Monday, July 13, 2009

Small Market Broadcasters Soon To Be Under Siege By Obama’s FCC

Small Market Broadcasters Soon To Be Under Siege By Obama’s FCC
Broadcasters Beware! The Obama FCC Is Coming For You!
By J. D. Longstreet

For those of you who have NEVER heard of J. D. Longstreet… then you are to be commended and you should, thank your lucky stars that you have been able to avoid my rants up to now.

On the other hand, those of you familiar with my work probably already know that I spent nearly thirty years of my life behind a microphone doing pretty much the same thing as I do at the keyboard here today – and that is expressing my opinions about just about everything that happens to draw my attention. The point of this preamble is to make sure that you understand that I have a special affinity towards broadcasters because - I was one of them for a very long time.

Hey, I’m so old I was actually working in the broadcast industry when the original Fairness Doctrine was still on the books and was still enforced. Yep! Lucky me. Right?

So, when the probability of the re-instatement the Fairness Doctrine, under another and different name, of course, comes up - so does my back. I tend to get my hackles up when the federal government begins to talk about that infringement of free speech, for that is in my opinion, what it is.

There are a couple of things I want to make clear. Our friends on the left, and some on the right, actually seem to think that people listen to the radio to get all that educational, intellectual, informative programming they are bound and determined to ram down the listeners throats on the commercial broadcast septum in America. I’m here to tell you, it ain’t so. Sure, they DO listen for that, but NOT ONLY THAT!

When this ole broadcaster was still in the business we had a heck of a time trying to get a sponsor for any kind of program other than entertainment or sports. Rolling a snowball completely across Hades, in the middle of August, had a better chance at success than finding sponsors for a “public affairs” program. The prospective sponsors would run away if they saw you approaching and knew that you were going to pitch them on how great it would be for them to sponsor something as innocuous as the Monday Night Concert, for instance. (Yeah, I did MC a Monday Night Concert program, consisting of high-brow classical music - for a while. A mercifully short while, I might add. Not that I don’t appreciate classical music, I do. But it was a royal pain trying to sell sponsorships.)

The other reason was - they knew we had, oh, maybe two or three listeners, besides myself!

It got worse if you strayed away from music and began to actually air informative programs, For instance, I once did a thirteen-week series on drug abuse in our city and county. Couldn’t sell it. NOBODY wanted to sponsor it, NOBODY. We aired it, anyway, because of its importance. I had a death threat or two as a result of the content of that series and the local cops put a tail me because I was digging up dope dealers and interviewing them out in the swamps after dark. The next day I had detectives pumping me for information. So, I had the police coming at me from one side and the crooks coming at me from the other side and NOBODY wanted to sponsor that program!

So, we wound up doing shows on the local mental health clinics, community policing, crime watch, and offerings from the local community college, local garden club activities, etc. It was the kind of material that would get the station in - just under the wire - come license renewal time. I must tell you that public affairs programming, on the radio, runs a close second to “Dead AIR” for listenership! It is pitiful!

For a broadcast station to do serious public affairs broadcasting that station must have personnel capable of doing the investigative work – and - it is necessary for those people to understand the subject about which they are going to produce a program.

Back in the ‘80’s, for a small market station to have a stable of on the air personnel qualified to do that sort of work would have been, itself, some sort of miracle! Ask them anything you can think of about Rock and Roll, Beach Music, R & B, C & W, Pop, Standards, … any kind of music - and they had/have the answer: dates, times, places, who played lead guitar, etc. Ask them ONE question about the possible effects of a nearby nuclear power plant on the aquatic life in the nearby lake - and they went mute! Nary a sound would emanate past their golden tonsils. They hadn’t a clue. Understand… that was NOT the exception to the rule - that WAS the rule!

Let us say that a station manager WAS able to put together a team capable of actually producing a passable Public Affairs program. Now, let us say that said person DID produce a program on some topic that was of passing interest to a handful of people in the station’s coverage area. Under the Fairness Doctrine, the station then had to produce a second program (oh, yes, it ain’t over yet!), which would explore the topic of the original program from the opposite viewpoint! Time in the broadcast day had to be made available for that program to be broadcast, as well. If there happened to be a third view of the topic, one which differed from the first two, and time was requested to broadcast that viewpoint, then valuable broadcast time had to be made available for that viewpoint to be broadcast as well, and on ad infinitum. It was a royal pain in the “you know what” for ANY station, but for small stations, in small markets, it was the nightmare from hell!

Understand: There is only so much air time available for sale. I recall when 18 minutes out of a broadcast hour was the maximum for commercial time. When you used it up, you stopped airing commercials if you were lucky enough to have them to run! Every program you run with no sponsors, or only a few sponsors, eats into that broadcast hour. If you lose money as a result of airing the “required” public affairs program… tough! The FCC doesn’t care if a station never makes a dime.

The so-called Equal Time Rule was never really understood by broadcasters nor by listeners, either, it seems to me. The equal time rule meant, simply, that time had to be made available for opposing viewpoints. It DID NOT MEAN that an amount of airtime equal to the amount of airtime of the original program had to be made available. For instance: if the original program was 15 minutes, the opposing viewpoint was not entitled to fifteen minutes - if that program only took, say, ten minutes to complete. I have had that argument a number of times.

