Does Radio Need More Deregulation (Part 1)?


All week long we’ll be interviewing radio CEO’s to get their thoughts on whether or not they believe ownership caps at The FCC need to be changed, eliminated or whether they are fine as they are now. The NAB is working with broadcasters to come up with a plan to present to The Commission next month. Our first interview is with Galaxy CEO Ed Levine.

Radio Ink: Where does deregulation at the FCC stand?
Ed Levine: It’s part of the 2018 quadrennial review that the commission is required by statute to undertake to review the current media rules. I have had some meetings with officials there directly, and indirectly with some of the commissioners and aides to the commissioners. They understand the radio business is completely different today than when these rules were instituted over 20 years ago. We have major competitors now that did not exist back then that are completely unregulated by the federal government. It puts us at a real disadvantage.

Radio Ink: Is there a process for when this will come up for a vote?
Ed Levine: Chairman Pai has indicated that it is a top priority. We are very fortunate to have someone like him who is a dedicated radio listener. He knows the value of local radio in the local community and understands what we are up against. I have spoken directly to commissioner O’Rielly and he shares the Chairman’s view on that too. We have an opportunity here with some folks who are not government bureaucrats but real-world empathetic to broadcasters to take some corrective steps here and at least level the playing field a little bit.

Radio Ink: Is there any consensus with broadcasters on what they are lobbying for?
Ed Levine: I think most folks agree that we need relief in these rules. The discussion going on amongst fellow broadcasters like myself is how far and how much. I don’t have my feet in the sand on that. Right now I could only own four FMs and three AMs in the Syracuse and Utica markets. Does that number go from seven to 11 or 12 or 13, I don’t know what the right number is. I did a transaction where I had to jump through all kinds of crazy hoops a few years ago just to keep one of my FM stations on, that’s being simulcasted, which is technically in the Syracuse market. I had to move the tower outside the Syracuse market so it wouldn’t count in the Syracuse count. It’s a Class A that adds maybe a point to the ratings of one of my rock stations. It was ridiculous.

Radio Ink: That’s an outlier compared to what you guys are looking for?
Ed Levine: The way it counts in Syracuse right now I can’t buy anymore radio stations. I’m at my limit and that’s crazy. I have four Class A FMs that are simulcasting two products because they are Class A’s, so I can’t cover the whole market by themselves. I really only have two products on those four FMs, but that enables me to compete with iHeart, Cumulus, Class B radio stations. Luckily, we’ve been able to compete quite successfully with them. If there was an opportunity to own more, that is certainly something we would take a look at.

Radio Ink: Are we looking at some broadcasters who want to lift the caps completely and be able to own as many as possible?
Ed Levine: I think the smaller the market the more flexible it may be. Allen Bishop does a great job of running radio stations in the Finger Lakes Region. He basically owns all the radio stations in the Finger Lakes. He’s doing quite well because he can focus on the communities he’s in. He doesn’t have somebody coming in trying to undercut his rate structure. He’s able to provide a fair rate for the customers. I think he’s doing better than the Syracuse market is overall. When you can have greater mass you can do more. He’s doing more events than he ever has. He just told me he bought a back-up transmitter which he couldn’t have done 5-10 years ago. The Commission in the past operated in a bubble, and this current Commission seems to be much more real-world based. They understand the economic pressures we’re under. The reality is if you are all having a hard time economically, you can’t provide proper service to the community.

Radio Ink: How is Allen able to own every station in one market?
Ed Levine: Over the years he’s been able to buy out some of his competitors. They use a different metric out there. They use the contour method because it’s an unrated market. You might see in unrated markets that you can own as many as you want. The Utica market is a good example. In my opinion it is healthier than Syracuse. I am in both markets. There are two primary competitors: Galaxy and Townsquare. In the Syracuse market there are three: Galaxy, iHeart, and Cumulus. When we started we were that guy selling it cheaper. It’s almost one player too many per market. In this market if you have two viable competitors, that’s plenty. A third takes it to a point where nobody can make a good living. The circumstances now from ’96 couldn’t be more different. I don’t agree with everything that happened in 1996 but you can’t roll back the clock. We have to deal with the modern-day realties of how to operate, survive and thrive in this media landscape. It’s being totally disrupted, and to be handcuffed by rules from another era is crazy. I’m not saying I would go out and buy seven radio stations in Syracuse if that happened, but I would like the option. It would increase investor interest and banking interest in radio which is very important. Right now, there is very little of either. We are the red-headed stepchild of media right now. It’s not fair and we’ve been painted with a bad brush, but that is the reality we all have to deal with now.

