THE SUPREME COURT has taken the FCC out of the business of judging radio station format changes and not a moment too soon. No longer will the FCC be forced to play Solomon to the Sheba of listeners' lobbies and to decide whether a "classical" music station has backslid into less rigorous "fine arts" programming, or whether "rhythm and blues" constitutes" "jazz" by official edit, or even whether "laid back progressive" music is an acceptable alternative to "bubblegum rock."
Such oversight responsibilities ran counter to the FCC's efforts in recent years to deregulate the radio industry entirely. It decided last January, for instance, to free stations from existing constraints on such matters as the total volume of hourly commercials allowed and public affairs programming regulations. We approved of those steps, as we applaud this week's court decision. We remind readers that The Post Company's past ownership of radio stations and continued interest in television remains a matter of record.
The lobbies had argued that radio listerners "are entitled under the First Amendment and the Federal Communications Act of 1934 to diversity on the air," and when a format change "threatens to deny listeners their entitlement," the FCC must "protect that diversity." With almost 9,000 radio stations now broadcasting every conceivable type for format, the industry argued back that it has already achieved "diversity." The court agreed, holding that diversity should be encouraged by the free play of "market forces" and not enforced by administrative sanction.
This is not only preferable; it is just about all that is humanly possible. Consider the alternative for the FCC: to define whether a station's format coincides with its listerners' actual preferences, to determine when a "unique" format has been changed in its essentials and whether those who protest truly represent "listener opinion," and to decide whether the format change affects the goal of "diversity" in an area where dozens of radio stations already compete. Good luck.
The FCC has better uses for its time than protecting the privileges of listerner's lobbies through regulation or even court action. The right to enjoy noncommercial Bach or Brubeck is hardly a constitutional "entitlement."