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No hurry for FCC's localism study

Well, there's that much-ballyhooed FCC Localism hearing at Portland High School today, starting at 4 pm and running until 11 pm. (Hey, if someone brings a keg, maybe it'll run 'til 1 am!) Don't get your hopes too high for actual change anytime soon.

While plenty of people have signed up in advance to speak, and others will attend to get their moment of glory, there should be an interesting set of principles. Some folks, taking the extreme, will argue that local is better, no matter what. It's an interesting perspective, arguing that a locally owned broadcaster (even one with no money, no staff, and only doing what its volunteers can fit in beside their work and family lives) is inherently better than a large company (even one with tons of money, experienced paid staff, and resources to use investigating all kinds of stories).

Not many people would dispute that a locally owned broadcaster that has tons of money, experienced paid staff, and vast resources would be better than a broadcaster owned by a giant company that didn't have any money or staff, or even an office in town. If you can find either of those in reality. (And you'll have to look far beyond Maine. MPBN is the closest thing we have to a strong local media outlet, and while they have an experienced paid staff, even those staffers wouldn't say they have "tons of money" or "vast resources.")

And there are plenty of people - including Suzanne Goucher of the Maine Association of Broadcasters, interviewed on Channel 6 last night - who argue that the bigger companies can do more than the local ones. Again, if you can find the local broadcasters.

And as Charlie Gaylord noted the other day in an e-mail to the Phoenix, an FCC rule related to localism just forced Citadel-owned WCYI to stop simulcasting WCYY - thereby cutting off midcoast listeners from Mark Curdo's local-music show, Spinout. And the same rule is forcing the sale of Citadel-owned WCLZ, which has for years - minus a brief, misguided hiatus - broadcast local musicians' work, including on Charlie's show, Greetings From Area Code 207. What'll replace it? Nobody knows yet, but if the big companies see the value in promoting local music in Maine, is the problem really as big as some people appear to think?

But either way you want to argue it - or some other way - don't expect a ton of action on your viewpoint. The nice part of that? Don't expect any action on the viewpoints of people who think differently.

The FCC's localism Web site, which is very thorough (including comments from all previous localism hearings around the country - which all took place in 2003 and 2004), says, right up at the very tippy-top, that the localism effort will "Make recommendations to the Commission in the Fall of 2004 on how the Commission can promote localism in television and radio."

Three years later, they're still holding hearings.
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