In the big sky country of the Rockies, Federal Communications Commission chief Ajit Pia said he too is going big. Speaking to the Wyoming Association of Broadcasters over the weekend, Pai attributed the fast pace of change he’s bringing since being named chairman to where he sits. “I’m able to take a different approach to broadcasting issues—to all issues, for that matter,” he explained. “As a minority Commissioner, I had to focus on a few specific issues and gradually build support and momentum over time. But when you’re chairman, you have more latitude to go big right off the bat. And it’s a lot more fun to go big.”
Several items with potentially big impact on the radio business are currently on the Commission’s docket, and none has the potential to bring more sweeping change than the pending top-to-bottom review of the FCC’s media regulations. Pai told the crowd gathered in Casper for the WAB’s annual convention that he sees some “ripe candidates for pruning” in the roughly one thousand pages of media rules. “Our goal is clear: We want to figure out how to update our rules to match the realities of today’s media marketplace,” Pai said, urging broadcasters to weigh in with their ideas by the comment filing deadline of July 5. Reply comments are due Aug. 4. “One of the most powerful forces in government is inertia,” he said. “With your help, we can shake up the status quo and relax outdated rules that have been gumming up the works for broadcasters for too long.”
Rather than wait until that proceeding moves along, the FCC has already proposed scaling back main studio requirements that could allow some owners to consolidate their operations into fewer locations. Pai said he became aware that the nearly 80-year-old rules are hampering broadcasters when a Minnesota owner reached out to him and explained that the main studio rule—and the cost to maintain a staff in a nearby town—prevented him from building out a construction permit for a new AM station. “I am optimistic that we can give broadcasters additional flexibility by repealing the main studio rule without sacrificing transparency or community engagement,” he told broadcasters.
Pai also championed the FCC’s AM revitalization efforts, noting nine AM stations in Wyoming—about one in four AMs in the state—have received a license to build a companion FM translator so far. And he encouraged others to take part in the next translator filing window scheduled to open July 26. While Pai said it is a “unique opportunity” to help AM owners, he reiterated that other proposals that are part of the AM revitalization effort remain pending. “I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to move forward on some of them before the end of the year,” he said.
The address to Wyoming broadcasters capped off a 1,600-mile Midwest road trip that earlier had taken Pai through Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota. Along the way he met with a number of broadcasters—and sat for several on-air interviews with local stations.
“Time passes and technology changes, but local broadcasters remain the linchpins of their communities,” he said during his Casper speech. “Local broadcasters are who we turn to when disaster strikes and we are desperate for up-to-the-minute information. Local broadcasters are who we look to for local news and weather. And local broadcasters keep us entertained with everything from the most popular shows and songs to calls of our favorite college and high school sports. It’s shared experiences like these that help bind our communities.”