmers’ answer was always the same, said Mark Angell, “Plant more almonds and pistachios. Plant more housing tracts on farmland. But the river isn’t the same. The aquifer isn’t the same.”

Listen to radio owners, and they will tell you they too need more and more radio signals in order to stay viable, despite the fact that the advertising pie is finite and media supported by advertising continues to expand exponentially.

“I used to use the word unprecedented to describe what we’re doing to the land,” said Angell, but “now I use the word biblical.” Is it any different for radio broadcasters?

The Solution

For the nut farmers of Madera County, the solution is a hard pill to swallow, it’s “to figure out a way to retire one million acres of the six million farmed, “otherwise, we’re looking at a race to the bottom,” said Angell.

For radio broadcasters, Gordon Borrell said the solution to the future of media expenditures would be a process of “thinning the herd.”

The way advertising buyers are responding to a world of media abundance, Borrell says, is by:

  • Decreasing the number of companies from which they buy advertising from 5 to 3.5, and
  • 90% of their media buys are being made with companies who can bundle traditional and digital advertising.

Killing the Golden Goose

Do you remember the Aesop fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs? Let me refresh your memory of this tale. It’s about a farmer that was poor. One day he makes a startling discovery when he finds a golden egg in the nest of his pet goose. Skeptical at first, he has the egg tested and finds that it is indeed made of pure gold. Even more amazing, each day this farmer awakes to find that his goose has laid another golden egg. In very short order, this poor farmer becomes fabulously wealthy. But then his wealth brings greed and impatience. No longer satisfied with just one golden egg per day, the farmer cuts open his goose to harvest all of its golden eggs at once only to find the goose is empty inside. With a now dead goose, there will be no more golden eggs laid.

In remembering this fable, it sounded so familiar to the world of radio broadcasting and almond farmers. Both possessed a wonderful “goose” that laid daily “golden eggs.”

Unfortunately for almond farmers, in wanting more, they are killing their water supply, and for broadcasters not wishing to wait for each day’s golden egg, cut open their goose beginning with the Telcom Act of 1996, that allowed them to own as many radio stations as they basically wished.

The moral of Aesop’s fable is if you focus only on the golden eggs and neglect the goose that lays them, you will soon be without the very asset that produces the golden eggs.

The radio industry’s quest for short-term returns, or results, took their free FCC licenses and ruined them by not maintaining the balance between the production of desired results and the production capacity of the asset.

Aesop’s fable is the very principle of effectiveness. It’s a natural law. Like gravity, you don’t have to believe in it or understand its principles, but you can never escape its effects.

Radio broadcasters probably saw the moral of the fable being the more geese you own, the more spots you add to the hour, the more effective your R.O.I. (Return On Investment) will be.

Almond farmers saw the moral of the fable as planting more trees, install more powerful pumps to withdraw more water and watch your R.O.I. grow.

But ironically, it is the principle of “Less Is More” that in the end rules the day.

To be truly effective, you need to maintain the balance of what is produced (golden eggs/revenue) and the producing asset (your goose/radio station/almond trees).

Everything in excess

is opposed to nature.

-Hippocrates

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HD Radio – The Answer to the Question No One Was Asking

I was reading about how HD Radio was celebrating its 15th birthday recently and that had me scratching my head as HD Radio is older than that. In checking the records, I saw that the Federal Communications Commission selected HD Radio as America’s digital standard in 2002. By comparison, Steve Jobs introduced Apple’s iPod in October 2001, XM Satellite Radio began service in 2001 and Sirius Satellite Radio in 2002.

Radios Go High-Definition

This was the headline that appeared in the Baltimore Sun on January 7, 2004. Unfortunately, unlike HDTV (High Definition Television) HD Radio never stood for “High Definition.” And possibly that was the first mistake. HD Radio was simply a name they chose for the digital radio technology, but even today, many people still think it means “High Definition” or “Hybrid Digital.”

Sadly, by 2004, America’s digital radio was late to the party and if the industry is now marking the date of 2006 as its moment of birth, it was really late!

Remembering 2006

In 2006, Facebook opened up its social network to everyone in the world. The original requirement that you be a college student enrolled at a specific university was eliminated and the only requirement now was that you were over the age of 13 and had a valid email address.

