Who’s Representing The Rest of Us?

It’s all fine and good that iHeartMedia took a separate meeting with FCC Media Bureau chiefs and engineers last week to make sure that Class A AM stations get the best treatment as AM revitalization moves forward—but what about the rest of us? What about the AM stations that have small signals but that reliably serve their individual markets with, using iHeartMedia’s own words, “significant news production and sports programming combined with reliable coverage”?

Most of us have done our share of DXing—twirling the dial for exotic stations in exotic locales (as a kid I was fascinated with some of the live Country shows coming out of Atlanta and Nashville, which I could pick up in Iowa using a pretty good AM receiver)—but it can be argued that the days of the relevance of big-footprint AMs are over, and that it’s time to let those Class D stations, who, for the most part, work very hard to serve communities that the Class A’s are just barely aware of, have their day in the sun—or, should I say, “in the moon.”

When we caught up with Commissioner Ajit Pai at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, one of the things he said was, “WRDN in Durand, Wisconsin, for example, is the only AM broadcaster that’s going to broadcast local high school football games, the only one that’s going to allow the pastor to deliver his sermon to the folks who can’t make it into the pews on Sunday morning. . . In a lot of cases, if AM broadcasters didn’t do it, no one else would.”

It looks like at least one FCC Commissioner has his head on straight. We can say with complete certainty that, say, KSTP in Minneapolis has no interest whatsoever in broadcasting the games of the Durand Panthers—but, with KSTP at 1500 and WRDN at 1430, it may be that the latter station has to protect the former. There’s got to be some reason, after all, that WRDN’s power drops from 2000 Watts during the day to 152 Watts after sundown.

The AM revitalization initiative is an opportunity to correct and, in Commissioner Pai’s words,    “modernize” the injustices suffered by smaller-market radio stations. The last time I looked, we’re living in 2015, not 1940.

And the last time I looked, iHeartMedia still owned some smaller-market radio stations, among them local AMs. But we already know that a VC-driven company like iHeartMedia is all about the money, and they are willing to sacrifice the relative pittances earned by their smaller-market stations to strengthen and indemnify their clear-channel properties, which, even today, are probably throwing off a ton of cash—especially since round after round of cutbacks have maintained profitability while sacrificing the soul of these once-great legendary stations.

I’m all for nostalgia, but not when hard-working small market broadcasters are severely impaired by an anachronistic system. KSTP is in no way serving Durand, Wisconsin, so why should we protect its right to cover that community with its signal?