Efforts to pass legislation that would require carmakers to keep AM radio in their dashboards continue to build support in Washington, and several lawmakers are urging the Federal Commissions Commission that it should do what it can to help in that effort.
“Virtually every public safety expert has attested AM radio is critical to our emergency warning infrastructure and that moving AM receivers from cars could put millions at risk,” said Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA) during an FCC oversight hearing last week.
Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) said radio’s role is especially critical during disasters. “AM radio is very important during hurricanes in Florida,” he said. “I've literally gotten in my car to get information because everything else went down. It’s very important to keep access to AM radio.”
The FCC has had a limited role so far in the debate over whether AM radio remains in vehicles, although several commissioners have said they support efforts to keep it in dashboards.
“There’s no backup right now,” Commissioner Nathan Simington said. “There's no alternative to AM radio for many important types of emergency communication. And until there is, it makes sense to leave it in cars,” he told the Communications and Technology Subcommittee.
The proposed AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act (H.R.3413) has the backing of 192 House members and 44 Senators, where the bill has already passed out of committee. No votes have been taken in the House, but during a hearing on the bill in June there was strong support for keeping AM radio in vehicles.
Support For Local Journalism Proposal
Several lawmakers also expressed support for a proposal that FCC Chair Jennifer Rosenworcel circulated among the commissioners last month that looks to incentivize broadcasters to invest in local news. It would do that by prioritizing the FCC’s processing of applications for license renewal or station sales filed by radio and television stations that provide locally originated programming.
“If a station that comes before us for a license renewal has a capacity for the local origination of content – in other words, produce local content and local journalism – we would put them at the head of the line in all kinds of FCC license renewal processes,” Rosenworcel said. “We’ve got to find ways to prioritize the production of that local news and information and content. And that is one way.”
Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) said she is encouraged by the effort to support local journalism and broadcasters committed to their community. “Local programming – this is especially relevant as studies show that trust in news is driven by the belief that news organizations report with honest intentions and are reliable, yet more than twice as many Americans report high emotional trust in local news, rather than in national news,” she said.
Rosenworcel agreed, saying the FCC needs to find ways to support the production of “shoe leather journalism” at the local level, explaining the proposal is modeling off of something the agency did earlier as a way to grow children’s television programming.
“It's important that we find creative ways to support local news,” Rosenworcel said. “The news business is changing. Newspapers and local broadcasters are now the voice that most people trust. And we all need local news to make decisions about our lives, our communities, and our country.”
EEO Changes Still In The Works
Critics of broadcast consolidation have tied ownership consolidation to less news on the radio airwaves. Nothing was shared during the three-hour hearing about where things stand in the two open quadrennial media ownership proceedings, but Commissioner Geoffrey Starks confirmed that the FCC is still looking at ways it will be able to restart the collection of data from stations on their employees.
The FCC has not collected annual employee reports (Form 395-B) from stations since 2004 when agency lawyers raised unconstitutionality concerns about quizzing broadcasters about the race and gender of their workers. The Commission launched a rulemaking in 2021 (MB Docket No. 98-204) that was designed to kickstart a return.
“That is an issue where we have fallen down on our statutory obligation to collect that information for over 20 years now, and that is something that I know the FCC is working on,” Starks said.
The agency released ownership diversity data in January, showing little has changed in the quarter century since media ownership caps were changed, and in some cases the numbers have gotten worse. Nearly eight in ten commercial radio and television stations are majority-owned by men and 93% are majority-owned by Whites.
“There continues to be work to be done,” Starks said.