New FCC Regulations Threaten Catholic Radio

Deal W. Hudson
January 28, 2009

As reported recently in the National Catholic Register, a new version of the so-called Fairness Doctrine is threatening Catholic radio. Under the new Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will begin applying “localism” regulations to radio station licenses. Steve Gajdosik, president of the Catholic Radio Association, calls these regulations “the death knell for Catholic radio.”

The Fairness Doctrine regulates the range of opinions that should be heard on a radio station, while localism regulates the service provided to the station’s local community. But the impact of localism could be the same as the Fairness Doctrine since the FCC can take away a station’s license if it’s found not to serve the “interests” of the local community.

President Obama, as a senator, advocated localism in a statement given to the FCC in Chicago. The head of Obama’s transition team, John Podesta, was president of the Center for American Progress, which issued a report on “The Structural Imbalance of Talk Radio,” complaining of “the absence of localism in American radio markets” and urging the FCC to seek “greater local accountability over radio licensing.”

The head of the FCC transition team for Podesta and Obama is another supporter of localism standards: Henry Rivera, former chairman of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. The council spells out what is intended by localism:

“Broadcasters must… look for leaders in the civic, religious, and non-profit sectors that regularly serve the needs of the community, particularly the needs of minority groups that are typically poorly served by the broadcasting industry as a whole.”

In other words, the FCC can use the localism standard to determine whether Catholic radio stations or any radio stations are serving the “needs of minority groups” in their communities. (You can bet that Catholics are not one of those minority groups.)

In addition to ideological constraints, localism would affect small stations by requiring the main studios to be located within a broadcaster’s community, to fully staff those studios during hours of operation, to restore community advisory boards, and to establish minimum levels of locally originated programming that responds to community concerns.

The nearly 200 Catholic radio stations around the country neither have the resources to meet these standards nor can they subsume their religious mission to local advisory boards. As Gajdosik puts it, “This gives a local review board oversight to decide whether a station’s content serves the needs and interests of the local population.”

The leading lobbying group for religious broadcasters, the National Association of Religious Broadcasters, has gone on record against “localism mandates, adverse definitions of ‘public interest’ obligation, and media reform rules that could disfavor Christian broadcasters.”

The NRB believes that the Broadcaster Freedom Act, introduced on January 7, will prevent the FCC from determining the content of Christian radio stations. Reps. Mike Pence (R-ID) and Greg Walden (R-OR) are sponsors of the House bill, and Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and John Thune (R-SD) are the Senate sponsors.

Pence told the National Catholic Register that he and his colleagues will continue to push the Broadcaster Freedom Act: “There’s no doubt that if it gets to the floor of the House, it will pass by a wide margin.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken an in-between position on localism. Jessica Gonzales, an attorney for the Catholic bishops, explained that localism could be used as an incentive for “fast-track renewals” of station licenses. Gonzales said the USCCB is not concerned about the impact of localism “guidelines” on radio content, since “many broadcasters suggest they are already comporting with the guidelines.”

On the other hand, the Catholic Radio Association, which exists independently of the USCCB, is deeply concerned about the impact of localism standards. Last April, CRA filed a 19-page brief with the FCC opposing localism and the problems it creates for smaller stations (and for Catholic radio in particular).

The FCC currently renews radio station licenses every eight years. If, as suggested by Human Events, the FCC decides on an accelerated license review every two years, then during Obama’s first term, every radio license in America can be reviewed twice. Any station that fails to meet localism standards would then be subject to having its license revoked.

We’ll keep you updated as events develop.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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