(By Ed Levine, Paul Stone, and George Reed) Much has been written in the radio trades over the last week regarding the NAB Radio Board vote in favor of recommending to the FCC an update of its radio ownership rules. We’d like to give you our take.
Some in our business think the NAB board went too far in calling for significant relaxation of the rules; others think the board did not go far enough, arguing that for broadcasters to be competitive with our totally unregulated digital competitors, radio needs complete elimination of any ownership restrictions.
You can count us — as small- and medium-market radio station owners dedicated to localism and delivering great radio to our listeners — as strong supporters of the NAB Board recommendation. You can quibble over details of the specific board recommendation. But we say hats off to the NAB Board for facing down a tough issue, and for taking bold action that will allow radio operators the opportunity to achieve the scale needed to endure and thrive in the digital world of today.
The reality is this: radio ownership rules have remained unchanged for 22 years. Forget whether the consolidation ushered in by the 1996 Telecom Act was good or bad for listeners. What is undeniable is that the world has changed dramatically since 1996, and regulations on our business need to evolve with the times.
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Radio faces challenges today that would have been unimaginable 22 years ago — or even five years ago. The competition for listeners — whether it’s from YouTube or Sirius/XM or Pandora or Spotify — is intense. And it’s growing. Moreover, we aren’t competing for advertising dollars just from radio stations across the street or even across state boundaries. Collectively, we’re losing ad business by the billions to digital companies like Google and Facebook. Case in point: BIA Kelsey analyzed the Syracuse market last year and found the following: Google, Facebook, and Bing combined exceeded the local advertising market of all the local Syracuse radio stations ($40.5 million to $32.5 million).
That’s not just an upstate New York problem; that’s a problem facing every radio station owner across America, and it’s only going to get worse. Digital platforms like Google and Facebook are unregulated business models hell-bent on eating local broadcasting’s ad-dollar lunch. And they could care less about FCC mandates of serving localism and the public’s “interest, convenience and necessity.”
As we see it, the NAB Radio Board faced two options: Option 1 was to bury its collective head in the sand and ignore a tsunami. Option 2 was to address the issue honestly, forthrightly, and directly, and present to Chairman Pai and his FCC colleagues some ideas that will keep free and local radio alive for our millions of listeners for decades to come. We think the NAB Radio Board chose the right option.
Ed Levine is President and CEO of Syracuse-based Galaxy Media, LLC, which owns 14 radio stations in Syracuse, Utica, and Rome, NY; Paul Stone is President of Southern Broadcasting Companies, which owns 33 radio stations in Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee; and George Reed is co-owner of Monticello Media, which owns six stations in Charlottesville, VA, and co-founder of Media Services Group, a brokerage firm.