It’s simple. Regulation.
As the three or four of you know, I pin the downfall of radio partly on the overregulation of radio and the under-regulation of Facebook.
And if there’s anything we’ve learned from this past week, it’s that:
1. Facebook has massive influence on our American democracy.
2. There aren’t any rules when it comes to Facebook.
There are, however, reams of rules regarding radio. This is because radio is old and mature. It has taken generations to build up an entire industry surrounding the regulation of radio in Washington DC. Many lawyers, accountants, investigators, bureaucrats, agency personnel, lobbyists and more earn a living simply because local radio stations have to comply with a lot of regulation.
This is to me the biggest difference in radio’s ability to compete. We as local radio stations can’t say cuss words. We’re held accountable if someone does cuss on our stations. If someone wants to appear on one of our shows and they’re in the “45-day period” before elections, then all sorts of triggers go into effect.
If some people want to put out info in support of one candidate over another, they have to fill out paperwork. And the federal government specifies what we charge these people to use our airwaves.
The regulation of radio is either
Radio sells ads on the airwaves. We have to sell to political people at the lowest unit price. We have to fill out paperwork and put it in our public files. If a person stops by and wants us to prove to them that we put the stuff in there – and filled it out correctly and were paid the correct price – we have to stop what we’re doing and show it to them. If someone sends a one-sentence complaint to the FCC, we have to pay to investigate ourselves. And if we mess up on investigating ourselves, we could go to jail.
The thought that you could walk into Facebook and ask to see records of what the Russians did on Facebook to influence the 2016 election is laughable. Yet we don’t find it laughable all that these demands and much, much more are made of radio.
Radio = chains.
Facebook = freedom.
Do Friday’s indictments make us any safer (or, as an offshoot, bring us any closer to making it fair for radio)?
A federal grand jury has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for a massive operation intended to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election. US Special Counsel Robert Mueller has accused the defendants of posing as Americans to sway election results.
(The Russians) focused on the US population and operated on social platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube… (Their) strategy included fomenting distrust in US presidential candidates and the US political system.
Notice that the 13 Russians charged in this investigation ignored radio in their quest to control America.
The 800-pound gorilla in the room is Facebook. The Russians know this. They’re smarter than we are. They know what it means when you unleash the wrath of the 800-pound gorilla. And, to be clear, it is an 800-pound gorilla without chains.
Radio, on the other hand, is the docile collie in the corner in a cage.
So I ask this of the three or four of you – if you wanted to sway public opinion by putting out fake information and fake identities, would you go to Facebook or radio?
Your answer would no doubt be – “Radio is dying. I’d go to Facebook. That’s where the action is.”
This is true. Radio is dying. That’s the whole point of this blog. I am the local radio guy. I know that if regulation stays the way it is, there will be no more of me left at some point. I record My Radio Life as a historical document.
But after you accept that radio is dying, ask why.
Sure, radio is one-way communication for the most part. I talk on the radio at 5:30 in the morning. You listen on your way to work. You might call in, text me, Facebook Live comment or email me. But in the end, it’s not nearly as easy to interact with me as it is to interact with each other on Facebook.
As it stands, radio is an inferior way of communicating. I have told the three or four of you of some of the ways to improve radio, but it all goes back to regulation.
Radio is, as I tell the three of you a lot, good and pure and beautiful. Facebook is quickly turning to be full of hate. And, as we saw on Friday, Facebook may be becoming a threat to our American democracy. There is, of course, a middle ground. We can loosen up radio and tighten up Facebook. It may be the only way to safeguard our democracy and, as a parochial interest, make radio great again.