The Federal Communications Commission, in a major industry victory, yesterday voted to deregulate major portions of the nation's radio broadcast industry.
The commission, by a 6-to-1 margin, voted to:
Allow a station to play as many commercials in an hour as it wants.
Eliminate specific time requirements for public affairs programming.
End rules requiring stations to survey the needs of their community.
Lift complex rules requiring them to "log" all their programs.
"No longer will radio broadcasters be required to follow empty governmentally required procedures and compile stacks of paperwork," said commission Chairman Charles Ferris. "Instead they will be able to follow their own path in determining how to serve their community's needs and interests in ways that reflect the realities of today's radio markets."
The radio deregulation decision, which followed nearly a year and a half of study, could be the final piece of Ferris' deregulation efforts, which have included major revisions in the FCC regulation of the telephone, satellite and cable television industries. The Reagan administration is expected to replace Ferris.
The decision, which effects the nation's 9,000 radio stations, was promptly hailed by the to official of the broadcasting industry's lobbying arm, the National Association of Broadcasters, as a "turning point in the history of broadcast regulation."."
At the same time, the Media Access Group, a citizens organization acting on behalf of the United Church of Christ immediately asked the U.S. Court of Appeals here to review the decision. Andrew Schwartzman, the group's executive director, labeled the decision "unjust, unsupportable and unlawful.
"This is a sad day for minorities, women, the poor, religious groups and other working people who have relied on the FCC to make sure that radio stations meet the needs of listeners they service," Schwartzman said.
The action of the Media Access Group was the first volley in what is likely to be a series of protracted legal and regulatory hurdles for yesterday's FCC action. In addition to the court test, which is likely to be followed by action by other petitioners, the initiative also will face reconsideration by the commission, the decision becomes effective 30 days after it is printed in the Federal Register.
Sen. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, last month had asked the FCC to delay major actions until the Reagan administration takes power.But in a second letter to Ferris, released yesterday by Packwood's office, Packwood said the FCC should proceed "now to deregulate radio."
The agency lifted rules that required 8 percent of an AM radio station's on-the-air time and 6 percent of an FM radio station's programming to be "non-entertainment" programming. In addition, the commission ended an 18-minute-per-hour restriction on advertising.
Instead, the commission replaced the restrictions with a revised standard that the panel said emphasizes a licensees' meeting the "public interest" standard of the Communications Act, while simultaneously programming for more select efforts.
The aim of the effort is to offer broadcasting diversity, even if that means a station finds it can succeed by offering nonstop commercials and little news programming. "What this could do is basically create an all-commercial station," said Richard Shiben, chief of the FCC's broadcast bureau.
The commission, armed with NAB data that indicate the overwhelming majority of stations do not offer the 18 minutes of commercials, said market pressure from audiences, advertisers and station owners will prevent dramatically incrased commercial loads.
The commission appeared to be heading toward a unanimous vote on the radio proposal until Commissioner Tyrone Brown objected to a key section of the new regulations which spelled out rules under which radio station operators would be obligated to present a list of their public service programming efforts to the public and the FCC.
The list is critically important because it could serve as the basis for the FCC's renewing the licenses of station owners. Although Brown had expected the list of 10 items to be a compilation of local programming efforts, the commission staff, with the apparent support of the other six FCC members, wrote the regulation to indicate that news and public affairs programming carried, but not produced by the particular station, would belong on the list.
"I was willing to reduce the amount of documentation, if the commission would make clear that the bottom line is that radio stations are local outlets for the expression of local needs and interests," Brown said in an interview. "It came down to something I could not compromise to."