In just 15-years, Facebook has grown to over 2.85 billion active monthly users.

Let’s look at what else was born in 2006 that competes for our attention:

  • Twitter was launched in 2006 and today enjoys 199 million monetizable daily active users.
  • Wii game system was introduced with its handheld motion controller that got families off the couch and in motion doing all kinds of sports in front of the TV.
  • PlayStation 3 came online to provide strong competition to XBOX 360. (Video gamers spent about eight hours and 27 minutes each week playing games, which is an increase of 14% over 2020. The video gaming industry predicts revenues of $100.56 billion by 2024)
  • Google bought YouTube in 2006 and now has over 2 billion users, the channel grosses over $19.7 billion in revenue and users are uploading videos at the rate of 500 videos per minute with over a billion hours/day spent watching videos on the platform.
  • The one billionth song was purchased from Apple’s iTunes, the dominate source for music lovers in 2006. (Two years later Spotify would arrive and not only disrupt how music was sold but how it was listened to in general.)

When we look at 2006, it becomes easier to understand why HD Radio wasn’t such a big deal to the average media consumer.

Solving a Problem That Didn’t Exist

What HD Radio did for FM radio stations was solve a problem that listeners to FM didn’t feel existed. No one who listened to FM radio was complaining about the quality of the sound, they were complaining about other things, like too many commercials. And for AM radio stations, it meant people buying radios for a service that didn’t offer anything they really wanted to hear or couldn’t get elsewhere. AM radio was now the service of senior citizens who already owned AM radios, who grew up with AM radio’s characteristics and whose hearing was not the best now anyway. So, HD Radio for AM wasn’t anything they were asking for and worse, AM radio stations that put on the new digital signal found it lacked the benefits of skywave and often interfered with other company AM radio stations as the industry quickly consolidated radio ownership.

Industries Most Disrupted By Digital

In March 2016, an article published by Rhys Grossman in the Harvard Business Review listed “Media” as the most disrupted by the growing digital economy. Turns out, if you’re a business-to-consumer business, you’re first being most disrupted by digital. The barriers to be a media company used to be huge, but in a digital world they are not, meaning that the business model that media companies depend on has not adapted well to the digital economy.

Elephant in the Room

But the elephant in the room remains the broken media business model. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television – any media that is ad supported – will be challenged to find a way to capture revenue to continue operating.

Walt Disney famously said “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make movies.”

Broadcasters of my generation had that same attitude about creating great radio.

Do the people owning and operating today’s radio stations still embrace that concept?

* In 2021, it’s estimated there are 3.78 billion social media users worldwide.

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Can Algorithms Be Fair?

A while back, I wrote a blog article about “The Fairness Doctrine.” After the January 6th siege on Capitol Hill, many people began wondering if this policy, originally enacted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1949, but then eliminated under President Ronald Reagan, should be re-instated.  

To review, this doctrine required the holder of a broadcast license to both present controversial issues of public importance, and to present these issues in a manner that was honest, equitable, fair and balanced.

In other words, broadcasters were supposed to not only uncover what the people in their broadcast service area should be aware of, but also to present both sides of the issue.

The Fairness Doctrine only applied to radio and television licensees and no other form of media. Even if it was still in place today, it wouldn’t have applied to Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram or any other forms of non-broadcast communication. The problem with social media is that what we read, see, and hear is all controlled by algorithms.

The Challenge of Controlling Algorithms

Unlike most innovations that human beings have designed, algorithms are not static and easily defined. You can’t say that one algorithm is good and the other is evil. They are like a living organism, in that they can learn, adapt and change over time.

Cornell University online behavior scholar, J. Nathan Matias, put it this way:

“If you buy a car from Pennsylvania and drive it to Connecticut, you know that it will work the same way in both places. And when someone else takes the driver’s seat, the engine is going to do what it always did.”

With an algorithm, it changes with each human behavior it comes in contact with and that’s what makes trying to regulate it, from a government standpoint, such a challenge.

Broadcast radio and television was an unknown when it appeared, and government was challenged to regulate it. It used as a model, the regulations that had been developed to oversee America’s railroads. In fact, that’s where the concept of requiring radio and TV stations to operate in the “public interest, convenience and/or necessity” comes from. It’s also why no one has ever been exactly sure of what this phrase actually means when it comes to broadcast regulation.  

