By Shel Lustig
DES PLAINES, Ill. — Running any business during the COVID pandemic is challenging, but how can radio stations continue to engage, educate, and entertain their listeners and meet FCC requirements for public affairs programming? While it may not seem as easy as in “pre-pandemic” times, radio stations have a viable option.
Local radio stations have a time-and-money saving option for public affairs programming
According to Business Insider, radio advertising dollars in the U.S. may have declined by as much as 25% in 2020. While some experts expect radio advertising to rebound in 2021, no one can predict what the coming year has in store for radio advertising revenue. Most stations will probably continue to operate as lean as possible — not only because of lower revenues but because of being highly leveraged. Continuing staff cuts are on the table and many employees will remain working from home.
Savvy radio operators have discovered syndicated public affairs programming, a tactic that not only saves money but also saves time by including the quarterly reports the FCC requires stations to upload four times a year.
Syndicated public affairs programs provide radio stations relevant programming that satisfies their compliance requirements. What other advantages does syndicated programming offer?
- Saves money. Syndicated programming’s self-contained barter structure, most importantly, means that local stations have no cash expense.
- Can be completely automated. FTP delivery means that your station’s automation can automatically download each weekly program so that it’s hands-free.
- Saves time. At the end of each quarter, subscribers/affiliates need only drag-and-drop their report into the FCC website.
Fortunately, FCC regulations for reporting public affairs programming don’t have time-consuming requirements
Remarkably, the requirements are few. The major requirement is to upload the quarterly report on time to the FCC’s database. The report requires two major pieces of information:
- Provide information on local problems and issues
- Explain the station’s programming that addressed these issues
In the past, stations had to maintain a paper file at their studio. Now, however, every station’s quarterly report is available in the Online Public Inspection File (OPIF), making it available to anyone and everyone.
While the FCC’s filing requirements are minimal, it expects stations to be good stewards of the public trust in exchange for the privilege of maintaining their license.
There is no mandate that public affairs programming be locally sourced
Some stations may believe that covering “local issues and local problems” necessitates that the programming be produced locally. However, being locally sourced is not the intent of the FCC’s mandate for public affairs programming. The greater part of most communities’ local issues are ones that impact virtually every community — issues like unemployment, the pandemic, social justice, education, accessibility to childcare, and healthcare. The FCC’s mandate is that every station address “issues” that are important to their community and does not require that the programming be produced “in-house.”
Saving time and money during the pandemic is important today and will remain so throughout 2021. Using syndicated public affairs to fulfill FCC requirements is just one way to accomplish this. By allocating staff time and resources to producing daily, high-quality programming rather than the production of public affairs, stations can focus on programming aspects that drive higher revenues. This will allow them to hire and retain those all-important local personalities that keep listeners engaged and coming back.
Shel Lustig is co-founder and president of MediaTracks Communications. His company has been producing and syndicating award-winning public affairs programs for more than 30 years. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 847-299-9500.