Radio Ink: What happens if caps are lifted and you are in a market with 12 stations and one guy is able to buy four giving him seven or eight and you only have three? You could get crushed.
Ed Levine: I’ve heard that theory but I don’t buy it. On a national level, yes, but to be frank with the national business being as insignificant as it is to me right now that’s not a major concern. What you are saying is correct for national business and that certainly has been the case. It’s a rigged business anyway because iHheart controls the rep firm. If you’re counting on national business to save your bacon you are really delusional. I’m not saying a stand-alone can make it but if you have a couple of really good stations in a market, you don’t necessarily need to have five. It’s great to have it if you need it but you don’t need four or five to survive. In TV you need great mass because you have to buy the syndicated programming. In radio, if you have the Syracuse University contract, if you have ESPN, heritage morning shows, if you have clear market positions, it doesn’t matter if you own 10 or 1000 stations in that market, you are as significant as the other guy. That is a big difference between radio and TV.

Radio Ink: Is it true that iHeart is pretty much the only company not on board with any more deregulation?
Ed Levine: iHeart has been a large part of the reason why radio has had trouble in the last 20 years. Remember the brilliant John Hogan campaign “less is more,” which was going to solve all of radio’s problems? That’s now why you’re hearing 16-18 units a day on radio stations. The litany of their sins against the radio industry are long and they have to live with that. I’m not surprised they’re not in favor of it. They have not been in favor of most things that would benefit the radio industry. We have ours so the hell with everybody else. To be fair, their business model and a company like mine we are almost in different businesses. If I had that kind of reach I might look at the world the same way, but that type of local radio and the type of radio many locally owned companies are doing is very different. We are not a command and control place. They are and owning that many stations I understand that.

Radio Ink: Is there any indication which way Cumulus goes or does that not matter?
Ed Levine: These are more questions for the NAB. The feeling I get from folks I talk to at the Commission is they feel our pain and want to do something. Even if we can’t speak with one voice, that will be a shame, but unfortunately that has happened too often in the last 20 years. The TV industry speaks with one voice. We do not. They are looking for some guidance on what to do and shame on us if we can’t come up with a plan that works for everybody.

Radio Ink: What can we expect as a timeline?
Ed Levine: I have been told calendar 2018 whatever that means. I don’t want to talk for the NAB but I think over the summer they will put out a proposal, a recommendation and comments on their quadrennial review. I think the FCC will take a long hard look at that and try to follow those guidelines closely.

Reach out to Ed Levine at [email protected]


  1. The genius of the American broadcasting model, as opposed to the state owned and private monopolies of most other countries, was the dispersion of media power among many players. Many voices and many opinions led to creative and compelling local listening, and jobs for young guys and gals, a few of whom stayed with it to become brilliant. At age 17, fresh out of high school with a First Phone, I had the chance to “break into radio”. Anybody else remember doing that? I sounded like a kid for awhile. But I worked my tail off, improved my speaking and engineering skills, ever dreaming of someday making it into the “big time”. Eventually I got there. But how many teens today are being allowed to come up to bat? We deprive them of their rightful chance, then complain about the younger generation’s indolence! For shame! I lay the blame for this travesty directly at the feet of greed, galloping technology, and rules ever more favorable to the rich and powerful. They have wrecked radio and what’s left of it has been devoured by a few over borrowed, barely solvent national players who won’t be satisfied until they have it all. And what about new would-be station owners who will invariably find themselves outbid to buy an overpriced local station by a national fat cat? Reason and justice demand that the Commission wind down this madness and return to much lower and more reasonable caps. Time has come again to break up “Ma-Bell.”