Closing the Barn Door

The old saying “It’s too late to close the barn door, once the horse is gone,” might be the type of problem facing regulators trying to bring fairness to today’s internet dominated world.

The European Union’s first go at trying to regulate Google Shopping, demonstrated how the slow moving wheels of justice are no match for the high speed technology of today. By the time regulators issued their decision, the technology in question had become irrelevant.

20th Century Solutions Don’t Work on 21st Century Problems

We all learned in school how America’s Justice Department, and in some cases individual states, broke up monopolies in oil and the railroads. Historically, what government was trying to do was breakup price-setting cartels, and lower prices for consumers. But with entities like Facebook and Google, no one pays to use their service; it’s free!

Promising Technology or Dystopian Reality?

When commercial radio was born a hundred years ago, it was greeted with the same exuberance that the internet was and people thought radio would connect people, end wars and bring about world peace.

Then American radio would give a voice to Father Charles Coughlin, a Detroit priest who eventually turned against American democracy itself through his nationwide radio broadcasts, opening the door for the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine coming into regulatory existence.

A Collaborative Solution

Media regulation in the 21st Century with algorithms that act like living organisms maybe should be regulated in the same way we protect our environment.

As an example, how would you go about improving a polluted river?

“To improve the ecology around a river, it isn’t enough to simply regulate companies’ pollution. Nor will it help to just break up the polluting companies. You need to think about how the river is used by citizens—what sort of residential buildings are constructed along the banks, what is transported up and down the river—and the fish that swim in the water. Fishermen, yachtsmen, ecologists, property developers, and area residents all need a say. Apply that metaphor to the online world: Politicians, citizen-scientists, activists, and ordinary people will all have to work together to co-govern a technology whose impact is dependent on everyone’s behavior, and that will be as integral to our lives and our economies as rivers once were to the emergence of early civilizations.”

-Anne Applebaum and Peter Pomerantsev, The Atlantic, “How to Put Out Democracy’s Dumpster Fire

Now you know why bringing back “The Fairness Doctrine” will not work in a communications world controlled by algorithms.

We need to think differently.

Albert Einstein said it best,

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

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Your Cell Phone is a Radio

By definition, radio is, a: the wireless transmission and reception of electric impulses or signals by means of electromagnetic waves. b: the use of these waves for the wireless transmission of electric impulses into which sound is converted, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary.

Your cell phone sends signals to (and receives them from) nearby cell towers (base stations) using Radio Frequency (RF) waves. This is a form of energy in the electromagnetic spectrum that falls between FM radio waves and microwaves.

My First FCC License

When I studied for and passed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) test to obtain my 3rd Class Radio-Telephone License, I initially wondered why it said “telephone” on it.

Telephones in 1968 were all wired devices, like in my parent’s house in which our family phone was connected by a copper wire and bolted to the kitchen wall.

When I began to study the history of radio, I learned that an early experimenter in radio broadcasting, Kentucky melon farmer Nathan Stubblefield, wanted to be able to talk to his wife while he was driving his automobile while away from their farmhouse. In those early days, no one had a clue what this new technology would become.

Radio’s Metamorphosis

The podcast “Local Marketing Trends” hosted by Corey Elliot and Gordon Borrell, recently featured an interview with the Radio Advertising Bureau’s (RAB) President/CEO Erica Farber in which she said the radio industry’s sales arm was going through a metamorphosis; today the RAB thinks more broadly, to include all things audio.

Gordon asked Erica if she meant podcasting and streaming audio like Spotify and Pandora, to which she said “Yes.” When might this happen, Gordon asked, to which she responded, “maybe today.”

Farber explained how she feels radio is ahead of the curve in not just delivering content, but in delivering services too. Radio is no longer just about selling thirty and sixty second spots but it’s a very different business now, with radio’s core product today being “delivering results.”

Audio Advertising Bureau

Might the Radio Advertising Bureau change its name to become the Audio Advertising Bureau?

I hope not. Here’s why I say that.

