(By Jay Meyers) Few things in this world tick me off more than when I read some commentary from someone with zero knowledge about the urban myth of Minot. Franklin Raff’s article on the Radio Ink website Tuesday used false information as fact, and further shows a clear lack of understanding of the current Main Studio Rule. He also makes another false statement that two companies own half of all radio stations. There are over 15,000 radio stations licensed in the U.S. The two top companies in terms of number of radio stations own less than 8% of that number. I’d be willing to bet that the two top hamburger franchises own far more than 8% of all the hamburger joints in the country.
Let’s discuss Minot first. At the time of the incident, I was the Senior Vice President at Clear Channel overseeing a sixteen-state territory called the Plains/Northwest and Minot was in my area of responsibility.
Here are the Minot facts. The Minot radio stations were manned 24 hours a day. In fact, during this period of time (Randy Michaels was still running Clear Channel), it was policy that there needed to be someone in all of our buildings 24/7. The issue in Minot was two fold. First, when we moved into a new facility and sent out notices to all local authorities with both daytime and after-hours contact numbers (over a year before the incident), the Minot police did not update their records and had old phone numbers in their files.
When they got disconnects on both numbers, including the after-hours private number, they dialed information, got the switchboard number and dialed that. Let me ask you a question. How many switchboard numbers are answered after hours, at any company, regardless of their business? Did you have your switchboard answered after midnight at Radio Ink?
Compounding the police error, despite having it for more than a year, the local police never installed their EAS system which would have enabled them to send out an alert directly, and that was despite the fact that the local Clear Channel staff called regularly to ask if they needed any help in understanding how to operate it. Rick Stensby, one of the best managers I’ve ever had, was the market manager in Minot and I feel for him every time this story comes up. He was the consummate small-market broadcaster, on all the boards, the Chamber of Commerce, you name it, he was there. He took the responsibility of owning all the radio stations in town seriously. Every time some yahoo with no real knowledge brings up this FALSE urban legend, I feel sorry for Rick and the people who worked for him.
Now, as to the lack of knowledge regarding the Main Studio Rule. The FCC requirements currently for a main studio is that you have two employees, one of whom must be a manager and spend most of their time at the studio, have the capability of broadcasting from the location and be accessible during “regular business hours.” That’s it. That is what the FCC is proposing to eliminate. Mr. Raff longs for the old days, with each station owned individually as another business on Main Street along with the five and dime and the malt shop. That world no longer exists and in tough economic times, to put the burden of cost on broadcasters to maintain a main studio that exists for no other reason than to comply with FCC rules is truly idiotic. It’s head-in-the-sand thinking. Think about this. If the false urban legend of Minot was actually true, all of the stations would have been in full compliance with the FCC main studio rules.
A similar situation regarding old rules has happened over the last few years where the FCC has begun relaxing the foreign ownership rules. These rules dated back to the inception of the FCC in 1933, a time when there was considerable concern that foreign powers could take over the only electronic media that existed and broadcast propaganda to the American people. As last year’s election showed, control of electronic media is not necessary to spread propaganda throughout the country.
We all should be applauding Commissioner Pai’s focus on eliminating archaic rules. Most of them are from the 1930s, a time when my note to you might have taken a week to arrive via U.S. Mail, when the average person barely ventured two miles from their home in their daily life (including work) and rarely outside of their local community. It was a time when local radio stations were the relatively “new technology” and their presence in the local community served a distinct purpose. In the world we live in today, where hopping in the car and driving 60 miles for a shopping trip is no big deal, where many people work in their virtual office, hundreds, even thousands of miles from the company office, exactly what purpose does a “main studio” serve other than to put a strain on the resources of broadcasters trying to make a living. And I’m not talking just iHeart here. Many smaller broadcasters who own clusters in a region could do more to serve their local communities without the burden of this useless cost.
Word has just come out that the FCC has voted 3-2 to abolish the rule. My only question is what could the two dissenters have been thinking? We didn’t have to wait until the publication of a daily FCC docket three days later to find out the information, it was available to us immediately via the technology that exists today. It’s time for a set of rules and regulations that are reflective of the times we live in.
Local radio is a content issue and not a location issue. We no longer live in a world where you hop in your 57 Chevy and drive out to the local radio station to visit with Wolfman Jack. And Mr. Raff, the true tragedy of Minot is that people like you keep this false urban myth alive, hurting the true local broadcasters who were on the job doing their job serving their local community.
Jay Meyers is President and CEO of Broadcast Management and Technology and can be reached at [email protected]