FCC actions set up move-in roadblock


The FCC recently acted to make it easier for Native American tribes that don’t have their own land but are otherwise geographically-oriented to procure radio licenses. At the same time, it acted to make it harder for stations to move in search of higher concentrations of population while diminishing service to more rural areas.

In the rulemaking, the FCC openly acknowledged that in most cases, a licensee would be able to be more financially viable the greater the population served. However, it said that one of the FCC’s missions is to assure that radio service is available to all Americans regardless of where they live or how dense the local population is. It therefore is less likely to approve a move that will take limited service away from a smaller population in order to add another station to an already well-served area.

Law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge and Rice PLLC wrote a legal analysis of the FCC’s actions, which the Commission unveiled at the 3/3/11 Open Meeting. WCSR listied Peter Gutmann as the firm’s point of contact on the matter. The report concluded, “While the FCC fully supports the Congressional mandate under … the Communications Act to spread broadcast facilities throughout the country, that goal increasingly abrades against the economics of the industry.  The ultimate resolution of that conflict may lie well into the future.”

And as it turns out, sometimes broadcasters weigh the competition and the engineering and construction costs and wind up choosing the less-populated location. Fred Weinberg’s Northern Nevada Media Inc. recently struck a deal to buy KPHD-FM Elko NV, a station with a CP to move to Melba ID and become a move-in into the Boise ID market. But Weinberg told RBR-TVBR that although his company is leaving that option open, current thinking is to stay put in the small unrated Nevada market.

RBR-TVBR observation: The great radio move-in era was during the 1980s – the phrase “Docket 80-90” is legendary among industry veterans. It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it also fell prey to the law of unintended consequences, creating underpowered stations known in the biz as rimshots, that quickly fell on hard times and were a factor in the ownership consolidation that took place on two separate occasions in the 1990s. And in some cases, markets were flooded with so many stations the competitive environment went beyond the capacity of local advertise support.

We are aware that some members of the radio community are quite worked up about this issue. The case can certainly be made that from a pure business angle, forcing a station to remain in a sparsely-populated area when engineering tweaks could give it access to more ears and advertising dollars makes zero sense. Further, without those ears and dollars, the challenge of coming up with financing for a rural station might well range between a nightmare and an impossibility.

At the same time, we believe that most possible move-ins have already done their moving. We’re not sure there is a great deal of thirst out there for new radio entrants into most markets. Neither are we hearing any great hue and cry for more move-ins.

Do you have an opinion on this? We’d love to hear it – the place to weigh in is right below this article.