  2. You may be wondering why I am so mad with the FCC, and the NAB? well, I have been managing this low power FM in Greeley, CO. I am a professional Air Personality who has been in radio since I was 17 years old. I learned all the aspects of radio eons ago. I got this job in this little tiny radio station because I have a son with disabilities, and I needed flexible hours to take my son to his therapies. But what I learned in this Low Power FM, is one of the biggest examples of a bully, a Tyranny against a group of people who had no chance against those monsters armed with an army of lawyers and very evil greedy people who were afraid of more competition from the people.

    So, My fellow broadcasters, what would you do if one day you wake up, and your prospect that you have been working on for months finally signs up an advertising contract on your radio? You will be happy because more money will come to your radio station, right?
    Well, what would you do if I tell you in front of your client that you can not mention any prices, specials, discounts, calls of actions, or any promotional of commutative language? Your prospect will ask you: If you can’t do any of that, then what kind of stupid radio station is this one? Well this are the rules who govern the underwriting or Advertising world of Low Power FM radio stations!
    this is not a joke, this is what the NAB and the FCC did to the Low Power Advocates who had no clue how to do radio once they got those radio licenses, yet they accepted this horrible set of rules in exchange to get Low Power Radio licenses to broadcast from Legally.

    Soon this license’s owners discovered that there was no support from the community to build or even open up this radio venues. Soon many of this radio licenses where relinquished to the FCC because the owners who had to be non profits, they could’t even build them while the NAB, and the FCC were jumping full of happiness when their evil plans give fruit to one of the most horrible atrocities of radio in recent USA history!

    The FCC, and their band of lawyers wrote in the books that a Low Power can not promote a product or service from a private parties, but the question is why? I agree with the fact that a non profit can not use their revenue for personal gain, but why a Low power FM does not have the right to go out to the streets and sell advertising, so it can pay the staff, the bills, and it can keep operating with out the help of government grants?

    This is like a Kid who is selling cookies for the Charity school’s non profit who is allow to sell his cookies, but if it is to a private party, the cookies may have no sugar, no flavor, and they may not induce a pleasant taste just because who ever created this rules didn’t want the this kids to disrupt the donut shop in the street corner from selling their own cookies and who are friends of the bully who wrote the rules.
    Do you think an school kid will have any chance against a grown evil lawyer like the one the NAB and the FCC have? This rules were pure Bullshit who bullied a movement who had the opportunity to finally bring real local radio options to hundreds of communities nationwide!!

    They took as an example the National Public Radio to write this stupid and bullied rules, but the national public radio has full power FM signals! They cover huge amounts of terrain, and they have multimillions on grants from uncle sam per year while the Low Power FM’s barely cover a few miles with their signals, and they barley ever ask for any government grants, if they do, they barely ever gets them! The prospects to make a buck in this small markets are very few, and most of the Licenses owners can not ask for government grants because they got not 501(c) 3’s for donations!

    Recently, A group of Low Power FM’s owners went to the stupid bureaucrats of the FCC to have the rules of the Underwritten’s stupidity loosen, but instead they got a big kick on the back from the stupid idiots of the FCC! They have been giving the Commercial Owners of Radio as many think as the owners ask, while the Low Power Operators are struggling to survive in a world where no one wants to donate nothing to this people for free. Almost one third of this licenses have been returned to the government and many radio stations who made it to the air are in big risk of being closed for lock of funds!

    I am a professional broadcaster, and I am programming this Low Power FM in Greeley where we beat the hell out of every single Spanish speaking radio signal in our coverage. This is the biggest proof that The Low Power FM’s have a chance if people who knows how to do radio could program them professionally with formats that will conquer and build a respected audience. If the Rules On Low the Low Power FM’s were to be fair, there would be no Low Power FM license relinquished to the FCC, but when they talk about loosening the regulation Rules, they only speak about the FCC sponsors and bosses on the commercial side of radio while the Low Power people we are here seeing how this tyranny its thriving on a finite resource who does not belongs to the people but fell hostage of the Tyranny and Bureaucracy of the FCC!

    This is why I hate the FCC, and the NAB! Because they are bullies! Because they are Greedy! and because they care nothing about the people who own the Airwaves!! That’s why the Members of the FCC need to be fired! And the FCC it self needs to be regulated and supervised, so this corrupt part of our government wont continue to mismanage the radio spectrum who only favors a few of their friend while the rest are just out of the equation starving for equality and fairness!

