FCC relaxes limits on ownership of radio stations


WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission voted yesterday to more than double the number of radio stations that a single company may own.

The commission also allowed a single owner to have as many as three AM and three FM stations in a single city.

The action, approved 4-0 with one abstention, comes as the industry is enduring its worst recession in decades. FCC Chairman Alfred C. Sikes has argued that allowing greater consolidation will allow broadcasters to cut costs.

Andrew C. Barrett, the only black on the commission, abstained. In a rare outburst, he accused his colleagues of paying "lip service" to minority broadcasters and leaving him out of last-minute negotiations.

Mr. Barrett argued that the commission was "grossly altering" the ownership structure of the industry. Although he abstained, Mr. Barrett said he probably will change his vote to a formal dissent when the commission publishes the final rule in several weeks.

Key Democrats in Congress, who favor stricter limits as a way to preserve diversity in radio, quickly objected and promised to introduce legislation to reverse the decision.

But the chances are strong that the new rule will remain in effect.

The rules adopted yesterday, which take effect Aug. 1, will permit a single person or company to own as many as 30 AM and 30 FM stations nationwide. Under the current rules, one owner may have no more than 12 AM and 12 FM stations nationwide and no more than one of each in any market. Minority owners are currently permitted up to 14 AM and 14 FM stations.

The changes are likely to lead to spirited bidding. Large broadcasting companies that are close to the old limit -- including CBS, Capital Cities/ABC, Group W-Westinghouse Broadcasting and Infinity Broadcasting -- are believed to be eager to buy additional stations in large markets.

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