When if comes to localism, consider Furst things first


Programming consultant and blogger Alan Furst got to thinking about the FCC’s proposals to promote localism in radio and television. He found he could easily poke a hole in the FCC’s reasoning. In fact, poke one hole, and it was easy to poke another.

If You’re Within The Sound Of My Voice

Alan Furst’s Program Director Blog

The FCC Commissioners are talking about forcing some sort of localism rules on stations. It’s hard to tell if we’re talking about a ‘threat’ or ‘promise’ here. Are they threatening owners with action if more local programming isn’t added? Is it a promise to listeners or interest groups that radio will provide a better level of service?

No matter what it seems more like a ‘knee jerk’ type of response to special interest groups than a well-thought-out idea.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin talked about localism at the NAB this week in Austin. One suggestion is to have stations locate their studios in the city of license or some such thing. Thus breaking up the cost efficiency of several stations using a common studio building. I’m not sure how a studio location  makes a difference in program content. But that’s government for you.   They’re full of ideas, but usually they aren’t very practical.

FCC Commissioners generally have little or no experience with the realities of operating a radio station.While working in Australia, a couple of members of their radio regulatory department visited our stations. One of the board members (like FCC Commissioner) told me it was the first time she’d ever been inside a radio station.

And we thought the station weekenders are the only ones without experience. But this localism thing sounds good, especially to the types who show up at the FCC pubic hearings.Those people tend to hate everything about radio. They represent more of the fringe than the majority. The FCC meeting I attended in San Antonio in 2003 was more circus than serious discussion.

Local music quotas were also mentioned as a possibility. I guess the Chairman ran into some local Austin musicians on his way into the NAB meeting. The only people I’ve found that are concerned about local music are the musicians.  We have more than a few really good ones here. Not every town is as lucky.

Just how would music qualify as ‘local’ to meet proposed percentages? Certainly Elton John would qualify as a local artist in Atlanta since he has a home in Buckhead. Would he qualify in Macon or is that too far away to be considered ‘local’?

This brings us to the question of what does ‘local’ mean exactly?

Perhaps it is defined by the number of weather forecasts a station provides. Or by the number of public service announcements for art shows, PTA meetings and church fundraisers a station broadcasts. Do traffic reports qualify? How far away from the city of license would something have to be before it’s not considered ‘local?’

Does local have a different meaning for 100KW signals and 500 watters?

Would the localism requirement be counted across a week, month or year?

Do you get more credit by spreading the localism throughout your programming or by having hour blocks of local shows?

Would they create local ‘exempt’ times so stations could not be required to be so local, like during American Top 40?

Or would Rush Limbaugh be required to include local ‘windows’ each hour?

This localism thing sounds like a bigger threat to talk radio than The Fairness Doctrine.

Who would decide what is local and what is not?

Would the FCC have localism police reviewing airchecks or making surprise station inspections?

Could the FCC deny a license renewal because the station was light on local relatables during their weather forecasts?

Isn’t local an attitude and not something that is quantifiable?

The accountants running the show today need ‘metrics to guide them. Without a pile of data it is impossible for them to determine who’s local or not. It’s all really very easy to figure out. Look at the ratings. The stations on the top are the most local. The local people like them the best.