Rosenworcel Uses Minot To Blast Local Radio


    This one is not going to go over well with many of you. In fact, it might even make you angry. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told the Minot story before voting against eliminating the Main Studio Rule on Tuesday. However, she took it several steps further, stating radio failed the local community.

    Rosenworcel said when that train derailed at 1:37 a.m. and resident turned to radio, “local radio failed the Minot community that night.” She also said radio stations failed the Houston community this year when Harvey hit.

    If you did not watch the live-stream of the FCC meeting yesterday (which crashed half way through, by the way) here is exactly what Commissioner Rosenworcel said when the Main Studio Rule vote came around.

    [It was pitch-black dark in Minot, North Dakota on January 18, 2002. It was also bitter cold when at 1:37 a.m. a train derailed, slammed into a house, and sent a vast white cloud of anhydrous ammonia over the state’s fourth-largest city.]

    “If you lived nearby you knew instantly things were not right. It was like something just grabbed your lungs,” said a Minot resident who lived 500 feet from the tracks. “Then the electricity went out. So residents turned to battery-powered radios—the kind we are all told to keep on hand for a disaster. But when they tuned in to their local stations, all they heard was canned music and DJ banter piped in from somewhere far, far away. Local radio failed the Minot community that night. It offered content that was anything but what residents needed to know. There are many reasons, apologies, and arguments about why it happened this way. But one thing is clear—when broadcasters have a physical presence in the communities they serve this is much less likely to happen.

    “Of course, what happened in Minot took place more than a decade and a half ago. But a month and a half ago I received an e-mail from an individual in Beaumont, Texas. He described Hurricane Harvey in harrowing detail. Rain fell from the skies and flooded the roads, turning them into virtual lakes. There were widespread power failures. Some tried to flee the area, others stayed put and attempted to rescue those who were caught in deep water. But, as he writes, ‘at midnight during the peak of the storm . . . not one single station in this market had live coverage of the storm.’ Instead, he found his favorite stations broadcasting Top 40 formats and national talk programs, oblivious to the trouble in the very community they purport to serve.

    “There are many broadcasters who do an extraordinary job serving communities during disaster. But let’s be honest—they can only do so when they have a real presence in their area of license. That’s not a retrograde notion—it’s a fact.

    “I do not believe wiping out the Main Studio Rule is going to solve problems like those in Minot and Beaumont. I do not believe it will lead to better community coverage. I do not believe it will lead to more jobs. I do believe it will hollow out the unique role broadcasters play in local communities—a role that is not just tradition, but an essential part of broadcasting under the Communications Act.

    “I know that many stations face real economic challenges. I wish we would have agreed to simple waivers for the Main Studio Rule any time it would allow small- and mid-sized stations to keep the lights on and continue to offer service to their communities of license. I regret we do not take those steps here and instead strip our rules of the very localism that makes broadcasting unique. I dissent.”


    1. I experienced a similar incident locally about a decade ago. When a furious brush fire swept across…and closed… the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey on a summer season weekend, all the voice tracked show hosts could talk about was: “how it was a beautiful weekend at the Jersey Shore.” This, while every road and highway out of the region was plugged with traffic…locals and tourists…trying to get away. Epic failure. The question is: Did any of the local radio stations come to life, once the gravity of the emergency was understood? If they did, they did the job they’re licensed to do. If not, it’s yet another tribute to greedy group owners who only work on monetizing radio and ignore why local radio stations exist in the first place..

    2. “Interesting that the people that want to cut broadcasters loose from their obligations to their communities post anonymously”

      I’m not sure that you accurately state my view. I’m not saying they should have no obligations. But that those obligations should be clearly stated. As the courts have pointed out in their indecency decisions, the rules are not clearly stated. If they were, radio stations would know what to do.

      There is this assumption that broadcasters should staff 24/7. Rosenworcel gave two examples of radio station operations after 1AM on weekends. That is not stated anywhere in the rules, and I feel her citing of those two examples were completely unfair. They were also both based on unofficial information. If she wanted to know the truth about Minot, she could have consulted the Congressional Record. If she wanted to know the truth about Beaumont, she could have contacted the stations directly for their operations logs. But instead, she based her comments on unverified opinions. That is not the way for a government to operate.

      • Probably no station in a small market staffs 24/7. Most stations in a metro market could afford to have 24/7 coverage.

