Many radio stations start early in the day with Rush, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham and continue on into the middle of the night. But this diary is not a report on something awful said by one of these hate mongers. It's not a rant about the non stop conservative vitriol heard on talk radio. Instead this diary sheds light on a little known section of FCC rulemaking that encourages the public to monitor, and then hold accountable, these stations as they operate on the public airwaves. This diary outlines a simple action that costs you nothing and that you can do today after about 5 minutes of research.
There's something most radio stations really don't want you to know; they operate on public property. The airwaves belong to all of us. Part of the FCC's mission is to regulate their use of our public space. The FCC's Media Bureau publishes "The Public And Broadcasting: How To Get The Most Service From Your Local Station" This 31 page manual describes the FCC's Regulatory Authority, Licensing of Stations, Programming Law and Policy, Business Practices and some other topics. Most of these sections are technically dense and of little interest to the general public. However, on page 25, the FCC lays out the requirement for a Public Inspection File,
"Our rules require that all...stations maintain a file for public inspection."
The FCC goes on to say,
"Purpose of the File. Because we do not routinely monitor each station's programming and operations, viewers and listeners are an important source of information about the nature of their area stations’ programming, operations, and compliance with their FCC obligations. The documents contained in each station's public inspection file have information about the station that can assist the public in this important monitoring role." It goes on, "...every station has an obligation to provide news, public affairs, and other programming that specifically treats the important issues facing its community...Because you watch and listen to the stations that we license, you can be a valuable and effective advocate to ensure that your area’s stations comply with their localism obligation and other FCC requirements."
That's why the Public Inspection File exists. Accessing it is very easy.
"Each broadcast licensee, permittee, and applicant must make its station public inspection file available to members of the public at any time during regular business hours."
In other words, you can go to the local office of any radio station in the country and ask to see their Public Inspection File from 8 am to Noon and 1 pm to 5 pm. They have to give it to you, offer up a chair and let you look through it. The FCC suggests that an appointment might be a good idea, but it is not required. You don't have to provide any ID or offer any reason. They can't require an appointment or ask you to come back later. This is spelled out very clearly. If the station says, "we keep those files on a computer", the FCC says,
"A station that chooses to maintain all or part of its public file on a computer database must provide you a computer terminal if you wish to review the file."
Here's the part where we hold hate radio accountable. If the station refuses you on the spot access to the file, they are in violation of their license. The FCC lays out your options for response.
"We give full consideration to the broadcast complaints, comments, and other inquiries that we receive...we encourage you to first contact the station or network directly about programming and operating issues. If your concerns are not resolved in this manner...the best way to provide all the information the FCC needs to process your complaint about other broadcast matters is to complete fully the Online Complaint Form"
Your best course of action is to do as the FCC suggests. Write a letter to the station using these, or similar, words,
"Recently I attempted to view your station's Public Inspection File at your offices located at [provide address] on [date] at [time]. I was not allowed to do so. I respectfully ask that the Public Inspection File be made available to members of the public in the future."
Go back in two weeks and ask again to see the file. If the station refuses you again, you have a solid complaint that the station is in violation of it's public trust. During any visit to the station, keep notes; times, names, locations and what exactly what was said to you.
If they do comply and give you the file, it is probably in order. But here are some things of interest to look for.
"Quarterly Programming Reports. Every three months, each broadcast radio and television station licensee must prepare and place in its station public file a list of programs containing its most significant treatment of community issues during the preceding three months (“issues/programs lists”). The list must briefly describe both the issue and the programming during which the issue was discussed, including the date and time that each such program was aired and its title and duration. The licensee must keep these lists in the file until the next grant of the station renewal application has become final."
The quarterly “issues/programs lists” is a common failing of Public Inspection Files. It details the station's service to the local community. This is supposed to be a repayment for the right to use our public airwaves. But most hate radio is only interested in their balance sheet. They dislike spending their time having to do something positive for the community, nevermind actually documenting it four times a year.
"Political File. Stations must keep a file which contains “a complete record of a request to purchase broadcast time that: (A) is made by or on behalf of a legally qualified candidate for public office; or (B) communicates a message relating to any political matter of national importance, including: (i) a legally qualified candidate; (ii) any election to federal office; or (iii) a national legislative issue of public importance.” The file must identify how the station responded to such requests and, if the request was granted, the charges made, a schedule of time purchased, the times the spots actually aired, the rates charged, and the classes of time purchased. The file also must reflect any free time provided to a candidate. The station must keep the political records in the file for two years after the spot airs."
If nothing else, the Political File might shed light on where these stations get some of their money from.
"Letters and E-Mails from the Public. Commercial stations must keep in their files, for at least three years, written comments, suggestions, and e-mails received from the public regarding their operation. (Noncommercial educational stations are not subject to this requirement.)"
The public emails are also often entertaining, along the lines of Kos's Hate Mail Palooza.
So how do you find your local station? Here's some handy links:
Rush Limbaugh - http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/...
Laura Ingraham - http://www.lauraingraham.com/...
Glenn Beck - http://www.glennbeck.com/...
Michael Medved - http://www.michaelmedved.com/...
Michael Savage - http://tunein.com/...
Dennis Miller - http://www.dennismillerradio.com/...
Neal Boortz - http://tunein.com/...
Hugh Hewitt - http://tunein.com/...
Sean Hannity - http://www.hannity.com/...
If the links above don't lead to an office street address, you can get the station's four letter call letters, announced at the top of every hour, and use that at the Radio Locator Database.
If all you can get is a PO Box, you'll have to do some local investigation.
What happens to stations that don't comply? They're typically hit with a fine of up to $10,000 or more.
The last time I walked into a station and asked to see their Public Inspection File, the secretary cocked one eye and looked at me as if I had just asked her where the station kept its petty cash. "Why?" she asked. "Because I'm a member of the public." She picked up her phone and, never taking her eyes off me, whispered into it. The Station Manager almost came running up the hall. She told him, "This...person wants to see the Public Inspection File." "Why?" he asked. "Because I'm a member of the public." He looked really uncomfortable, mumbled some things and finally settled on, "I'm sorry, it's not available at this time." This was a long time ago and I let it go.
Maybe collectively, it's time to stop "letting it go." Have fun!