Radio suffers from traditional broadcaster thinking that it needs an FCC license, radio tower, antenna and transmitter which sends a signal out over the AM or FM radio bands. But if you ask a young person, what is radio, they will tell you about their favorite stream or podcast which  they listen to through their smartphone.

Radio is not a dated identifier, it’s very much in vogue in the 21st Century, but what imagine comes to mind when one says the word “RADIO” will differ depending upon a person’s age.

1940s Floor Cabinet Radio (what my parents listened to)
1970s Transistor Radio (the radio of my youth)
21st Century Smartphone used as a radio & a whole lot more (the “radio” I use today)

Apple Music Radio

You might have missed Apple’s August 2020 Press Release about how they were changing the name of their radio service from Beats 1 to Apple Music Radio. In spite of trying to invent a new name for their streaming music offerings, their users called it “RADIO.” And now, so does Apple.

Beats 1, has been Apple’s flagship global radio station since its launch in 2015. Five years later, it’s been renamed Apple Music 1. Oliver Schusser, vice president of Apple Music, Beats and International Content, explained

“Apple Music Radio provides an unparalleled global platform for artists across all genres to talk about, create, and share music with their fans, and this is just the beginning. We will continue to invest in live radio and create opportunities for listeners around the world to connect with the music they love.”Beats

Now is NOT the time for AM/FM Radio broadcasters to abandon the sonic brand known as “RADIO.”

Adapt or Die

When people started streaming over the Internet and calling it “radio,” traditional broadcasters looked down their noses in much the same way that print journalists looked down their noses at the new media platforms like Buzzfeed and Vice Media invading their world.

Traditional media survivors will learn to accept and embrace the new platforms that disrupt the world as we knew it and are creating the world that will be.

An inability to adapt to new platforms is what causes both people and industries to fail.

AM, FM, internet streaming, smartphones, connected cars are all platforms. Radio, newspapers, magazines and the like, are all media products. Understanding this dichotomy is critical.

And so, the challenge for radio is not changing its name, but adapting its product to today’s platforms.

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What was The Fairness Doctrine?

After the January 6, 2021 siege on Capitol Hill, I began hearing people saying we need to bring back “The Fairness Doctrine,” as if that genie could be put back into the bottle.

But what exactly was “The Fairness Doctrine?”

It was a policy enacted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1949 requiring the holder of a broadcast license to both present controversial issues of public importance, and to present these issues in a manner that was honest, equitable, fair and balanced.

In other words, broadcasters were supposed to not only uncover what the people in their broadcast service area should be aware of, but also to present both sides of the issue.

Operate in the Public Interest, Convenience and Necessity

From the beginning of my broadcast management career, I knew that my number one job was to protect the radio station’s FCC broadcast license to operate. Without a broadcast license, you were out of business. Second, my radio station(s) must operate in the public interest, convenience and necessity of the people in the area we were licensed to serve with our broadcasts.

The FCC created The Fairness Doctrine to ensure that “all sides of important public questions were presented fairly.”

For decades, this doctrine was seen as the keystone of broadcasters fulfilling their commitment to operating in the public interest. Compliance with The Fairness Doctrine was a primary litmus test during the license renewal process.

It was during the 1960s, when I started my radio career, that the FCC increased their enforcement of broadcaster compliance to The Fairness Doctrine. In 1963, the FCC formally stated that the presentation of only one side of an issue during a sponsored program would require that opposing views be given free air time to present their side. That rule became known as the Cullman Doctrine.

Broadcaster’s Free Speech

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that all of this increased oversight by the FCC on a broadcast station’s program content was seen as interference with a broadcaster’s “free speech.”

This would eventually be challenged at the Supreme Court in the Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC decision of 1969, with the high court upholding the constitutionality of the public interest standard in general and The Fairness Doctrine in particular. In their decision, the court stated, “It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.”

The End of The Fairness Doctrine

In 1985, the FCC finally decided that The Fairness Doctrine was incompatible with the public interest. It would eliminate this rule in 1987, and in 2011, the FCC removed the rule that implemented the policy from the Federal Register.

