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Chriss Scherer Scherer has been the editor of Radio magazine since 1997. His experience in radio includes work as chief engineer at stations in Cleveland (WMMS-FM, WHK-AM, WZJM-FM, WJMO-AM...more

Archive for May 18th, 2009

Shortened license renewal?

That’s what FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps wants.

In an address during the Free Press Summit on May 14, Copps dropped something of a bomb on broadcasters when he said that he wants to reform the license renewal process. From his speech:

If old media is going to be with us a while still, what implications does this have for us? It means we still need to get serious about defining broadcasters’ public interest obligations and reinvigorating our license renewal process. Since we still need broadcasters to contribute to the democratic dialogue, we need clear standards that can be fairly but vigorously enforced. It is time to say good-bye to postcard renewal every eight years and hello to license renewals every three years with some public interest teeth.

I understand that many thoughtful people are ready to give up on the public interest. They would rather just impose a spectrum fee on broadcasters and be done with it. I’m not ready to throw in the towel. The public interest standard is like a grand old theater that has been badly neglected over the years. The structure is sound, and with a little imagination and a lot of hard work we can make it a showplace once again.

I’m all for ensuring the public interest is met by broadcasters. There are limited licenses, so the spectrum is valuable. It should be treated like a valuable resource. However, juke box radio stations thrive according to ratings, so there is obviously some public interest being shown.

I get the feeling that Copps has the view that every consumer is actively involved in every detail of social and political events, and that radio should be just as active in covering the details. There are some listeners who want that, but it seems obvious that most listeners are happy to turn on the radio and hear something akin to what is already available. (What each market has may not be perfect, I know.)

Public interest is always a compromise. Public appeal is the counterbalance.

So Copps wants to end the postcard renewal and make it a process with some teeth. I can imagine that will involve much more paperwork. And if it’s shortened to three years, more paperwork more often.

Perhaps Copps will get his wish. I think most stations could handle increased filing requirements. The question is, can the FCC handle the new workload of reviewing and granting the revised renewal application process in a timely and efficient manner?

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