Look, a small market radio station MIGHT have a staff of eight or ten persons, including the on air personnel, sales staff, engineering staff, and office staff. It might SOUND as if they have 50 people working there, but believe me, they don’t.

Most small market radio stations are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Only their bankers know just how bad their finances are. Borrowing money to meet the payroll is one thing all small market radio station managers know a thing or two about. It is a daily life or death struggle - and that was BEFORE the economy went south! For the FCC to even consider bringing back the Fairness Doctrine in any form, under any NEW name, will spell doom for a huge number of small market broadcasters. (The AM band will be decimated -gutted.) They have all the staff they can pay for and that staff is stretched to the limit, and beyond, with the workload they are already carrying. To ask them to do more guarantees two things: The quality of their work is going to suffer, and very soon, that station will be one more staff member short. And did I mention the quality of their work would go south, as well. I believe I did.

Let us be clear on something. You may not like it, but it is fact, nevertheless. I once heard a preacher say: “You may not believe in hell, and that’s alright. But is still there, and you are still going!” The same holds true for what I am about to say. Right wing, conservative, talk shows saved the AM Broadcast Band in America. That is a fact whether you believe it, or not. I was there. I saw it. The AM band was done for. It had nowhere to go. It had tried everything, including “AM Stereo”, and nothing worked. The broadcast quality of the FM band was so far superior to AM that AM was a relic. AM stations were shutting down. They were being sold for a song. In some cases they were actually being given away! I’m serious. If, say, a company had an AM/FM Combo for sale, they’d sometimes sweeten the deal by GIVING the AM station to the buyer of the FM station! In some cases, some owners simply switched off the transmitter, locked he doors, and mailed their licenses back to Washington - and walked away. It was THAT bad. As I said, I was there. I saw it.

Then along comes Conservative Talk Radio. Listeners began switching back to AM stations just to listen to those shows. They were switching back in trickles and finally a tsunami of listeners were switching, daily, to the AM band to hear the right wing talkers - then switching right back to FM as soon as that particular show was ended. More conservative talk shows were needed, and they were fast in coming. AM radio climbed out of it’s grave and became a vital part of the broadcast industry once more.

The problem the politicians have with talk radio is the not so simple fact that radio listeners will listen to conservative talk radio and switch off, or tune away from, left wing talk radio. The problem, we think, is because left wingers are either at your feet or at your throat. They are either whining, or gloating in your face; neither of which, generally speaking, the American radio listener can stand! Right-wingers, on the other hand, are almost always upbeat, optimistic and motivating Americans to do their best, try their best, and never give up.

In any event, the plain truth is, and the numbers support it, given a choice American radio listeners will choose right wing conservative radio over left wing liberal radio every time. And the left wing politicians cannot stand that – and - as they are in control of the US government today, they intend to force the broadcast media to change their way of doing things (profits be damned). Coming soon in some not so subtle ways will be the message: “Left wing propaganda will be broadcast on your stations or you will lose your licenses.”

The left wing politicians have found some interesting and creative ways of making that happen, too. To learn more about this go HERE.

In the days and weeks ahead look for such things as: regulations to redistribute station ownership to minorities; rules for “Local Content” requirements, to force radio coverage of left wing views; new legislation taxing the radio spectrum to pay for Obama’s socialized medicine program, and watch for the end of “Talk Radio” on the broadcast spectrum in America.
All of this recently prompted Congressman John Boehner) House Minority Leader, to say the following: Under the rubric of “broadcast localism” it is clear the Commission [FCC] is proposing no less than a sweeping takeover by Washington bureaucrats of broadcast media ... adding more restrictions and Washington mandates is retrograde considering the constant technology evolution of the media market. I urge the Commission to rescind these proposed rules.

You must understand: The FCC is God to the broadcaster. At least, LIKE God. The FCC hands down the commandments from on high and the broadcaster obeys them or his station dies – at least his license to operate his station dies. You will NEVER hear much complaining coming from broadcasters because they live in constant fear that their licenses are in jeopardy. And they are!

Broadcasters always seem to fair better under conservative governments than liberal governments. Many, many, if not a majority, of small market station owners and managers are conservatives themselves. It has something to do with capitalism and entrepreneurship, methinks – something right-wingers and conservatives seem to excel at. That, too, irks the left side of the political spectrum.

I’d urge you to write your Congressperson and your Senators and demand that they stop the FCC from destroying the Broadcast Industry in America, for that is what is about to happen.

The small market broadcaster is at a great disadvantage anytime they deal with the FCC. They know their license is at stake. You won’t be hearing much from them in their own defense, because, frankly they are hesitant to open their mouths and say anything the FCC can use as a reason to slap them with a heavy fine, revoke their license, or refuse to renew their license at renewal time. They NEED your help. If you enjoy having the community service of a LOCAL radio station in your community now is the time to step up and defend them. Speaking only as a long time veteran of the broadcast industry, now retired, I can tell you they will appreciate your efforts on their behalf.

J. D. Longstreet

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