Will FCC Shut Down Your Main Studio?

The FCC (represented here by this official photograph of Chairman Ajit Pai) has released a tentative agenda for its October 24 Open Meeting — included in the festivities is a controversial vote on eliminating the 78-year-old Main Studio Rule that requires every AM, FM and television station to maintain a main studio located in or near its community of license (Report and Order — MB Docket No. 17-106). Along with that is a proposal “to eliminate existing requirements associated with our main studio rule, including the requirement that the main studio have fulltime management and staff present during normal business hours, and that it have program origination capability.”

The Commission first adopted its main studio requirements back in 1939 to ensure that stations would be accessible and responsive to their communities. As the document reads, “However, a local main studio is no longer needed to fulfill these purposes. Broadcast stations’ transition from local public inspection files, maintained at the station’s main studio, to an online file hosted by the Commission will be almost entirely complete by March 2018, and thus the need for community members to visit a station’s local main studio to access its public inspection file is quickly becoming a relic of the past. Similarly, broadcast stations now interact with their communities of license online, and technology enables them to produce local news even without a nearby studio.

The document goes on to claim that, “Additionally, the record shows that eliminating the main studio rule will produce substantial benefits. Broadcasters will be able to redirect the significant costs associated with complying with the main studio rule to programming, equipment upgrades, newsgathering, and other services to the benefit of consumers. Repealing the rule will also encourage the launch of new broadcast stations in small towns and rural areas and help prevent existing stations in those areas from going dark. This Report and Order removes requirements that are now outdated and unnecessarily burdensome for broadcast stations.”