        What we’ve done in our 30,000 population area is that we have a group of on-air people on a rotating schedule. Two people each month are responsible to be available to be on the air at any time an emergency comes up. We also have a way to remotely put a news/alert item on the air every 20 minutes until someone can get on the air live.

        If you don’t have a main studio rule, those group stations that do 100% of their broadcasting from a remote location don’t have microphones in all the communities they “serve”. That puts their communities at a disadvantage.

        The Internet is so good at distributing the same content to every point on the globe, it’s amazing that networks that don’t serve local interest content and provide service to their communities are still a thing.

    3. I agree with Ms Rosenworcel 100%. And I lived through a similar tragedy in 1978 when working for WPFM in Panama City, FL. Here’s the printed account of what occurred:,-fl-train-derailment-chlorine-gas-cloud,-feb-1978?page=0,0
      Our antenna was about 700 ft high on Channel 7’s tower in Youngstown, FL and with 100KW we covered the region. The station had no news department, but we highly-rated air personalities jumped into gear immediately and using our own vehicles started wall to wall coverage of where we and law enforcement thought the gas cloud was located and determining who should evacuate. I’m sure we saved many lives during the period. BTW station ownership didn’t tell us to take action; we did it on our own because we believed it was our duty to protect our listeners.
      Flash forward to today and I’ll bet a dollar to a doughnut that same station and others in the market are on the satellite or voice-tracking, so those same citizens would be on their own.
      The FCC needs to be moving in the opposite direction and require more, not less, from broadcasters. If you can’t make a profit, then shut down your xmitter; hand that license back to the commission, and give another player a shot. After all, you may have a license to broadcast, but that RF spectrum is still “the public airwaves”. Oh and by the way, bringing back the fairness doctrine would also be a super idea.

      • absolutely….its all about greed….radio has not only failed their communities of license but the country as a whole….if you cant make money on a radio station then sell it or turn it back in to the fcc…there will be someone waiting in line to pick it up….
        .radio was intended to serve the community of license ..period

      • Great responce. Been there, done that. That’s the answer that needs to go to the NAB and the FCC. Radio is here in a crisis. We, as broadcasters need to prove it. I am ready 24/7.

    4. Sweeping away the main studio rule does not by itself help to “fix” economics of small market radio. Those stations who do not have the cash flow to support a main studio and need to consolidate or move probably have bigger problems.

      Everyone points fingers, but ALL the issues affecting radio these days go back to the issue of the (on-air) product provided vs. public acceptance OF that product. Together, that equals either the success of a local station, or it’s failure. It’s basic economics! You can sell programming that’s connecting to listeners and business owners. You can’t if you have little or no control over content. Throwing a life preserver to stations that can’t afford to maintain a local studio is putting a band-aid on a corpse. What stations needed long before this vote (and still today…it’s not too late) was responsiveness by ownership, staff, and management within their stations’ communities, attention to detail in the execution of programming, and making sure human voices address listener concerns 24/7, which, in our “virtual” world is not difficult to do…even with a small staff! Eliminating Studios, and adding FM translators to repeat un-interesting programming won’t fix AM, FM, or small market radio. Stations have to work to be IMPORTANT to our listeners, and to remain top of mind! We’re supposed to be marketing experts, yet we don’t market ourselves well as an industry. Maintaining a clean, positive connection to listeners, organizations, non-profits, and yes, LOCAL BUSINESSES is how local radio survives. None of that is served by the removal of studios, or the creation of extra repeating signals.

      Our AM was brought back from the dead a little over 13 years ago, off the air, no signal, no accounts, no format, nothing, and an aging physical plant. Through 13 years of hard work and knowing our community by actively working IN it, we celebrate AM! Yes, we were early into having a translator, but our AM was paying it’s bills for 5 years before the FM came along, and it’s known in our community for it’s AM. It was the creating of content our local residents including businesses would listen-to that helped us grow. Using a satellite wouldn’t have made it. Oh, and by the way, we’re proud to bring guests to our studios on a regular basis for interviews, and some for tours.

      We even hold an on-air Christmas party the Friday before the holiday,and it’s wall to wall people.
      Would be hard to do that…without a studio, wouldn’t it?

    5. There are *ELEVEN* radio stations licensed to Minot, a town of 40K in a county of 70K.
      Yeah, those are real 24/7 live operator money makers.

