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FCC regulations could put strain on smaller radio stations

Changes address responsiveness to community

April 8, 2008
By Micaiah Wise, Sentinel reporter,
LEWISTOWN — Local radio stations are speaking out against proposed broadcasting regulations that they say may cripple their voice and their finances.

The Federal Communication Commission proposed the new regulations in response to concern about broadcasters meeting the needs of their local communities, according to its Web site.

In an effort to make broadcasters more responsive to community issues, the FCC proposed requiring stations to be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and to consult with community advisory boards, according to a press release from the FCC.

The disconnection began in the 1980s and ‘90s when the commission allowed large corporations to buy smaller stations and broadcast from out of the state, according to the FCC.

The intent of the proposed regulations is to “ensure that broadcast stations offer programming responsive to the needs and interests of the communities that they are licensed to serve,” the press release states.

Mark VanOuse, station manager for WTLR 107.1 FM, Mifflintown, said, said he disagrees with the proposed regulations.

“The (FCC’s) intentions are good, but the remedy is onerous,” VanOuse said.

The current regulations cause problems for the community to whom the large corporation is broadcasting, because when local listeners have a need or concern, the station’s staff often is nowhere to be found, VanOuse said.

However, that is not always the case for smaller broadcasters, said Pete Herman, general manager for WMRF 95.7 FM and WIEZ 670 AM in Lewistown.

“The FCC’s opinion is that stations are not serving their local communities,” Herman said. “That is farthest from the truth.”

All the paperwork that radio stations fill out to document their community involvement proves that stations do serve local needs, Herman said.

He said local stations could not survive without providing community news and programs .

“No one would listen to us,” if that were the case, Herman added.

The FCC is attempting to bring back the regulations it eliminated in the 1980s, he said. However, the situation has changed since then.

“There is more competition than ever. (In the 80s) there wasn’t cable, satellite, or the Internet,” Herman said.

He and VanOuse both said they believe mandatory advisory boards would be problematic for broadcasters.

If the regulations pass, broadcasters would be required to meet periodically with their boards to consult about community issues, according to an FCC press release.

Advisory boards must take into account all significant groups within the communities the broadcaster serves, according to the FCC.

While the FCC believes advisory boards may be a way to bridge the gap between large corporations and the communities to whom they broadcast, local stations — especially those with a Christian broadcasting format — believe the boards may stifle their beliefs.

Stations like WTLR and WGRC 90.9 FM, Lewistown, recently have aired public service announcements about — a Web site that addresses broadcasters’ concerns about the regulations and provides information for people who want to voice their opinion about the issue.

According to the Web site, these advisory boards may infringe on the Christian stations’ freedom to promote their beliefs.

“Christian stations are like a pulpit in the community,” VanOuse said. An advisory board may restrict the broadcaster’s freedom of speech, because the board does not agree with its message, he said.

VanOuse said a station’s request for license renewal every seven years also could be contested by someone who does not agree with its message. That loss of voice is exactly what the issue is about, he said.

WGRC General Manager Larry Weidman added that a fairness doctrine, requiring stations to give a balanced report of both sides of the issue, would stifle stations’ discussions — even secular stations.

Instead of stations reporting on all sides of an issue, Weidman predicted that broadcasters would not report on the issues at all. He said the effort required by broadcasters to ensure that all potential sides of an issue received equal coverage would, in essence, create a logistical nightmare for station personnel.

“We’ve lost the importance of voice. The big guys are going to end up winning, because it is too drastic an approach,” VanOuse said.

“Something needs to be done, but the proposed steps are counterproductive. We are local. We live in Central Pennsylvania. (We) work, worship and raise our families here,” he said.

However, Weidman said he is not as pessimistic about the situation.

“I don’t think it (the regulations) will happen, because they’re so radical and the whole broadcasting industry is against it,” Weidman said.

Area residents who are interested in voicing their opinions about the issue may visit http://'>'>'> or contact their local legislators. Comments must be filed by April 28.


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