Deregulation of the Radio Broadcast Industry: A Survey of National Radio Broadcasters Association Members
Sims, Judy Rene
Humboldt State University
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The movement to deregulate radio broadcasting began officially in 1981 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a broadcast deregulation order that reduced or eliminated numerous regulations applicable to the commercial broadcast industry. The action to deregulate radio was supported by the FCC’s belief that sufficient competitive forces existed in the marketplace to stimulate diversity and limit abuses. Federal agencies, politicians, interest groups, and radio industry personnel from every side of the political spectrum expressed their views concerning the pros and cons of deregulation. The objective of this research was to learn the attitudes and beliefs of members of the National Radio Broadcasters Association (NRBA), who were owners and/or managers of radio stations in the United States in 1983, regarding deregulation and potential future deregulation of the following rules by the FCC: the Equal Time (Equal Opportunities) Provision, the Fairness Doctrine, the Personal Attack Rule, the Editorializing Rule, the Format Doctrine, the Seven-Station Rule, the One-to-a-Market Rule, the License Renewal Procedure, and News and Public Affairs Programming Guidelines, i.e. elimination of the ''non-entertainment'' (e.g., news) programming requirement. This study also explored how well the broadcast standard and FCC phrase, “public interest, convenience, or necessity” was understood by the respondents. To gather the data, a mail survey questionnaire (30 open and closed-ended questions) about deregulation was sent to approximately 1,200 members of the NRBA nationwide, who were owners and/or managers of radio stations. Data analysis involved “tri-validation” meetings in which three trained assistants discussed and coded the open-ended responses. The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences software was used to compute frequencies and cross-tabulations, a condescriptive procedure was performed on the interval level data, and Chi squares were calculated for all cross-tabulations. Results–based on evidence of a representative sample and a 29% response rate–indicated, for example, a majority of the respondents favored deregulation of the Equal-Time Provision, the Fairness Doctrine, and the Format Doctrine. Among the respondents who favored deregulation of the Fairness Doctrine, the most frequently stated reasons included the view that: (1) the Fairness Doctrine limited creative, aggressive programming of controversial issues and open discussion, (2) there was no need for the Fairness Doctrine as plenty of media existed, and (3) the Fairness Doctrine violated the First Amendment. A majority (85%) of respondents “disagreed” (combined “strongly disagreed” and “disagreed”) that “deregulation will enable those with greater financial resources to dominate and present one-sided views to the American public,” and a plurality (48%) of respondents favored abolishment or deregulation of the Seven-Station (Media Ownership) Rule. Although the FCC eliminated the “non- entertainment” (e.g., news) programming requirement in 1981, results revealed news operations at a majority of the stations had been upgraded through the addition of satellite delivery network news and talk shows in the two years following the deregulatory order. A majority (93%) of respondents “disagreed” (combined “strongly disagreed” and “disagreed”) that “deregulation will diminish or reduce the amount and type of information available to the public.” Regarding the broadcast standard and FCC phrase, “the public interest, convenience, or necessity,” results showed that only 23% of the respondents interpreted the words to mean action done by the broadcaster to address or meet the needs of the public, while approximately 40% of the respondents indicated uncertainty about its meaning. This research revealed views about deregulation from a population–the owners and/or managers of radio stations¬–that had been the focus of little, if any, research on a topic so integrally associated with the everyday operations of radio. This study attempted to capture a moment in the regulatory history of radio broadcasting from an industry that has existed with rules and regulations since its birth. Future research might explore which, if any, rules not deregulated in 1981 were later deregulated; attempts to abandon the public interest standard; the impact on the listening public regarding deregulation of the “non-entertainment” (news) programming requirement; possible future consolidation of media ownership as a result of deregulation; and how, if at all, such consolidation could influence, shape, and ultimately control the type, quality, and amount of civically important information accessible to the vast majority of people. This research provides insight and history to aid in understanding the connection between regulation and deregulation of radio broadcasting in the United States and a vital prerequisite for democracy, a well-informed electorate. (Contains 37 Tables; Chapter Notes; Appendix A: Cover Letter; Appendix B: Questionnaire; Appendix C: Letter from the NRBA; Appendix D: Pilot Study Results; Appendix E: Pilot Study Telephone Survey Questionnaire; and Bibliography).
Federal Communications Commission
National Radio Broadcasters Association
Public interest, convenience, or necessity
License Renewal Procedure
Equal Time Provision
News and Public Affairs Programming
Deregulation of radio broadcasting in 1981
Public interest standard
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