Restrictions on Moving Radio Stations From Rural to Urban Areas May Be Coming - What's The Potential Impact?

by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
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At the FCC meeting next week, the Commission will be considering an item dealing with radio stations that serve rural areas, and the ability of licensees to make technical modifications to those stations that would change the communities which they serve. While, as we wrote last week, most of the attention of broadcasters has centered on the television issues to be considered at the meeting as the Commission is to begin an inquiry on the retransmission consent process. The rural radio issue poses real concerns for radio operators - especially those contemplating a move of a radio station from a community outside of a metropolitan area to one in a metro. In the name of protecting service to rural areas, the Commission may well restrict minority groups, specialty programmers, and other new entrants from bringing new services to metropolitan areas - permanently entrenching those companies who currently have major market stations as the only competition in those markets. A proposal to protect service to rural areas may well have the impact of decreasing diversity in large markets.

In virtually every large market, there is little or no potential to add new channels for FM service both because of interference protections that need to be accorded to stations in the market and because of protections to stations outside of the market but close enough to be short-spaced to any potential station in the metro area. In some cases, creative engineering has found ways for some of these non-metro stations to be moved into the metropolitan area, or at least close enough to provide some service to those markets. "Move-in stations" have allowed new entrants, some with specialized programming, to provide service to large cities - when such entrants could never afford the price of an existing in-market station, even if one was for sale. Even "rim shots", those move-ins that don't provide full coverage of a metro area, may be very worthwhile for groups with unique formats (religion, Spanish language, and other targeted programming) trying to reach a small audience that is not otherwise going to get service in such markets.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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