It's 8:47 on a Tuesday morning and I just did a radio show then went and had breakfast. On the way back into the studios here at the Purdue Northwest Commercialization Center I ran into two guys who are waiting to go on the air. They were just on the Mike Rowe Show, which, if I'm not mistaken, only airs on Facebook Live. Imagine that.
There's a couple of things affecting radio these days that I should probably talk about. Even though this blog is supposed to be mostly about radio, I often wander into topics that don't have anything to do with radio, including my bowel movements and the general history of the Calumet Region.
I just finished a 45-minute interview with former Gary mayor Richard G. Hatcher, by the way. It's the 50th anniversary of him getting elected as mayor of that fine city. People hated each other back then... blacks and whites, that is. Hatcher told about how the local Democratic party supported the white Republican for mayor and that Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Hubert Humphrey stepped in or Hatcher wouldn't have made it.
See how people are.
Anyways, the FCC is getting rid of the home studio rule for radio stations. Up until now, if you bought a radio station in an area, you had to maintain a studio, a full-time engineer, and a general presence in the area. Those were the rules. Now, if I'm reading it correctly, you can buy a station in an area and never go there. You don't have to have a building in the area where the station is. All you have to do is have a local phone number or an 800 number so it doesn't cost local people to call you. Here's why, according to one attorney:
"Technological innovations have rendered a local studio unnecessary as a means for viewers and listeners to communicate with or access their local stations and to carry out the other traditional functions that a local studio has served."
This is huge. As the three or four of you who read my blog may know, we used to own WIMS AM 1420 in Michigan City, Indiana. That's about 40 miles from where I'm sitting and you really don't need to have a studio and personnel there. We could have run it from here. But partly because of the "Main Studio Rule," we got rid of the station. Maybe we'll buy it back one day now that we don't have to be there.
Here's the general question - what will happen now that you don't have to establish and maintain a "main studio" in the area where your radio station is? Will radio syndicates buy up all of the stations and local radio as we know it will die off?
I don't know the answer to this, but it's all the more reason for me to write a blog called "My Radio Life." I want the three or four of you now and maybe seven or eight people in 50 years to know what it's like to live a life of local radio. It's going away or at least changing dramatically. What I do, which is talk on my own radio station and then go work out, will probably not be possible in 10 years. Mark my words.
Another development is elimination of the cross ownership rule. The FCC evidently is set to discuss this on November 16th, 2017, which is in a few days. Right now, you really can't own a newspaper and radio station in the same market. It's a vestige from days gone by when you didn't want one rich fat cat owning all of the media in a market.
This situation, of course, has changed. Now, if you're the owner of Facebook or Google, the two of you actually have a larger market capitalization than all broadcasting companies combined. And there's a lot of broadcast companies.
If the FCC acts how it should, by the end of the month you could buy both the local radio station and the main local pay newspaper.
I say "pay newspaper" because I used to own the main local radio station here in northwest Indiana, which I still do, along with the main local community newspaper. That was a lot of work, by the way, but what it really taught me is that you could own a newspaper and a radio station in the same market - as long as you never charged anyone to buy your newspaper. I owned the Calumet Press, which for as long as it was in existence was a free newspaper. When Billy Baker and I bought it, it had 85,000 circulation. We cut it down to 50,000 and ran it for three years. That was a blog and a book in itself.
The best business decision I ever made was to close The Calumet Press. Look what's happened to newspapers since.
But the question remains - and it's a similar question to that asked above - If the cross ownership prohibition goes away, will newspaper companies buy up local radio stations and have a monopoly on the market?
Maybe. I would. When we bought The Calumet Press, we moved it into the building with WJOB and ran both of them together. It was quite the energy in the building when we were putting a 36-page paper to rest at the same time the radio newspeople were covering a big chase or an indictment.
Owning the paper and the radio stations, you could often take a newspaper reporter and ask her to go out and cover a groundbreaking for the radio. And vice versa. Radio hosts wrote columns. I certainly did. You should read them some time.
What's happening right now really should just be the start. In other words, it's possible that the only real thing that the FCC should be doing is to make sure that the emergency broadcasting system works well. It's called EAS - the Emergency Alert System. There's other emergency communications that we have to make sure that we have, but the EAS is most important. Beyond that, there really shouldn't be really any regulation at all.
Here's why. Say you want to say something that has a cuss word in it. You go to Facebook with that comment. Facebook wins.
If there was no regulation, you could also take that comment to radio.
Also, say you want to buy an ad to promote a specific political opinion. You could go to Facebook and just buy advertising. Simple. Just ask the Russians in the 2016 election.
But if you want to do the same on radio, you'll encounter a whole bunch of paperwork that you have to fill out and a whole bunch of rules that you have to follow. If you don't follow the rules, you'll be in violation of FCC statutes and you can maybe even go to prison. I have a really long story about how I found all of this out, but let's not get the FCC mad at me. They still hold all of the cards when it comes to local radio.
Here's how I look at it. Radio has to become part of the social media equation to remain viable. I believe that radio can, but the shackles would have to be lifted. There's no other way. If you carry shackles around your ankles, you can't run nearly as fast as someone who doesn't have those shackles. Radio has shackles. Facebook doesn't. I'm accept this arrangement, but in the end I'd really like to see what would happen if the rules were lifted and we were able to compete with the internet on an even playing field. Would we be able to? It's at least worth a chance to find out.
3. Another thing happening in radio - maybe it's a minor thing, maybe it's not - is that you can buy a .radio for your radio station. It's being administered by the European Broadcasting Union. If you are a terrestrial radio station, you can buy your call letters with the .radio behind it. I don't know if this is gonna make much of a difference in the whole scheme of things... but I applied to get WJOB.radio. I had to pay in pounds. I sure as hell hope no one else stole it from under us already.
What would WJOB.radio mean as a TLD (top-level domain)? I don't really know. But it might make it easier for us to organize our media offerings. Really, when it comes down to it, we do radio and we do TV. Going forward, I'm thinking of organizing our things on the webs as such:
WJOB.radio - this is where all audio goes like the live AM and FM radio stream, podcasts, and online radio streams. What I'm thinking of doing is to create not just one radio station that plays over terrestrial airwaves and happens to stream on the web. I'm thinking of creating several streams. More on this some other time.
JED.tv - This is where all things video would go, especially all of the Facebook Live stuff we do.
Radio and video finally organized because some bureaucrats in Munich decided to put .radio out on the market as a TLD.
That's enough for now. Usually I just like to blog for my own sake so that I can figure out what to do next. But I thought you and I should talk a little about some of the developments in the industry. What's happening is is that the walls are breaking down. And that's a good thing. Is it it too little, too late? Maybe.