Wednesday the FCC announced that it’s dropping from Friday’s open meeting an item addressing non-commercial radio stations’ ability to fundraise on-air for other non-profit organizations. The item appears to deal with stations raising money for efforts like disaster relief. But, as I wrote earlier this month, this rulemaking might also address non-commercial stations being operated in a so-called local marketing agreement (LMA), since current rules seem to prevent the organization leasing a station from raising operating funds on air, such as with a pledge drive.
The Commission did not issue any explanation for why the non-commercial fundraising item was deleted from Friday’s agenda. Often such a deletion is accompanied in short order by a proposed rulemaking, typically indicating that there was no substantial disagreement amongst the commissioners. Other times an item is deleted for the simple reason that the commissioners want more time to deal with the rest of the agenda. This latter explanation is quite plausible given that an agenda item proposing TV broadcasters put their public inspection files online has generated quite a bit of resistance from the broadcast industry.
In a very short piece Multichannel News cites an unnamed source indicating that the commissioners will simply vote on and approve the proposed rulemaking proceeding before Friday’s meeting.
Supporters of former college station KUSF, in particular, were watching for this rulemaking since the station is still owned by the University of San Francisco while being operated by the Classical Public Radio Network as the parties await FCC approval of the sale to CPRN. Playing it safe, the CPRN has not been fundraising on KUSF. However, a loosening of fundraising rules might clear the way for CPRN to conduct fund drives on stations it operates, but doesn’t own.
Such a move could spur an increase in non-commercial LMAs, perhaps giving some non-commercial station owners an attractive alternative to selling their frequencies. LMAs could be more desirable for non-commercial networks and programmers, too, potentially carrying less cost and complexity than buying stations outright. It’s unclear whether this would be good or bad for college radio, since it might give cash-strapped colleges another rationale to dump student programming in favor of bringing in revenue. At the same time, LMAs are just contracts that can expire or be cancelled, while a sale is permanent.
We’ll be watching our inboxes Thursday and Friday waiting to find out if the FCC has a proposal in store before the meeting.