Radio To The FCC: We Need More Deregulation


We finally get a look under the hood at what the NAB’s secretive ownership committee has been working on in terms of deregulation. Comments have been filed with the FCC as the Commission gets close reviewing broadcast ownership rules as part of its 2018 quadrennial review. And, as expected, radio is using the competition of Pandora, Spotify, SiriusXM and other digital players as the reason, they say, more deregulation is needed.

Here’s what radio executives are asking for:
-In the top 75 Nielsen Audio markets, allow a single entity to own or control up to eight commercial FM stations, with no limit on AM ownership;
– — To promote new entry into broadcasting, an owner in these top 75 markets should be permitted to own up to two additional FM stations (for a total of 10 FMs) by participating in the FCC’s incubator program; and
– In Nielsen markets outside of the top 75 and in unrated markets, there should be no restrictions on the number of FM or AM stations a single entity may own or control.”

The NAB filing states that the FCC’s current regulatory framework ignores a large portion of the listening and advertising equation. “The notion of what constitutes a competitor to radio stations must include audio outlets that consumers in local markets are listening to and the outlets that advertisers use. Consumers may not know or care where Sirius XM, Spotify or Pandora are headquartered, but they know that they can listen to them in their cars, in their homes and in their offices – exactly where consumers can listen to AM/FM radio and where advertisers can reach those consumers. Given that the FCC’s numerical radio ownership limits are “competition-based,”5 the Commission cannot continue to ignore multiple major sources of competition for both listeners and advertisers in the audio marketplace.”

The NAB filing states that outdated rules that apply only to radio have a real-world impact on stations’ ability to serve their local areas. “The financial viability of radio stations’ informational programming, including emergency information and related local weather coverage, would be enhanced by permitting local stations to take greater advantage of economies of scale. Studies have shown that local news production “is subject to strong economies of both scale and scope.” Although these studies focused on the TV industry, there is no reason to believe that radio broadcasting differs in this regard, as earlier FCC studies indicated.”

This is sure to be a controversial topic this year and while we are told there was “overwhelming support” in the NAB Board room, we know not every radio company is in agreement. We know for sure that iHeartMedia, Federated Media and several other companies do not want more deregulation.


  1. The point is well taken, an already depressed industry has been flooded with even more stations, taking a smaller and smaller piece of an ever shrinking pie. Local radio was on the decline even before being watered down further by all of the low power newbies. Why? Well, Cumulus and iHeart had a big part to play, turning local radio into low overhead, profit grubbing, music service outlets, with little or no “real time” local presence. Radio will never be able to successfully compete with the Internet, especially now, until it offers a product unavailable anywhere else, as it once did. The law of supply and demand dictates that, in order to have demand for a product, you must first produce a product that incites demand. My opinion, for whatever it’s worth, is that local radio can only survive by a rediscovering of its roots and a long needed return to being the only entertaining game in town. If you build it, I believe they will come, with money to spend in their pockets. It wss radio that was forcibly changed, not the listener.

  2. As soon as Internet Dasboards Explode in vehicles, They will be shutting down the AM and FM Transmitters anyway. Ownership caps shouldn’t mean much then..

  3. One thing I’m seeing in comments is an assumption that limiting ownership of radio stations will have an effect on programming. That’s not true. In the last few years, big media companies such as CBS, Disney ABC, Fox, and Time-Warner have left the radio ownership business. However, all of them provide programming services for radio stations. So just cutting the number of stations a company can own, or even banning big companies from owning stations won’t prevent them from offering programming to those stations. In fact, it would be far cheaper for them to simply offer the programming without having to pay all the bills involved in station ownership, and it’s why so many big companies have left the station ownership business.

  4. > In the top 75 Nielsen Audio markets, allow a single entity to own or control up to eight commercial FM stations, with no limit on AM ownership;
    HORRIBLE IDEA!!! Let one entity own a SINGLE FM (and AM) station (frequency) in every market, but not more. With HD radio they can broadcast multiple “channels” on that frequency. If the big companies really want to increase listeners, let them do it by getting into smaller markets. Presently I listen to very little broadcast radio because of the conglomerate ownership. Increase their quantity of stations and expect me to listen even less.

    • I don’t think it’s possible to create federal laws to suit individual preferences. In that case, it might be better to leave such decisions to the states rather than the federal government. It might get closer to serving your individual or personal preference. The reason these are federal laws is because broadcast signals are viewed as interstate commerce.

      Your proposal only talks about AM & FM, and doesn’t mention TV. Right now, we have a situation where cable, media, and satellite companies can own multiple TV channels that can be viewed nationally. Why is multiple ownership a problem in radio and not in TV?

