No More Walls?

The FCC adopted rules in October to eliminate the requirement that broadcasters maintain a main studio in or around a station’s community of license November 21, 2017

In a decision that eliminates any hope of WKRP in Cincinnati’s Les Nesman getting his walls, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules in October to eliminate the requirement that broadcasters maintain a main studio in or around a station’s community of license. The rule necessarily also eliminates the requirement that broadcasters maintain at least two full-time employees. Although Les would have likely been chased out of WKRP’s studio by now, the elimination of the main studio rule eliminated all doubt.

Earlier this year, the FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking public comment on whether the main studio rule should remain in effect. Citing the online migration of all broadcast public inspection files by March 2018, along with the ability to remain in contact with the local community through email and social media, the commission proposed eliminating the main studio rule as a cost-saving mechanism.

After reviewing the public comments, the commission concluded that there have been sufficient technological developments to eliminate the need to a have a fully-staffed, local main studio with the ability to produce programming. The commission noted comments asserting that it is rare for the public to visit main studios, with the majority of interested parties either calling on the telephone or sending a message through social media or email. With the migration of the public file to the FCC’s online platform, the commission noted that a vast majority of public commenters supported the elimination of the rules.

The commission did attempt to address concerns that the elimination of the main studio rule will lead to a disconnect between broadcasters and the communities they are licensed to serve.

Both in the production of local news and the engagement with the local community, several commenters expressed concern that the elimination of the main studio rule would make it more difficult to ensure that broadcast stations respond to local emergencies quickly, and more generally, continue to serve in the public interest.

Ultimately, the commission rejected those concerns, noting the availability of social media and other forms of communications. The commission also noted that the money saved from maintaining a local main studio may encourage the construction of new radio stations in rural areas where the cost is higher, and the savings could be reinvested by the broadcasters in local news or other responsive programming.

The elimination of the main studio rule means that broadcasters will no longer be required to maintain a physical presence in its licensed community. It also means that broadcasters will no long be required to maintain at least two full-time employees. Finally, the elimination of the rule removes the requirement that broadcasters have the ability to maintain local program origination equipment.

Broadcasters will still be required to maintain a local or toll-free telephone number for residents in the community license. Additionally, broadcasters that have not transitioned their public file to the online platform, and those that have chosen not to upload their existing political files to the online platform, will be required to maintain a local public inspection file accessible to the public during regular business hours.

The elimination of the main studio rule will become effective 30 days after publication of the Report and Order in the Federal Register.

Petro is of counsel at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. Email: lee.petro@dbr.com.

DATELINE

Dec. 1 — Stations with five or more full-time employees in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont place Annual EEO Public File Report in public inspection file.

Dec. 1 — Stations with 11 or more full-time employees in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont file Broadcast Mid-Term Report (FCC Form 397) with FCC and place it in public inspection file.

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