  3. Owning too many stations is the culprit that killed the chicken of the golden eggs. Wonder why young kids are no longer interested on terrestrial radio? When was the last time a National Syndicated Satellite Feed created a campaign to target all the young generations, so the Radio stations could catch the younger generations with the things that made radio a great idea: Music! Promotions! Contests! Real Live Local Dj’s Talking back and forth with the community including the younger ones!

    Just Make the Math, If you have most of your radio stations running out of a satellite feed, how are you going to create that kind of touch with the community when the community knows that there are not real local Dj’s to call or to talk to.

    In Social Media, personal Touch and Engagement is what makes the difference. If you place a post on Facebook, and if you share it with your friends, you will get an instant reply immediately while on radio, if you want to call your simulcasting radio station to dedicate a song to your mother because is mothers day, but there is a 1-800 number where you just can leave a message with no real person to answer the phone, where are you going to go? To The Local Satellite Feed Radio Station or to Social Media?

    When was the last time a Radio Station talked to the local School board to include classes about radio because the Radio industry was in a high need of Dj’s, Announcers, and Staff when the reality when to the other side, the Radio industry has been cutting jobs on radio left and right! Where is the incentive to learn radio from an early age when there are no fun jobs in radio? Every thing is being simulcasted! Every thing is being produced some place in Miami or New York!

    The Radio Industry instead of crying for the huge impact of social and digital media in their business models, they need to learn from them and adapt!!
    The Dinosaurs died because they were not able to adapt to the new climate changes while the roaches were used to adapt on any given environment.

    Social Media and Digital Media have the most ingredient that Radio lost over the years THANKS to the Stupid Ownership Rules that killed the chicken of the golden eggs, Social and Digital Media have instant user engagement while radio has been so automated that most of the younger and older people don’t find attractive anymore.

    The Radio Industry is like a starving parasite who’s hunger never ends. If they want more power, they get more power. If they want more translators, they got more translators, if they want more power on AM’s, they get More Power In AMs, if they want to own more radio stations, they get to own more radio stations, but what are they doing with all those concessions?

    They are outcompeting themselves, If is a Religious Network, They want to own all the Available Non commercial Signals at any given market. How many Religious groups have 3, 4, or more translators in one single market, all of them simulcasting the same crape?

    The Radio industry is full of very GREEDY individuals who want to own and control every single available signal on the dial if the FCC allows it.

    When Univision bought several radio venues, they became a Giant Radio Conglomerate that killed many local radio stations in markets that had local radio stations for years!
    The same shit happened with Entravision, They got many radio stations and they feed them via satellite completely killing the local taste of all those markets, and all of them are struggling to pay the bills!

    The Radio industry has to evolve, and it had to evolve with the mind of serving the people, the communities, with the goal to engage the listeners in every single aspect of radio. If one thing is proven over this years, is that Satellite Feed Networks killed the public interest on the local engagement of the radio stations.

    If User Friendly Engagement is what’s driving the Social and Digital Media Movement, how does Radio will cope with that when their business model is based on the opposite theory which relies on homogenization instead of localization of the markets.

    The Most important features of Radio to implement local engagement are killed with Dummy Satellite Networks.

    The Most important features of Radio like Dedicating a live song, winning a Ticket to the Local Fair, Sending a message to all the friends graduating from high school, and many other things that can only be done with local talent and local content are killed when group owners take over many radio stations, and they want all of them to sound the same from New York to Los Angeles franchising their signals in exchange for the simplicity of doing radio in the lazy and easy way with out caring about an audience who want their favorite radio station to engage with them on every single level of their lives!!

    I am an strong believer on the power of Radio over the people and the masses. One day, a friend of mine told me that Radio was doomed because Social Media took all over the business and radio had no chance ove social media, and I told her: When I open up the microphone in the Morning show, and when I tell the people the time, the weather, the local most important news, and when I receive phone calls, and text messages of people dedicating their happy birthday song because its their birthday, I told her; Its a lot of FUN!!! They can listen while in their car, on the bathroom, on the kitchen, on the work place, on the office! Every where! While Facebook is only effective from 7:00 PM until 9:00 PM.

    If you listen to Pandora or Spotify, sooner or later you missed the local DJ’s Jockeys, that deep galant voice, his comments, the way how he presented the latest hot song hit!