“[T]he Federal Communications Commission should reestablish two principles that formerly served this country well: the public service requirement and the fairness doctrine. Every television and radio station should once again be required to devote a meaningful percentage of its programming to public service broadcasting. The public, after all, owns the airwaves through which signals are broadcast, and the rights-of-way in which cables are strung. And every television and radio station should once again have to follow the fairness doctrine: those with opposing views should have the right to respond to viewpoints expressed on the station.”
― 
Bernie Sanders, United States Senator

Trump Tweets NBC Broadcasts “Fake News”

In October of 2017, President Donald J. Trump tweeted “With all the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”

Broadcast legal experts immediately criticized and dismissed Trump’s tweet as both implausible and having no legal basis.

The American Bar Association’s Legal Fact Check wrote:

“The FCC publishes specific rules and guidelines related to news hoaxes and distortions and bars a licensee from knowingly broadcasting false information concerning a crime or a catastrophe. But the bar or threshold is high. Six days after Trump’s tweet, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said his agency cannot revoke the license of a broadcaster ‘based on content of a particular newscast,’ and cited First Amendment protections of the press. FCC statements previously noted that the commission ‘often receives complaints … that stations have aired inaccurate or one-sided news reports or comments, covered stories inadequately or overly dramatized the events that they cover… (but) the commission generally will not intervene in such cases because it would be inconsistent with the First Amendment to replace the journalistic judgment of licensees with our own.’”

FOX NEWS CHANNEL

The Fairness Doctrine ended during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, however, it’s often wrongly stated that this gave birth to cable’s FOX NEWS CHANNEL. It did not. Cable channels are not, nor have they ever been, regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Similarly, the internet is also not regulated by the FCC.

The Fairness Doctrine only applied to the licenses of broadcast radio and television stations.

A case could be made that the end of The Fairness Doctrine did open the door to the Rush Limbaugh Show, which made its nationally syndicated premiere in 1988. Rush Limbaugh was a savior for AM radio stations, who saw most of their music audiences moving over to FM radio stations, and those advertising dollars moving right along with them.

Limbaugh proved so popular with AM talk radio audiences, that AM radio station owners added more talk shows like Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin and others.

Cumulus Media

Following the siege on our nation’s Capitol in Washington, DC on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, Cumulus Media, the radio syndicator for the Mark Levin Show sent a memo to its talk show hosts to stop spreading rhetoric about a stolen election or face termination.

Brian Philips, executive vice president of content for Cumulus Media wrote in his memo:

“We need to help induce calm NOW (and) will not tolerate any suggestion that the election has not ended. The election has been resolved, there are no alternative acceptable ‘paths.’ If you transgress this policy, you can expect to separate from the company immediately.”

Cumulus Media operates Westwood One, which syndicates Trump-supporting radio talk personalities like Mark Levin, Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino.

Free Speech

I find it ironic that the people screaming the loudest about what Cumulus Media has done is to thwart free speech. It’s not “free speech” to tell lies. United States constitutional law does not always protect false statements under the First Amendment.

Moreover, these same people are usually the ones who say, “Let the market decide.” In other words, let the corporations and companies make those hard decisions.

In this case, Cumulus Media did just that.

iHeartMedia which syndicates Trump-supporter hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity has not publicly announced any similar action for these talk hosts as of the writing of this blog article.

In 2016, SiriusXM suspended conservative talk host Glenn Beck for agreeing with one of his show’s guests who asked, “what patriot will step up to remove Donald Trump from office if he’s elected president and oversteps his authority?” SiriusXM, operator of America’s two satellite radio services, suspended Beck because they worried the conversation might “be reasonably construed by some to have been advocating harm against an individual currently running for office.”

Michael Harrison, who publishes Talkers magazine was sympathetic to the Cumulus memo saying:

“Corporations are responsible for what’s on their air. They have to deal with client feedback. They have to deal with public image and protection of their license. Private corporations can control their platforms, and I believe that in and of itself is an expression of free speech in action.”

I’m all for the Fairness Doctrine, whatever that is.

-George Voinovich*

*George Victor Voinovich (July 15, 1936 – June 12, 2016) was an American politician who served as a United States senator from Ohio from 1999 to 2011, the 65th governor of Ohio from 1991 to 1998 and the 54th mayor of Cleveland from 1980 to 1989, the last Republican to serve in that office.

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