In 1934 the FCC instituted a rule that a radio station had to have a main studio within its transmission area that also had to be accompanied by a full-time staff during business hours. While this rule might have been a boon to local radio for much of the last century, it’s been somewhat of a burden on stations in recent years in the age of station groups, where local facilities and staff are no longer needed. That’s why the FCC has voted to eliminate the “Main Studio” rule.
Many industry figures lament the fact that this will help put the final nail in local radio’s coffin, but radio futurist James Cridland sees it instead as an opportunity. Cridland writes that small radio stations need to maintain a studio and business facilities help to stunt their growth, which meant that they were not able to spend money on programming, which has led to a long slow death spiral for many small stations.
Now unburdened by the need for local facilities, a station can instead invest in better, more relevant programming and be part of a network more easily able to score national advertising, rather than subsist on low-rate local advertisers.
This may be only too true, but the problem I have is that local radio for many years had been the lifeblood of new music. Small stations have broken big hits because the local jock (using the local studio) had the freedom to play songs that weren’t on an official corporate playlist. They were also free to play music from local talent, some who eventually broke out nationally.
When you eliminate its studio facilities, a station ceases to be local, which further homogenizes the product.
There was a day when driving cross-country was fun simply for the different flavors of radio that you’d hear in virtually every territory. Now it pretty much all sounds the same, since the playlist is generated by a central program director. Is it any wonder why music radio is losing badly to only music services in terms of music discovery?
The main studio rule may make economic sense, but eliminating it strikes at the heart of why radio was great in the first place.