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FCC's tinkering could benefit local programming.

FCC favors Local programming: We'll see.

In December, the Federal Communications Commission once again gave a hand out to the big broadcasting corporations, loosening the ownership rules regarding companies that own broadcast properties and newspapers at the same time.

They may have done something good for radio listeners on the same day. The Feds are taking a look at requiring a certain amount of local programming and operating standards of radio stations. But as usual, they are vague on specifics. The plan is also getting a mixed reaction, and a strong thumbs down from the big broadcasting firms.

The FCC is proposing that stations form "community advisory boards" and that the commission takes local programming into consideration when deciding to renew a station's license. You can see where this doesn't sit well with the corporations who have done everything they can to eliminate live bodies behind the microphone in order to make a few more bucks. Some of them are concerned that the FCC might---God forbid--require live programming 24/7.

In the prehistoric days before Ronald Reagan, stations were required to air a certain amount of programming in the public interest. Some corporations did it simply because it was good business. That was particularly true with Robert Hyland at KMOX.

Hyland understood that it was possible to make a profit and still have a conscience. Even pop-music stations had to air public affairs programming, which they usually buried on Sunday mornings. Remember "Powerline" on KHTR (103.3 FM)?

Before the government handed everything over to the corporations, broadcasters knew that no one technically "owned" a frequency. They were granted a license to broadcast on that frequency and to operate in the interest of the public. Today, license renewals are usually just a formality. The broadcast giants maintain herds of lawyers and lobbyists to ensure public input is quashed.

But the other side of this issue has some good points. First of all, since when did more government regulations ever solve anything? The government still has to spell out just how much local programming would be required and define just what constitutes local programming.

All FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has said so far is, "We tentatively conclude that all broadcasters must air a certain amount of local programming."

It could mean more local news or requiring someone to be in the studio anytime the station is on air.

That last one is important, because when bad weather hits unexpectedly, many stations are running pre-recorded forecasts. What if there is a disaster or a terrorist attack on a weekend, when many stations are airing pre-recorded "voice tracks" or satellite programming? The coverage of local issues on the urban formatted stations seems to have been hit especially hard by the increased use of satellite programming in the morning.

But industry big shots warn that they can't compete with the Internet, the iPod and the multitude of other competing sources without cutting costs. And there's also that whole pesky First Amendment thing.

Even the FCC can't agree. Commissioner Robert McDowell said the government can't "foist upon local stations its preferences regarding categories of programming. We risk treading on the First Amendment rights of broadcasters with unnecessary regulation. An order reflecting these conclusions will be overturned in court."

Commissioner Michael Copps disagreed, adding, "We allow the nation's broadcasters to use half a trillion dollars of spectrum--for free. In return, we require that they serve the public interest: devoting at least some airtime for worthy programs that inform viewers, support local arts and culture and educate our children--in other words, that aspire to something beyond just minimizing costs and maximizing revenue."

You can expect station owners, particularly in smaller markets, to complain that they will be bankrupted by new rules. Don't you believe it. Before the airwaves were handed over to the corporations, station owners in small towns were often operating on shoe-string budgets. But they somehow found a way to have someone on the air. Paying someone $10 an hour to keep the station live won't bankrupt a multi-million dollar corporation that is using the public airwaves for free.

It was exactly those types of jobs that provided many future broadcasters with their first opportunity. It helped them get some experience. If they were good, they quickly moved on. If they were bad, well at least it was live and local. That process quickly weeded out those who thought broadcasting would be a glamorous and easy job. The fact that there are no more jobs where an aspiring broadcaster can learn the ropes is one reason that many of the personalities on the air are capable only of reading from liner cards or a prep sheet.

The FCC needs to take a good look at the license renewal process. As Copps puts it, the government should actually examine a station's record before simply rubber stamping a renewal.

"Did the station show original programs on local civic affairs? Did it broadcast political conventions? In an era where too many owners live thousands of miles away from the communities they allegedly serve, do these owners meet regularly with local leaders and the public to receive feedback? Why don't we make sure that's done before we allow more consolidation?" Copps said.

Walter Cronkite said it best, "America is a powerful and prosperous nation. We certainly should insist upon, and can afford to sustain, a media system of which we can be proud."

Romanik does radio

Once deregulation and corporate radio came along, the era of the standalone maverick station owner pretty much came to an end in the larger markets. Well, St. Louis now has a station owner who can only be described as a character. His name is Robert Romanik, and his ventures now include WIL (1430 AM) purchased from Bonneville for $1.2 million. The license is actually in the name of his son because Romanik is a convicted felon.

Romanik is a strip-club tycoon, former private detective and former police chief of Washington Park, Ill. He bought WXOZ (1510 AM) in 2006. Romanik admitted lying to a grand jury in the prosecution of gambling racketeer Tom Venezia, a case that was front-page news in the Metro East during much of the 1990s. That makes him a strange choice to do business with the Church of Latter Day Saints, which runs Bonneville and will keep the WIL call letters.

Romanik runs his broadcast empire from a strip mall off West Main in Belleville and is said to be interested in more St. Louis broadcast properties. He has been broadcasting golden oldies and hot talk on WXOZ. He has some wild ideas about local radio and calls himself "The Grim Reaper of Radio." He named his company "Insane Broadcasting."

This should be good.

Romanik is not saying what will happen to the two legendary personalities on WIL---Ron Elz and Davey Lee. It would be insane not to keep them if he moves the golden oldies to WIL. Golden oldies is about the only music format that will work on an AM with a weak nighttime signal. Old timers will remember that WIL was a Top 40 station from 1958 until the mid-1960s. It was the home of the great Jack Carney, as well as legendary personalities such as Dan Ingram and Ron Lundy.

Good luck to Todd Manley

I'm not sure why anyone would want this job, but there is a new program director at KTRS (550 AM). Todd Manley replaces Craig Unger, who replaced Al Brady Law. Manley most recently served as assistant program director and creative director of Tribune's WGN in Chicago. He reportedly comes highly recommended by the well-respected Tom Langmyer, former KMOX general manager now VP/GM at WGN. Manley is a Southern Illinois University-Carbondale graduate.

KTRS General Manager Tim Dorsey has a terrible reputation for meddling with program directors. We will have to wait and see if Dorsey does something out of character and lets Manley do his job.

Joe Sonderman is a traffic producer and anchor for Total Traffic, and reporter and on-air personality for KLOU (103.3 FM).
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Title Annotation:am/fm
Author:Sonderman, Joe
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Date:Feb 1, 2008
Words:1348
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