This week’s proposal by FCC chief Ajit Pai to do away with net neutrality regulations has landed him in the headlines, but even with that high-profile item on the agency’s agenda he’s vowing not to let AM revitalization slip through the cracks. “You’ve got my commitment on that—it’s a radio service that’s older than the FCC itself, and I’m committed to making sure that it thrives well into the digital age,” Pai said during a Friday appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s syndicated show.
Hewitt told Pai he thinks the current subcap regulations should be kept in place explaining that the requirement has kept market clusters “balanced” in terms of AMs and FMs which is to the benefit of radio talk hosts like himself. “Those subcaps keep us alive—that’s why I love them,” the Salem Radio Networks host said.
But as the FCC prepares to launch a major overhaul of its media regulations next month, Pai declined to say which way he is leaning on whether subcaps are still necessary. “That’s one of the issues that we’re going to look at,” Pai offered. “We’ve heard a lot on both sides of it, and we haven’t made any firm determination, but you’ve got my commitment that I believe in AM radio, and I’m going to continue to be a champion on it in the time to come.”
Pai was more definitive on his thinking about newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership regulations, reiterating that he believes their time has come and gone. “It’s increasingly obsolete to have these restrictions,” he said. “The FCC in the past couple of years alone has OK’d multibillion-dollar mergers on the cable side, wireless and satellite. But somehow, if a newspaper and a television station in Joplin, MO or in Topeka, KS decide to merge, the FCC gets the vapors. And that’s certainly not, I think, a realistic way of looking at the marketplace in 2017. There’s a lot more competition than ever, and newspapers and broadcasters are struggling as it is to keep the lights on. And so let’s let them collaborate in a pro-competitive way to do what they do best, which is to inform their listeners and their viewers.”
Hewitt—a lawyer by training who once nearly joined the Washington communications law firm Wiley Rein—also issued an informal complaint to the FCC chief about interference from Mexican stations which boost power at night causing reception headaches for listeners along the southern U.S. border. “Every single night, they do this. Is there anyone ever going to go demand that they live by their commitments under treaties,” Hewitt said.
Pai said it’s an issue the FCC is working on, telling listeners that he’s met with his Mexican counterparts since taking over the agency three months ago. “We have a standing understanding that if we have something that we have a complaint about, we’re going to bring it to them directly. And so this is one of the issues I’d be happy to flag if there are interference concerns coming from across the border,” Pai responded.
Several broadcasters—including many at this week’s NAB Show where Pai’s address earned him a standing ovation—have said the chairman’s future should be in elected office. Asked by Hewitt if he had any such plans Pai said his term at the FCC expires this year and his next month will in part be determined by what President Trump decides. “I’ll serve as long as the President and the Senate will have me,” Pai said. “But I’m just really focused on the job I’m doing now. We’re delivering benefits for the American people large and small, and I simply hope to build a record that speaks for itself whenever my time at the Commission is done.”