    The difference between social and Digital Media to the local Radio station is the capability of the local radio station to keep the listener entertained and engaged on all the aspects of the radio stations, but if the radio station is an stinky Jukebox who’s owner owns 850 radio stations and cares nothing about the local audience, and who’s only goal is to make money, then the listener will rather go to PANDORA, Spotify, or to Facebook because radio its too boring!!

    • “Owning too many stations is the culprit that killed the chicken of the golden eggs.”

      Not true. Also it’s not true that iHeart or Cumulus stations run satellite feeds. That’s made-up fiction. However, you bring up young people, and they have no problem with satellite radio like Sirius. They have no problem with nationally-fed internet radio. So the localism issue you mention isn’t a problem with young people.

      • I am not saying they iHate, I mean iHeart o Cumulus run all their programming on satellite feeds, I am saying that thanks to the Radio Networks who exchanged the Local Nature of Radio for Dummy Automated Programming, many people went some where else to find the entertainment not found in Radio in this days.

        I am saying that the radio industry needs To EVOLVE in order to reconquer the ears of all those younger generations that don’t see radio as a way to connect and entertain themselves no more. They instead go to more interactive places that they grew with.

        If you are born with a cellphone in your hands, and if you have never heard of Radio, how are you going to relate to some thing that you don’t even know?

        If you were born with an iPhone with 2000 songs on it, and if I ask you if you know the 8 track, the 45 Vinyl Disc, or The CD’s, you would ask me what the hell do I am talking about?

        Radio Need to evolve with localism, with creativity, with listeners engagement and participation, and the most important of all: TECHNOLOGY! but the answer to their problems is not to get more radio stations in get more of the same.

        Radio Needs to create new ways and forms of interact, engage, and relate to their listeners, and Owning more radio stations is not the answer, neither the solution.

        Just look the the history of Radio, Before the 1996 Des regularization, Ihate Media was just one single radio station in San Antonio, then it became a huge conglomerate where they bought radio stations for many times their cash flow just to discover down the road that their assets were acquired with huge amounts of debt. A Debt that was impossible to pay. Now, Does the FCC wants more Clear Channels and Cumulus to go in to the same route? Do they want more radio groups to go into huge amounts of debt jus to find out that they are not longer solvent?

        If the lift the caps of ownership, I promise you that in few years from now, we will se merges from left and right and even less localism, less creativity, and less real competition to the social and digital media movement.

        The Broadcasting industry is correct: We live in a new era where only the Broadcasters that really know how to do radio, and only the radio owners who know how to create the content that i wll attract an audience, and the only the broadcasters who know how to maintain that audience, and the most important of all; only the broadcasters who learn how to deliver result to the people who advertise on that particular audience, only those broadcasters will thrive in the oncoming future meanwhile the others ones will be crying with the FCC for Des-regularization, Incentives, Kickbacks, and Bailouts!!

        • “I am saying that thanks to the Radio Networks who exchanged the Local Nature of Radio for Dummy Automated Programming, many people went some where else to find the entertainment not found in Radio in this days.”

          Do you have factual proof for that?

          Also, are you aware that automation was very popular in radio in the 1960s and 1970s? It all pre-dates deregulation. And before 1996, Clear Channel owned a lot more than one radio station.

          • Listsen Big A, If you strongly believe that radio is good as it is, fine. Thats your opinion. I have written many post recently in this site, and I am not trying to convince you or no one of nothing. I am against the Idea of giving even more power and more concessions to an industry that has not done a good job serving the people they were meant to serve when the government granted them those FCC licenses.

            Radio is blaming the Social and Digital media of unfairness competition, but Radio it self on their vast majority are not taking full advantage of the features to compete against the social and digital era.

            The FCC under the hands of this Pai What ever his name is, its on its track to completely destroy the few rules in place that will open up the roads, so the vast majority of the radio signals will fall in the hands of a few Corporate Conglomerates, and I am against that.

