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Music Coalitions File Reply Comments with the FCC Opposing Relaxed Radio Ownership Rules

30 May 2019

musicFIRST, Future of Music Coalitions Align with Broad Array of Organizations and Broadcasters Opposing Media Consolidation

Coalitions Call on the FCC to Examine Whether Past Consolidation Efforts Have Led to Fewer Viewpoints Conveyed Via Song, Particularly by Women and People of Color

Washington, D.C. (May 30, 2019) – In reply comments filed with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), the musicFIRST and Future of Music Coalitions reaffirmed their strong opposition to a proposal supported by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) that would weaken radio ownership rules, resulting in fewer choices, less diversity of content and voices on the air, and less localism for AM/FM listeners across the country.

In their latest filing, the coalitions cited and aligned with comments from a wide array of public interest and civil-rights groups, broadcasters and individuals that similarly oppose relaxed local ownership rules. Organizations that have spoken out against the NAB’s proposal include Free Press, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, the MultiCultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, as well as many broadcasters.

The comments to the Commission come as the NAB and many of its members are aggressively lobbying the FCC to loosen Local Radio Station Ownership caps as part of the FCC’s 2018 Quadrennial Regulatory Review (MB Docket 18-349). The Coalitions’ reply comments can be found here.

Under the NAB’s proposal, single broadcast entities would be able to own or control up to eight commercial FM stations and have unlimited ownership of AM stations in the top 75 Nielsen Audio markets. The NAB’s proposal would also allow broadcasters to enjoy unlimited ownership in Nielsen markets outside of the top 75 and in unrated markets.

In the reply comments filed, the musicFIRST and Future of Music Coalitions state that “a broad cross-section of AM/FM radio broadcasters with diverse viewpoints and music offerings have filed initial comments in this Quadrennial Review proceeding, specifically requesting that the Commission not expand the number of AM/FM radio stations that can be owned in local markets in the U.S., and also requesting that the Commission not eliminate or relax AM/FM subcaps within terrestrial radio clusters. We agree with these broadcasters that if the Commission were to further deregulate AM/FM radio station ownership at local market levels during this Quadrennial Review, significant harms should be expected to befall currently competing radio broadcasters as well as the listeners they serve.”

The Coalitions also took the opportunity in the reply comments to expand their analysis of playlists of a group of country radio stations that were sold from Citadel to Cumulus in 2011. After analyzing year-end Mediabase data for these stations from 2008 to 2018, the Coalitions discovered clear (and thus far a permanent) reduction of playlists on these stations immediately following the sale of this group of stations to Cumulus. Each song played on the radio represents a message, and as playlists were reduced in the wake of this ownership consolidation, the number of voices, literally and figuratively, was significantly reduced.

The Coalitions also found that the total combined distinct songs performed by female artists on these stations were reduced by a whopping 34.7% after the sale. Female artists (and therefore female perspectives) on these stations were already underrepresented before the sale, and have been even further underrepresented since the sale.

“Our initial Comment argued that any analysis of viewpoint diversity within the music radio realm must include a discussion of music lyrics as viewpoints, and that any reduction in the number of songs and artists in the wake of ownership consolidation must be viewed as harm to viewpoint diversity, and not just to program diversity,”said the Coalitions in the filing. “We asked the Commission to conduct studies on correlations between past consolidation of AM/FM ownership and subsequent contractions of affected stations’ playlists. We specifically repeat that request now. The Commission has the resources to request and obtain such data on a broad scale, analyze it and make it public.” 

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