What? No Main Studio Rule?

Posted on April 27th, 2017 by

The word used by Chairman Pai at the NAB convention to discuss his intentions for the existing clunky and expensive main studio rule was “eliminate.” Whether that will occur remains to be seen, but at the May 2017 FCC meeting, the Commission is set to apparently initiate a notice of some kind considering changes to, and perhaps elimination of the main studio rule.

Some form of the rule requiring broadcasters to maintain a main studio in or near their community of license has existed since before World War II. So the rule is beyond vintage and has achieved “ancient” status. Sure, it has been relaxed a few times, allowing stations more flexibility. But it is a dinosaur in the internet age. And even though the rule allows for waivers for both commercial and noncommercial stations, only noncom waivers are ever granted. Despite the plain language of the rule that commercial stations can request such waivers, the FCC staff fully rejects any such request. We know. We’ve tried, more than once. You’d think we would have expressed a heresy or sacrilege given the cold and unmoving responses received.

So, the idea that this rule might die makes our eyes bulge and simultaneously look in different directions. Frankly, any significant relaxation of it would be welcome.

The part that most excites us is that elimination of the main studio rule would seemingly take along with it the requirement that stations maintain two full-time employees at the station during normal business hours to achieve a “meaningful presence.” That’s not in the rule itself, but was born out of an FCC decision to fine a station, and has been enforced like a rule for nearly two decades. It is costly and silly today to require a main studio or meaningful presence, when stations can be reached by phone, email, social media, or direct message, and respond as necessary. And the public file will be online for all stations by March 2018, so the now vacuous concept of having someone available to show the public a document in the public file won’t be a justification for the main studio anymore.

We’re as curious as you are to see where this goes. Updates to follow.