In Re Application of McPHERSON BROADCASTING, INC., McPHERSON, KANS. For Construction Permit for New FM Station
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
40 F.C.C.2d 1157
MARCH 9, 1973
[*1157] MCPHERSON, KANS; APPLICATION FOR NEW FM STATION GRANTED. An application by McPherson Broadcasting, Inc. for a new commercial FM station to operate on Channel 244A (96.7 MHz), with power of 3 kw and antenna height of 245 feet, at McPherson, Kans., has been granted by the Commission (BPH-7909). McPherson Broadcasting is licensee of AM station (KNEX, McPherson, and its principals, Mr. and Mrs. K. R. Krehbiel, own the community's only daily newspaper, the McPherson Sentinel (circulation 5,600). (Action by the Commission March 2, 1973. Commissioners Robert E. Lee and Reid, with Commissioners Burch (Chairman), H. Rex Lee, Wiley and Hooks concurring, and Commissioner Johnson dissenting and issuing a statement.)
McPHERSON OWNERSHIP -- DISSENTING OPINION OF COMMISSIONER MICHOLAS JOHNSON
[Re Application of McPherson Broadcasting, Inc.]
Today the Commission majority establishes still another regrettable precedent for the consolidation of ownership of the local media in small American communities.
The Krehbiel family, already owners of the only AM service and the only daily newspaper in McPherson, Kansas, is today granted authorization by the FCC to construct the only FM station as well. Except for the papers of the local high school and local college, all the rest of the media that finds its way to McPherson does so from some source outside the community. Just as I considered such a small town monopoly extremely unhealthy in Manhattan, Kansas, Manhattan Broadcasting Co., Inc., 33 F.C.C. 2d 934 (1972); in Bedford, Pennsylvania, Fort Bedford Enterprises, 11 F.C.C. 2d 981 (1968); and in Niles, Michigan, Niles Broadcasting Co., FCC Public Notice 13195, February 21, 1968, I consider it unhealthy in this case, and once again I dissent.
McPherson, Kansas is a small town of nearly 11,000 people perched on the Kansas prairie about 50 miles from the nearest big city (Wichita, population 276,000). Nearly everyone in town gets the Krehbiels' paper, the McPherson Sentinel (it has a daily circulation of 5,600 [*1158] homes), but some folks also get papers from Wichita, Hutchinson and even Kansas City. Since broadcast signals from those cities and towns can also be heard in McPherson (ten radio and four television), the majority feels there is sufficient diversity to justify the instant grant.
The problem is that such reasoning makes no distinction between coverage of national or regional news and the many things that require coverage at the local level. The original broadcasting decision made in this country was to allocate the airwaves in such a way that they might serve local communities rather than regional or national requirements. Considerably more frequency space was required for that method of allocation, but the objective of an "informed electorate" at the smallest unit of government practicable in an area was thought to outweigh the inefficiencies that might result.
While this Commission has shown itself open in the recent past to considerations of local concentration of control, its analysis ultimately was limited to prospective pronouncements about AM-FM-TV combinations and vague reaffirmations of its duopoly strictures against AM-AM, FM-FM, or TV-TV combinations in the same or partially overlapping markets. See my dissent in Amendment of Multiple Ownership Rules, 28 F.C.C. 2d 662, 678 (1971). However, local combinations of AM-FM-newspaper -- by all odds the most significant threat to small, independent (i.e., non-suburban) communities like McPherson -- have never been seriously considered. Indeed, I note with dismay that the Commission no longer even sees fit to rationalize or defend its lack of regulation, as it did in the virtually identical Manhattan Broadcasting case, where it said:
Since the applicant is the licensee of the only commercial broadcast station in Manhattan, and since the applicant's principals control a daily newspaper published in the city, a possible question as to concentration of control of the mass media is raised. Since we propose to grant the application without a hearing, we shall set out below our reasons for doing so. 33 F.C.C. 2d at 934 (emphasis added).
This time, sadly, we get nothing but a Public Notice, with the "justifications" for granting the application set out nowhere but in our brief staff memo of explanation. In addition to the highly capricious conclusion that media from cities 50 miles away can satisfy McPherson's need for local diversity of ownership, however, there is nothing in the staff memo that even vaguely approaches a "public interest" justification for granting this application.
The fact that this frequency has been vacant for ten years in admittedly a factor to be weighed in determining whether it should be granted to this family. Today's grant will provide a local transmitter for nighttime FM service (presumably of music) to supplement the programming available from neighboring cities.
Quite frankly, however, if it were my town -- as, indeed, it was once my father's -- I would prefer to see the channel go unused for the time being rather than increase the potential for abuse inherent in the Krehbiels' control of all non-school outlets for local media expression. It may not mean much nationally, but for the 11,000 residents of McPherson one person might as well own the three networks and two wire services, so far as local programming is concerned.
When the day does come that towns of this size can support competing media, no FM operator in the country could hope to compete [*1159] with another local FM that had the resources of the only local newspaper and AM behind it. Thus, by today's expediency we make competition even more difficult in the future. This is but one more example of an area in which the Commission tramps all over the "public interest" in the cause of serving the interests of business only to discover it hasn't served business interests very well either.
The argument that the two wholly-owned companies are "separate and distinct corporate entities with separate general managers, separate staffs, separate physical locations and are operated as competing businesses" would never fool a potential competitor. It would not hold water before any antitrust court in the country, nor should it with the members of this Commission.
I don't know the Krehbiels. Nor do I intend to cast aspersions on their honor or intentions, which I would be prepared to discover are of the highest. It is just that there is no family in the country to whom I would wish to give this amount of control over the local media outlets in my community, and, accordingly, I dissent.