SUMMARY: As a low-cost, existing, universally available communication system, broadcast radio is unparalleled. It reaches everybody willing to listen. Yet, radio is failing to even begin approaching its promise. Radio could be the engine that drives thousands of successful Internet enterprises—especially local newspapers and local journalism sites. Radio would provide the headlines and push traffic to web sites for deeper information and details. Action by the Federal Communications Commission to re-establish "localism" rules for radio would:
-Create new jobs in broadcast journalism,
-Re-engage local interest in radio, and
-Provide a platform for new journalism models where teams of broadcast journalists supply news and information to websites and traditional radio.
Radio is not serving most local communities as it is obligated to do. Years ago, radio was required to serve the “tastes, wants and needs” of the local community with responsive programming. Until the 1980s when enforcement rules were lifted, station operators could lose their license if they failed to serve their 'communities of license.' But today, in most cities and towns there is no local newsgathering—the basic service a local radio station is best suited to do. The Federal Communications Commission’s own studies show that the American people want radio to return to its local roots. Knowledgeable radio observers cite the moneymaking promise of local news and local music programming. But, nothing will happen without much stronger regulation and enforcement by the FCC.
For both broadcasters and listeners, radio remains the most powerful and most affordable communication tool in the world. Sadly, radio in the United States is in serious decline and may not survive without the help of concerned citizens and government action.
Unlike the Internet, radio is a limited natural resource that needs regulation in order to be shared efficiently and fairly. There is clearly no FCC enforcement of the quid pro quo radio broadcasters owe all American citizens for their use of the public airwaves—news and public affairs programming. For radio, real community involvement begins with the establishment of a serious local newsgathering team comprised of trained journalists. Community calendars, news releases, and public service announcements in the middle of the night are not adequate. Only regular news programming will restore trust and provide the platform for building a new radio model that includes intensive use of the Internet.
In many cities, towns, and rural communities across our nation there is no place at all to go for regularly scheduled local news. There is no truly universal place to turn to for emergency information these days. Radio broadcasting has failed to honestly serve most local communities. Radio station owners will not change without being pushed—even when such a change will keep radio alive, relevant, and economically successful well into the future.
A ready solution is being overlooked:
Should the FCC keep the promise of the Communication Act, enforce localism rules and require that all radio broadcasters offer regularly scheduled local news and public affairs programming, real benefits would follow:
- Local citizens would see real community involvement by broadcasting. This would support Sustainable Broadband Adoption by allowing creation of combined radio/webcast/podcast/video journalism enterprises on a local level that would be economically sustainable.
- Jobs for new journalism graduates and out-of-work journalists would be established.
- National Internet-based newsgathering efforts would be supported by a ready-made network of radio journalists.
- A major boost would be given one the most important of our nation’s founding principles: Providing the means for keeping the public well informed.
There is nothing to stop the FCC from ordering implementation of its “Report on Broadcast Localism and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.” (see FCC MB Docket No. 04-233 released January 24, 2008 at www.fcc.gov).
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