    6. The main studio rule has nothing to do with commitment to the community. Commitment comes from ownership regardless of location. However, a better starting point is what does the community need? Ascertainment is also part of the license. What do listeners want, and how do they want it? You can super serve your community with unique and creative ways that involve both your on air and online presence there from miles away. Rosenworcel is strictly siting emergency situations, and not service to the community. That is a whole different issue and again not connection to main studio. If the studio is there just to appease the rule, what good is it anyway? I will say it again, commitment to the community comes from ownership.

      Another part of the problem is the erosion of the community. Outside of rural America, communities really have lost their identity. People move on average every 7 years. They have no sense of community, and have become disconnected to being interested in happenings within their community. Community apathy is very high. They generalize where they live. Where are you from? The answers are DC, Pittsburgh, or Hampton Roads, and not Rockville, MD, North Hampton, PA or Portsmouth, VA. That is not on radio. It is a societal change. Don’t totally discount the comments. There is some validity to what she is really trying to say. However, her rationale is also very flawed.

      • There is only one “h” and one word in Northampton, PA. Hope that’s not where you live!

        Other than that, I agree. Sense of community is different today than just 30 years ago. So-called neighborhood associations have been taken over by people whose interests are at least socialist, if not communist. Don’t laugh.

      • “Commitment comes from ownership regardless of location. ”

        You don’t actually believe that, do you? Was the owner of the East, Texas fertilizer plant that blew up the town “committed to their community”?

    7. KPTZ is a small community full service FM broadcaster in rural Washington State. Even before we went on the air 6 years ago we worked closely with our county Office of Emergency Management to set up a dedicated microwave system between their command center and our studios. They even set up a small studio for us in the Emergency Operations Center. We had staffers go through the FEMA training so they could be credentialed to be in the EOC and broadcast from there during an emergency.

      Chairman Pai babbles on about how much he cares for broadcasters and how he cares about service to rural communities. Unfortunately the new FCC doesn’t really care about “Serving the public interest”. Turns out, Pai’s version of the FCC only cares about the money interests behind big network broadcasters.

      If the FCC really cared about “serving the public” they’d make some rules that require broadcasters to engage with their communities. The EAS system is not a public information system. It’s the radio equivalent of a Post-it note left on the door to the storm shelter saying “Storm!”. If you happen to be passing by and see the note you’re in luck. If not there’s no other obligation a broadcaster has to warn or inform you.

      We operate in a rural mountainous county in Western Washington which will be physically cut off after the expected 9.5 earthquake and tsunami. We work hard to prepare and serve the people in our county during emergencies because it’s the right thing to do. We’re the only live radio broadcaster in our county. Our 2200 watt transmitter doesn’t cover the entire county but a few well placed translators would solve that. We’ve only been on the air for 6 years but there hasn’t been a translator filing window for over a decade. Instead, the FCC is “Improving AM” by making them FM stations. We still struggle to receive the 50KW AM EAS Primary 50 miles away.

      There are no FCC rules to permit licensing needed service outside prescribed windows “in the public interest”. But we see instead special rules “in the moneyed interest of a few.”

      This week the FCC abolishes the Main Studio rule. I’m expecting any day now to see an NPRM to remove the main transmitter rule for AM’rs so that they can keep their FM translators and turn off their expensive and ineffective AM transmitters and sell the real estate for condos and shopping malls.

    8. I have a big problem with what she says… I have heard the stories from 2 angles and certainly she was not there. She may be a public servant but did she tell the full story? No. I know the Houston story from the radio side as my client has stations there. I know the Minot story as I was working at the time with one of the largest news stations in the state and got the story from those that were there who are very credible witnesses to what happened in the station and on the streets of Minot that morning.

      Let me pose this… How does a station notify people if Law Enforcement can’t contact them and they had misplaced emergency numbers to the LP1 and law enforcement didn’t have their EAS head end equipment installed yet or never installed it properly until Clear Channel (i Heart) sent an engineer to the Minot dispatch center and paid for the proper installation of the gear.

      President Trump and the Senators need to seriously and expeditiously remove this kind commissioner, as she will be detrimental to what is left of radio broadcasting as it stands.

      Another anti-radio commissioner is NOT what the FCC needs nor does the us public.