      I should also point out that the ownership laws would not affect the frequencies reserved for non-commercial broadcast use. So that means that while a company might be able to buy stations in the commercial spectrum, it would still be prohibited from buying radio stations in the non-commercial FM band.

  5. Honestly I think the proposal is right on for smaller markets. Here in my market we have two radio companies, and yes, that means two Country stations, two News/Talk stations, two Classic Rock stations, etc. etc. Many formats are being ignored because of the economics of running two radio groups in small town America. Remember radio news people being at every government meeting? Remember on air personalities attending and broadcasting from charitable events? Remember Weekend DJ’s live to tell you of breaking news or emergencies? You can’t have a handful of people running multiple radio stations and still give real service to the public which is our stated goal. Get rid of the caps in small markets and let radio compete with Sirius/XM, Spotify, Pandora and the millions of streams available on the net. Your car dealers consolidate, your banks consolidate, your retail stores consolidate….but not radio? Ridiculous.

  6. Kudos to you, “TheBigA,” you are spot-on. Mass ownership has given 21st Century Commercial Radio the most horrendous examples of format duplication, nationwide. It has come down to “some form of rock, some form of country, some form of ‘urban,’ and some form of ‘non-music.'” That’s four format repetition formula umbrellas — under which you may actually have six or seven stations in a given market, all playing The Eagles — with salespeople sheepishly telling their clients, “When WE play ‘Witchy Woman,’ it just sounds better!” There’s not a terran-based radio station in existence that can satisfy my admittedly eclectic tastes in music — but I can create my own digital custom music channels — to the degree that if I WANT to hear “Smoke From A Distant Fire” by Sanford-Townsend, followed by Woody Herman’s “Four Brothers” … I can. Conversely, if I “need” to hear “Rescue Me” by Fontella Bass six times in one week — then I can tune into a group ownership operated & programmed oldies radio station. It has been said so many times about various institutions — but here it goes for this situation: “Audiences didn’t leave radio, radio abandoned audiences.”

  7. “Not in the public’s best interest?” The other side of enforced competition is format duplication. People in Boston and Chicago ask why there are two country stations? Do those cities need two country stations? The answer is because of competition. The stations are owned by competing companies, so you have two stations in the same format, playing basically the same music. Meanwhile, there are lots of other formats that aren’t being heard. Sirius has no competition. It’s a government-approved monopoly. So they have 100 music channels with no format duplication. Less competition means more variety. So the question you need to ask is what is in the public interest? Forced competition or format variety?

    • Some of the greatest radio was created because there were two stations, from different owners, going head to head in the same format. Each station had to be competitive and profitable because It was the only AM or FM they had in the market and one of the company’s 7-7-7. Now how do you strive to best the competition when you own the competition?

      • That was before there was competition from satellite and streaming. When the public can’t find their favorite format on the radio because of duplication, they leave for satellite and the internet. Comparing today with the 1970s ignores the current reality. The public doesn’t care if you’re the best. They prove that by using Pandora and Spotify. Nothing unique or high quality there. Just the music these people want.

  8. Sounds about par for the “government.” The public does not want it, know’s it’s not in the public’s best interest, not in advertisers best interest, know it’s not in the employees of the radio industry’s best interest, so let’s take the mistake we made in 1996 and expand on it.

  9. Because the current state of radio is SO much better than when regulations were stricter in the 1950s and 60s …. Yeah, right. And I’ve got this bridge in NY you’ll be interested in buying. ….


  10. Raises hand from back of the room, “What are you going to program on your 8 FMs? Love to hear your thoughts…”

  11. The Greedy Rule again. If we are going to eliminate limits on AMs and raise the limits on FMs in so many markets, let’s originate programming on FM translators. Otherwise, we will eventually have one giant company, like Fox, owning all the AM stations and their FM translators in most medium and small town markets in America. Liberals and progressives should fear this rule. This is a perfect recipe for giving the AM radio band to one right wing giant propaganda machine.

  12. Lol…. idiots. Because big companies owning lots of stations has really helped the industry up until now. These sales guys can’t even run what they already have to any level past “occasionally in the Black”.

    Pure greed. Nothing more, nothing less.

  13. Ten stations per market?
    There goes the competition and the services to their communities – audiences and advertisers alike.
    One other thing: Corporate Radio also needs an extraordinary decrease in its tax rates – those that pay any taxes at all.
    Employees – those that are allowed to maintain their positions – can work harder, longer for less dough and… eat cake.
    What’s that? It has already been done?
    Oh. (Never mind.)


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