            I will give you one example of why this is not a good idea:

            Two of the biggest major Mexican Radio Networks, they own the 96% of the most important radio stations who broadcast in the US Soil in Spanish. All their radio stations sound exactly the same in one format called the Regional Mexican, and others. They feed all this signals via Satellite with little or no human intervention at all. Here in Denver, on ene of then own one of this licenses with with 100,000 watts of power, and they own many huge signals like this one all over the nation. On their Regional Mexican Format, their playlist is made, in the great majority, of song who are funneled, sponsored, and promote by the people who can afford to pay their ticket to those playlist, and we are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars per song per artist, per month! Guess who are the only ones who can afford those rates? The drug Cartels! Yes! We have been plagued by horrible music from the drug cartels thanks to this owners who care nothing about their listeners, and who are willing to sell their souls to the devil for huge pockets of money in exchange. Only the singers who have the support of all this evil forces are the ones who can have access to these huge radio networks.

            So, if you have a million dollars, and if you want your ugly song to be played for the next 4 months on this Spanish Speaking Networks, you only need to pay some corrupted consultants and high ranking CEO’s a lot of money, so you can be heard nationally and became an instant celebrity with your music all over the nation despite if your music talks about beadings, Kidnappings, Drugs, Terror, and more!

            This is whats is going on in our Mexican Market thanks to People who own Too many Stations, and Too big ones. It is a horrible disaster! Only the bands go have millions of dollar in their pockets can afford to be played in the big leagues meanwhile the small guys despite how good their music may be, they don’t have not even the slightest chance not even to dream to have any air time on any of those companies because they are all networks simulcasting the same shit coming from a corrupt consultant with the approval of some very evil and corrupted CEO’s and owners.

            This is one of the many reasons why I am against the FCC giving more concessions to the Radio Owners! They have done a terrible job with the Licenses borrowed to them! If I would be the FCC, instead of giving more power to corrupt and evil broadcasters, I will confiscate all the radio licenses from owners who allowed theirs signals to be used for the spread and promotion of hate, terror, and narcotics in USA SOIL! Our Radio spectrum wasn’t meant for that!

          • What ever you have said, Its your opinion, and I strongly respect it. But I am completely against the roller coster of deregulation that will trigger more power in the hands of just a few broadcasters if the FCC allows it. That’s not good. I am not happy with the fact that just one single broadcaster owns 850 radio stations, and the other one owns a huge bunch as well meanwhile the FCC haven’t opened up another window for more Low Power FM’s.

            Imaginate, we are doing radio but we can not advertise prices, promotions, calls of actions, or we can not even use commutative language. And Guess where all this stupidities came from? The wonderful members of the NAB who didn’t want more competition, so when the FCC finally granted this licenses, They bullies the guys who asked the Prometheus movement, and this is what they got. Almost useless Low Power FM radio stations that no body wants. Low Power FM radio stations who are heavily fined when they break the bureaucracy rules of Underwriting!

            How come the stupid idiots of the FCC don’t mention nothing about making Low Power FM’s Primary stations?

            Why they don’t mention nothing about increasing the power of Low Power and taking all those stupid burdens of their advertising rules, so this low power FM’s could compete with the Commercial broadcasters for the same advertising dollars?

            Why the Low Power FM radio stations have to obey this stupid rules, while the Low Power FM TV stations don’t follow any of that garbage?

            The FCC together with the NAB who are excrement of the same toilet have done a terrible job doing a good use of the radio airwaves.

            The AM Dial could sound wonderful if the FCC wouldn’t allow a few giants to own 50K watt radio stations who had to limit their bandwidth, so they could fit with those humongous signals!

            They are the ones at fault! The FCC has always been advocating for the big interests of the Big guys, now their big guys have created a mess with all this concessions, but instead of fixing their mess, they want even more!!

  4. I wonder how fast this will move. The original market limits and sub-caps were established in Section 202 of the 1996 Communications Act. For example markets with 15 to29 stations–6 station limit, four FM maximum as the sub-cap. Now there is a paragraph 2 exception allowing the Commission to expand these limits–but the Commission effectively rolled that back about 15 years ago when they nixed the use of LMA’s/JSA’s to exceed the caps.
    There may be some support from the interest groups (MMTC, for one) on eliminating the sub-caps–since those now-surplus AM’s would be available for sale or gift to minority broadcasters. However, I can see other interest groups arguing that Congress needs to change Section 202 before the Commission can modify these ownership limits.


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