    9. The FCC has reacted to Broadcast’s ownership, allow me to modify that, “unresponsive” Broadcast ownership, that forgot the purpose of being awarded a license is to serve their community – look it up, it is their primary reason for ownership. But when hard working broadcasters built the industry into a profit entity, the money people, those that only do for money, came in and started tearing it apart brick by brick. But these people will sell out before the big failure occurs.

      • Somebody had to take the money that the big boys offered. That would be the same “hard working broadcasters” who built the industry, right? Everybody has their price. Also, remember in the “good old days” how many stations were held afloat by “silent partners” who didn’t know anything about radio, but that usually didn’t keep them “silent” or without an opinion on how stations should be run.

        • “That would be the same “hard working broadcasters” who built the industry, right?”

          Probably not, no. The ones who sold were probably a few changes of management down the line.

    10. It’s a financial thing…of the Commissions making. Ms. Rosenworcel must be able to look at the past rules that the government brain trust has implemented and go from there.

      In my situation, let me take you back to 1982 — Elkins, WV. My wife and I started WELK – an FM station. The city of about 8000 people already had a full time AM station. Together, both stations lived comfortably…we had full time news departments and local public affairs. We took great pride in the friendly competition. Who would be first to get live coverage of the news event. Life was good — and radio was a vital part of the community’s life…and they returned the love.

      Then came such wonderful decisions as the 8090 drop ins and such …and the number of stations in our area exploded. All that with little if any growth either in population or commercial base.

      So, we were all forced to start cutting to live within our finances. Sure it wasn’t pretty … but you do what you have to do to stay alive. News departments shrunk – one by one. Public affairs and similar programs went out the window. And yes, satellite programming started in overnights, then evenings, then further down into the day.

      Incidentally, by the time we sold WELK to the major group owner in the state in 2005, there were 14 (yes, 14!) stations feeding on our local community.

      So, the Commission’s idea of providing more voices actually did away with good “local” radio … and forced the economy of operation that necessitated centralized operations –often many miles from the city of license.

    11. All this started when, Bill Clinton deregulated the FCC. It’s rare to find a local radio station today that actually cares about the community it serves.
      AM and FM radio stations have shot them self’s in the foot over and over again. Time for a reminder to all AM and FM station owners, large medium or small markets on just who they serve. It’s simple. Come back to your community and be a full time partner of what goes on. Radio station owner for the most part are not radio people today and don’t have a clue about a broadcast commitment to the local people who patronize there sponsors if they have any.
      Take politics out of radio and serve your community. This is not a HOBBY it’s a full time commitment.

    12. She is spot on. And this has nothing to do with partisan politics.

      Radio is less and less relevant to the people it “serves” (hah – what a joke) and the elimination of the main studio rule is just the latest step.

      The main studio rule is the final nail in the coffin.

    13. The examples she cited are invalid as the main studio rule was in effect at that time so obviousely it had no effect on this outcome. The ownership of stations by the big conglomerates is more the cause then any rule to have local studios. The 20billion in debt corps have little interest in being local and the fcc created these monsters.

    14. As Rosenworcel herself admits, the main studio rule isn’t going to solve the two examples she cites. Ironically, almost two years ago, under a Democrat FCC Chairman, Rosenworcel voted in favor of moving public files online from main studios. This change made the main studio rule obsolete. The reason for the rule was to provide access to the public files. Back then, Rosenworcel wrote: “So it strikes me as pretty retrograde that this Commission still has on its books a requirement that radio, cable, and satellite providers can keep their public files on paper, in dusty file cabinets locked in the information practices of the past. This kind of requirement may have made sense in the Mad Men era, but it makes no sense in the digital age.” But because the FCC is now run by Republicans, Rosenworcel votes no, and wants radio to stay in the past.

      It would be nice if the FCC could overcome petty partisan politics and actually create some useful rules that benefit the PUBLIC instead of continually voting party lines.

      • Yes, it would be great if the FCC made some rules that would benefit the PUBLIC. Can you imagine what kind of support the FCC would get from network broadcasting groups if they actually had to do that? The Main Studio Rule would seem like a bargain basement obligation by comparison.

      • Interesting that the people that want to cut broadcasters loose from their obligations to their communities post anonymously (“Brian S” & TheBigA” for instance)? While those who speak for broadcasters operating in the public interest use their real names?

        Are they the masked heroes of the comic pulps or just bandits? Hard to tell.

        • That’s because those still making an attempt to serve the public have nothing left to lose, so no reason to hide. They’ve already had corporate radio strip them of most everything…..


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