Tag Archives: Sean Hannity

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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DJs Get Paid More than Real Musicians

Wolfman JackI was reading an article in Medium about “How Platform Capitalism Devalued the Music Industry,” when I came to this comment from electronic pop artist Grimes – currently dating Elon Musk – “DJs get paid more than real musicians.”

As the blowback continues to reverberate from the recent “employee dislocations” by iHeartMedia, of hundreds of their disc jockeys across America, I wondered who were these highly valued DJs Grimes was talking about.

World’s Highest Paid DJs

Turns out that Forbes published a list in July of what Forbes called “The World’s Highest-Paid DJs of 2019.”

chainsmokers

The #1 highest paid DJs are “Chainsmokers” earning $46 million in pre-tax income over the past year.

Who?

If that was the first thought that flashed across your brain, you’re not alone. The Chainsmokers are made up of Drew Taggart and Alex Pall.

#2 was “Marshmello” at $40 million, #3 was “Calvin Harris” at $38.5 million, #4 was “Steve Akoi” at $30 million and rounding out the top 5 was “Diplo” at $25 million. Forbes actually ranked the top 15 and you can see the whole list HERE.

None of these DJs are on your local radio station. They are all club DJs.

The Chainsmokers signed a three-year exclusive residency deal with Wynn Nightlife in Las Vegas that has the pair performing only in nightclubs at XS and Encore Beach Club in Vegas in 2017. The pair is such a draw, that agreement has been extended until 2021. The group also records EDM albums and released their first single in 2013.

Club DJs

marshmelloChristopher Comstock, aka “Marshmello,” signed with the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas taking up residency at their Kaos Dayclub and Nightclub.

Marshmello entertains from a rotating DJ booth shaped like his signature cylindrical marshmallow mask. If you’d like to see him in action, here’s a link to a YouTube video

This year coming in at #3, “Calvin Harris.” He previously had been the #1 highest paid DJ for six consecutive years.

Absent from the list are over-the-air radio DJs.

Radio’s Highest Paid

It should come as no surprise that Howard Stern reigns in the top spot with an income north of $90 million. But he’s on satellite radio.

The top earner on terrestrial radio is Rush Limbaugh, who recently announced he’s battling advanced lung cancer. Then comes Ryan Seacrest, Sean Hannity and Glen Beck, all syndicated talk radio hosts.radio sign

What’s the attraction of all of these personalities?

Grimes puts it this way, “It’s kind of like Instagram or whatever. [Listeners] don’t want the real world.” Great personalities give us an escape from our world and make us feel like we are a part of their lives.

Great Radio

Radio provides the listener with community and companionship through the stories it tells and music it plays.

Harry Harrison, New York City’s Morning Mayor, recently passed away at age 89. He was a New York City DJ Legend, broadcasting over WMCA, WABC and CBS-FM for the majority of his radio broadcasting career.

Cousin Brucie was invited to share his memories of Harry and why he was so loved by Big Apple radio listeners. Brucie said it was all about making the members of the radio audience feel like family. It’s all about talking to people and being out in the community Cousin Brucie & DTwith them, touching their hands. In fact, the host said, when Brucie showed up at NBC4  to do the segment, people who work at the TV station came to see him and gave Brucie a hug. Something that rarely happens when guests appear on the program.

I know how they feel because, one Saturday night, that’s exactly what I felt like when I had the opportunity to spend a night in “Cousin Brucie’s Place” at SiriusXM.

The Power of the DJ

The common thread, whether we’re talking about a popular club DJ or radio DJ, is their ability to bring people together, engage in the same thing at the same time and make us feel like we are welcome and belong.

Harry Harrison told his listeners that “every brand new day should be unwrapped like a precious gift” and he always wished his listeners the very best, “because that’s exactly what you deserve!” Ron Lundy greeted his listeners with “Hello Luv,” Dan Ingram called his listeners “Kemosabe,” and everyone was a “cousin” with Brucie.

The biggest casino operators know how important the DJ is in bringing people into their dance clubs. A great club DJ can read the room and know exactly the right mix of music to play to get everyone involved and have a good time.

That same magic built great radio on thousands of local radio stations across America. It can’t be replaced by artificial intelligence and algorithms.

Real local radio knows how to read the community and provide exactly what it needs at that moment. All great radio is local and relevant.

DJs become your best friend.

Is there anything better than hanging out with your best friend?

 

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The Post-Fact Society

68P.T. Barnum, among many others, is credited with saying: “I don’t care what they say about me, just make sure they spell my name right!”

Barnum knew it wasn’t important what people said about him as long as they were talking about him. Only the noise level about Barnum mattered.

When I saw this chart from The DataFace measuring the newspaper media coverage of the two presidential candidates, it was eye opening.  68a It mattered little that most of that coverage was negative. What mattered was they spelled “Trump” correctly.

Fake News

Once upon a time, news came from journalists who worked for newspapers, radio and television stations.

Then along came the iPhone and social media.

Now the same device that could receive text, voice, pictures and video could produce it too.

Social media platforms provided mass distribution without a filter (aka an editor).

This provided the perfect storm for the production of fake news. A cottage industry in some parts of the world, some American citizens soon learned that producing internet stories that would get lots of clicks could be profitable.

Radio & Fake News

Even syndicated radio host Sean Hannity got snared in the volume of fake news being generated and had to apologize for using fake news stories to attack Obama.

Ad Supported Media Fight for Survival

In an effort to make a little coin, trusted media sources began accepting advertising that would lead their readers, listeners, viewers to unaffiliated sources that would serve up this fake news. In so doing, they inadvertently now wore the stink of the fake news creators. The public quickly could not discern the researched and sourced news from the made-up variety.

One PM Central Standard Time

Radio and television journalism didn’t always operate this way. PBS produced an excellent documentary about the coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The program was called “One PM Central Standard Time” and it covered how “the most trusted man in America” Walter Cronkite waited until Kennedy’s death was confirmed by  multiple sources before going live with the news to the nation over the CBS radio and television networks.

The Being First Obsession

Things changed when things started being published digitally. In this world, advertising paid based on clicks. Quantity beat quality. Sensational beat facts. Going viral meant big money to these new media folks. Plus the concept of “native advertising” means that advertising copy is presented to look like editorial.

All of these little changes contributed to consumers becoming less and less able to tell real news from what was fake news. Which has led to many not believing anything today’s media tells them.

And that’s a very sad state of affairs for journalism.

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
–Thomas Jefferson

21st Century Business Model Challenge

Starting with newspapers, then radio, then TV then digital, the business model has been one of ad supported media. The model is broken.

Disruption first destroys the old ways of doing things before the new ways are discovered and take root. We are living in that destruction period of disruption.

Our challenge lies in building a business model that will support solid journalism, quality entertainment and community service.

What others have shown us is that in a 21st Century world it will take a collaborative effort from people from all over the world to help build the new way.

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