CBS HD radio imports protested


Radio programmers wondering what to do with HD side channels may be watching the CBS experiment, where it imports radio superstations into distant markets, with interest. But one competitor, far from being interested, is fighting mad and sees the move as a violation of local ownership caps. Los Angeles-based Mount Wilson FM Broadcasters (MWFB) believes CBS was already over the limit there before it began importing stations.

Attorney Robert B. Jacobi of Cohn and Marks LLP handled the Mount Wilson complaint, filed with the FCC 11/25/09. MWFB owns and operates Country KKFO-FM and Retro Music KGIL-AM in the Los Angeles market.

For starters, it notes that CBS started out over the limit in Los Angeles, where it has two television stations, two AMs and five FMs. The FCC maxes out radio holdings for permissible TV duopoly holders to six, no more than four of which may be on one band.

MWFB says that CBS acquired the second TV back in 2002 and applied to put KFWB-AM in trust at that time, an application which is still pending. In essence, what was supposed to be a six-month waiver has spun out for seven years and counting.

The CBS stations in LA, which complement O&O KCBS-TV and indy KCAL-TV, and as listed on the CBS Radio website, are News KNX-AM, News/Talk KFWB-AM, Jack KCBS-FM, Classic Hits KRTH-FM, Smooth Jazz KTWV-FM, CHR KAMP-FM and Alternative Rock KROQ-FM.

The CBS Los Angeles HD imports are Country KFRG-FM out of Riverside-San Bernardino and Hot AC KSCF-FM out of San Diego.

Jacobi, for MFWB, says that bringing these stations whole into the market is against the FCC’s “stated position.” He argued, “To permit potential unlimited licensee importation of co-owned out-of-market stations, absent application of the attribution rules, would effectively circumvent and alter the Multiple Ownership Rules without benefit of a rulemaking proceeding.” He said the principles of localism, diversity and competition would be “wholly trashed if CBS is allowed to import co-owned out-of-market stations in any market wherein CBS is already operating with the maximum number of radio broadcast stations permitted by the rules.”

MFWB wants “[e]mergency Commission action mandating immediate termination of CBS importation of out-of-market CBS radio stations into the Los Angeles market…”

A pdf file of the document can be read in the attachment box to the right.

RBR-TVBR observation: We always wonder about such situations. Whenever one company finds a way to improve its competitive posture, what does it mean for the other competitors in the market? This is not just a matter of freedom for broadcast management; it is a broadcaster v. broadcaster matter as well.

If one company has at least partial control of three TV stations in a market, as in Honolulu, where does that leave the companies with but one?

When one company used city-of-license changes to move a pair of FMs from Fort Pierce to West Palm Beach without physically moving the stations as much as one inch, as Clear Channel just did, what about the companies left in Fort Pierce who still have to compete with an outsized Clear Channel cluster?

In this case, Mount Wilson is plying the Country format niche. Should a big national group be able to simply trot an up-and-running Country competitor into the market just like that?

On the other hand, CBS could use an HD side channel to fire up a Country format, using network and syndicated programming – is that really so different than bringing in a distant format intact?

Which brings up yet another question – is it wise to further fragment the radio audience by introducing any side channels at all? Shouldn’t HD be used to enhance broadcast quality in an effort to maintain enough signal scarcity to allow broadcasters to offer a reasonably-sized audience to advertisers?

We’d love to hear some opinions on this. Your virtual bully pulpit is waiting just below this article.