A symbol of Yankee independence lost a round at the Federal Communications Commission the other day. Simon Geller owns and operates station WVCA-FM in Gloucester, Mass. In fact, Simon Geller is WVCA-FM: he runs his station entirely alone from his home. He manages to broadcast 44 hours a week and--here's the catch-- his programming is devoted almost entirely to classical music. Folks in Gloucester have been tuning in for 18 years and appear to be content with this format. If they want to hear news, interviews, educational programs or call in-shows, they can turn the dial to a number of Boston stations whose signals are received in Gloucester.
But a license to broadcast is a valuable asset, and it was probably inevitable that one day a corporation would come along to compete for the WVCA license. Sure enough, the Grandbanke Corp., whose principals own licenses in two other New England towns, contested Mr. Geller's application for renewal and won. Grandbanke promised to devote 16.9 percent of its broadcast week to news, 55 percent of which will be local and regional.
The FCC, in deciding on a license renewal application, starts with a presumption in favor of the license holder. The commission then considers a number of factors including diversification of ownership, integration of ownership with management, and programming. Clearly, Mr. Geller was ahead on the first two criteria: unlike Grandbanke, he owns no other outlets in the area, and his one-man operation had complete integration of ownership and management.
But the commissioners held that the purpose of assessing diversification and integration is to ensure balanced news and public affairs programming. They decided to shift the license. Commissioners Washburn and Quello dissented, arguing that Grandbanke had not demonstrated that the people of Gloucester either need or desire more news on the radio. The decision will be appealed.
Whatever the courts eventually decide about the correct standards for the FCC to use in license renewal cases, many people--even those in the news business--will lament the passing of Mr. Geller's one-man enterprise. He has been providing something rare and satisfying to listeners who have a full menu of other stations and other programs to choose from. There ought to be room on the crowded radio dial for one station that will not tell us about war, recession and snow days, and will offer only soothing symphonies and sonatas.