The FCC recently proposed modifying its rules prohibiting a radio station in one service (either AM or FM) from duplicating more than 25% of the weekly programming of another station in the same service if there is more than 50% overlap of the principal community contour of either of the stations. The FCC this week issued a Public Notice announcing that the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking setting out the proposed changes has now been published in the Federal Register, setting January 22 as the comment deadline in this proceeding, with replies due by February 6.
In the NPRM, the FCC notes that the broadcast industry has significantly changed since the rule was adopted, with over 19,000 commercial operating radio stations today, up almost 8000 from 1992 when the rule was adopted. In addition, there are noncommercial stations, LPFMs, and all sorts of digital audio services that did not exist in 1992. In light of these industry changes, the Commission asks many questions on which they seek input from the public. Are there public interest reasons to allow for more duplication, e.g. allowing economically challenged stations to combine rather than ceasing operations? Will market forces prevent too much consolidation of programming by stations in the same market? Will allowing more duplication affect diversity of broadcast ownership? Is 50% overlap the appropriate standard, or are there reasons to use a different measure of overlap? Should AM duplication be treated differently from FM duplication? While not explicitly stated by the FCC, a relaxation of this rule could be particularly important for AM radio, as it could allow for a transition to digital by one AM station in a market (another proposal recently advanced by the FCC), while allowing another AM station in the same market to continue to air the same programming in an analog format for listeners who have not yet acquired digital AM receivers. If a change in this rule could assist your operations, note the January 22 comment deadline.