Wherever the FCC seems to intrude, the upshot can be described in two words: Fewer voices. Under the guidance of Michael Powell, the guiding purpose of the agency seems to be to advance the cause of oligopoly. Why shouldn’t a single company control both the only newspaper in town as well as the principal TV station? What’s wrong with the proliferation of duopolies? Why should broadcasters be barred from reaching more than 35% of the national audience? Reduced competition will bring economic strength and better programming. Or so Powell says.
One offshoot of FCC policy has triggered the disappearance of many public radio stations around the country, to be replaced by strident evangelical broadcasters. The FCC is allowing the evangelicals’ full power FM stations to legally eliminate low-budget broadcasters that retransmit signals from distant stations.
According to a report in The New York Times, NPR stations from Oregon to Louisiana are getting systematically squeezed out by Christian radio. The Rev. Don Wildmon, the evangelical station owner, who admits he doesn’t like secular radio, has managed to knock off two public radio stations in his Louisiana turf alone. Wildmon’s company already has 194 stations and 18 affiliates and has applications for hundreds more pending with the FCC. Part of the blame rests with NPR stations themselves for failing to bid for full power licenses.
The Bushies may resist pro choice in procreative matters, but how far will they push their anti-choice agenda in the broadcasting industry? And at what point will the public awaken to the threat? “The country cannot afford another wave of consolidation designed to bolster the bottom line,” says Jeffrey Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy.
Little wonder that one capital wag has suggested a new meaning for the FCC’s initials: Fewer Citizens Choices.