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bicyclists blasted a radio program that encouraged drivers  Ted Ledbetter
 Oct 23, 2003 08:43 PDT 


Entertainment - Reuters Industry

FCC Hears Complaints, Praises About Local Radio, TV

Wed Oct 22, 9:22 PM ET

By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Carolina residents aired their complaints and praises on Wednesday about local television and radio stations while broadcasters defended commitments to their communities during the first of several nationwide federal hearings about local stations' public service.

Local musicians griped about getting music on the air while bicyclists blasted a radio program that encouraged drivers to run them off the road. But community activists praised stations for informing listeners and aiding fund-raising drives.

The Federal Communications Commission (news - web sites) went to Charlotte on its first stop of its review of how local stations serve their local communities amid complaints about diminishing local reporting, community service and crass programming.

The hearings coincide with stations seeking renewal of their broadcast licenses, which happens every eight years and often can become a battle over the programming. The agency is now weighing renewals for stations in the mid-Atlantic area.

"That owner is legally obligated to serve the local community," FCC (news - web sites) Chairman Michael Powell (news) said. "This inquiry here seeks to examine if that is happening, and if not, to consider the actions the commission might take, including potentially not renewing an owner's broadcast license."

Broadcasters told the three attending commissioners that they reach out to the communities, reporting about local politics and events, telling listeners about emergency situations like hurricanes, airing local artists and conducting public services such as blood drives.

"We have invited a lot of local artists to perform at some of our local events," said Debbie Kwei, general manager of WCHH-FM in Harrisburg, N.C., a Radio One Inc. station.

One local resident at the packed hearing noted that a Charlotte station owned by Clear Channel Communications Inc., held a four-day fund-raising drive for a local hospital helping children, raising $900,000 over the last three years.

The hearing coincides with a fierce debate over recently eased ownership limits of television and radio stations. The FCC permitted television networks to buy more local stations and media conglomerates would be able to own a newspaper, television station and some radio outlets in a market.

Country music singer Tift Merritt (news) complained about getting her songs on the air, arguing that radio stations find ways of squeezing payments from her to broadcast her songs and that localism and ownership are inextricably tied.

"The airwaves serve the public, not a corporate bottom line," she said. "Any conversation about localism without regard to media ownership is absolutely avoiding the heart of this issue and certainly cannot render a fair solution."

Several Raleigh, N.C. residents also excoriated a recent broadcast on a local station owned by Clear Channel, the biggest U.S. radio conglomerate, during which they said on-air personalities urged listeners to run bicyclists off the road.

"Our enforcement bureau did receive complaints at the end of September and is looking at that matter," Powell said. A company official was not immediately available for comment.

It was not immediately clear whether the FCC could take action against the Raleigh station however. The agency typically only acts on indecent and obscene broadcasts.

The FCC enforcement bureau recently proposed a $357,500 fine for a show aired on Infinity Broadcasting stations during which on-air personalities challenged listeners to have sex in public places to win a trip to Boston.

The agency's next hearing is slated for December in San Antonio, Texas, which happens to be where Clear Channel is headquartered.


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