Common Frequency Files Comments on Proposed Modification of Radio Program Duplication Rule

The FCC completed accepting comments for Docket MB Docket No. 19-310 concerning duplication of radio programming.  Under the FCC's Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative, the current administration is leaving no stoned unturned to dispose of pesky regulations that the industry would rather not have.

With Amendment of Section 73.3556 of the Commission’s Rules Regarding Duplication of Programming on Commonly Owned Radio Stations, the Commission appears to be running out of public interest rules to run through shredder.  This time it is the rules that guide the ban of duplication of programming on common-owned stations covering the same area.  The $100,000 question is, how do argue for the repeal of redundant programming on stations -- and why?  Well, it appears the industry thought the same thing because only National Association of Broadcasters and Bryan Broadcasting argued for the measure.

NAB characterizes the radio duplication rule as an “outdated, unnecessary limit on broadcasters’ ability to serve their audiences.”  NAB goes on to then contradict itself. It first states “Radio companies have no incentive to further limit their appeal by simulcasting the same programming on multiple stations.” The next paragraph is then headed by “Eliminating the Radio Duplication Rule Would Enhance Broadcasters’ Flexibility to Operate Efficiently and Economically"  NAB spent three pages arguing how market forces propel stations to choose diversity over duplicated programming, with there being “no incentive” to duplicate programming. But then, it suggests that in the current marketplace, there are economic reasons to opt for duplication.  Which is it?

NAB also asks the Commission to consider repealing Section 74.1232(b), where “broadcasters must submit a showing of ‘technical need’ for an additional translator serving substantially the same area as the first, such as a description of any relevant terrain obstructions possibly including a shadowing study.”  This would allow FM translator licensees to rebroadcast on multiple channels in one areas with the same programming for no reason but just prevent others from using the channels.  This is a deregulation-grab at its most frenetic.  NAB: Can we rip out the kitchen sink while we're at it?

Bryan Broadcasting requested the availability foe AM broadcasters to simulcast on another AM station.  The idea here is that they would convert one AM station to all-digital, and then retain another station for all-analog with the same programming.  Common Frequency sympathizes with the plight of AM licensees, but there are some questions to mull regarding this initiative:

First, AM interference is cited as a reason to convert to digital (“AM band has become so overwhelmed by interference and impulse noise that the resultant audio product is rendered unacceptable to modern listeners” ). Digital is not going to remove all the worries of 9 interference. CFI’s worry is that interference will simply render the digital AM broadcast unlistenable because the digital tuner cannot negotiate the decoding of an AM digital signal within that noise.

Second, digital AM receivers are not commonplace. BBC suggests having an AM analog station counterpart broadcast until much of the public has converted over. But it has been well over a decade since the adoption of HD. The public does not, still, seem to care about the adoption of HD, and the primary listenship of AM radio or HD radio is not a younger demographic (who most likely drives an economy car with a stock analog radio). (Aside: Younger people are downloading podcasts. Since AM is appropriately suited for voice, podcasts would port well to analog AM). The question is will the migration to digital-only ever happen? It is likely mobile broadband data services will inundate the market and supersede the digital AM interest. The digital and analog duplication channel could likely be a permanent accommodation.

Third, the prospect of all digital AM stations on the AM band will turn half the band into a cacophony of fax noises on top of the noise that is already there. The golden attribute of radio is the ability to funnel people onto a limited forum of working channels. The listener tunes-down the dial looking for stuff. Any new user to AM (in a digital AM scenario) would be greeted by fax noise and never tune back into it. Digital AM could be its death knell.

Fourth, for all users, radio diversity will be greatly reduced. Figure that now AM stations are broadcasting on FM translators. Combine two AM stations with their accompanying FM translators, and you have the duplication of programming for one station on four total radio channels. It does not bode well for radio diversity if many AM stations pursue this.

Fifth, there could be unforeseen ownership consolidation as a side-effect of allowing two AM stations to simulcast. Today, AM still has many more mom-and-pop owners and diverse foreign language uses than FM (this is possibly where the bulk of the commercial radio diversity resides). CFI would not want to see AM stations procured by larger group broadcasters simply for simulcast usage. This could completely de-diversify and consolidate ownership on the AM band.

Common Frequency and Kern Community Radio Enter Evidence of Radio Duplication/Satellite Programming Abuse.

Both Common Frequency and Kern Community Radio make demonstrations that satellite and duplicated programming are rampant in broadcasting.  Licensee Education Media Foundation, which operates contemporary Christian stations under the moniker KLOVE are infamous for using several radio channels per radio market, all fed with programming via satellite from their Rocklin, California facility.  Kern states that more than half of the programming on Bakersfield radio is created from outside the market.

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