The FCC will consider abolishing the main studio rule, according to a draft order released this week.
The rule requires broadcast stations to maintain a main studio in close proximity to its city of license that is open to the public, and that it be staffed during normal business hours. It has been in place since 1939.
According to a release from the WBA’s DC Counsel, David Oxenford, “The FCC’s draft order determines that, in today’s modern world, where much communication with broadcasters is done by phone or electronically, and as stations either have or soon will have their public files available online, there was no longer any need to maintain the rule mandating the main studio.”
The FCC order would also eliminate the requirement that the station have staff members available at that studio. Instead, stations would have to maintain a toll-free number accessible to residents of the station’s city of license. That number must be answered during normal business hours of the station – but the person answering the phone line need not be in the city of license.
The FCC also would eliminate local program origination obligations. Station owners would no longer need to have a physical presence in their community where they can originate programming.
“The FCC said that technology allows stations to put callers on the air from anywhere, and even to do video through Skype and other similar technology providers,” Oxenford said. “Stations do, however, still need to serve their communities.” The stations would still have to maintain Quarterly Issues Programs lists.
Stations that have fully transitioned to the online public file would no longer need to keep any physical documents in their communities of license, under the draft order. But stations that have not yet made that transition must maintain a paper public file in their city of license until all of the documents required to be in the file are transitioned to the online public file.
“The file must be maintained at a location in their community of license that is open during normal business hours (e.g. a public library or an office for some local business),” Oxenford said. “Small market stations can transition to the online public file now (they need not wait until March 1), so they can eliminate the need to maintain a paper public file in their community if they decide to eliminate their main studio once this rule is adopted and becomes effective.”
Oxenford said that even for stations that transition to the online public file, there may be some residual paper file obligations.
The draft order will be on the agenda at the FCC’s Oct. 24 meeting. If adopted, the rule changes would go into effect when they are published in the Federal Register, except for the rules dealing with the public file. Those rules will be effective upon their approval by the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act.
“While the changes may allow broadcasters to recognize significant cost savings, we reiterate the FCC’s warning that stations, no matter the physical source from which their programming originates, need to remember that they still have an obligation to serve the interests of their communities,” Oxenford said.
“Public interest groups will, no doubt, be watching – so broadcasters beware.”