[FMC] Interview with FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein

What is the FCC?
The FCC is a lot more than a place where we do indecency. Started when radio broadcasters interfered with each other and with marine communications. Regulates wired and wireless communications technology– the traffic cop of all the spectrum (and .
The Commission is not really partisan. The things that get a lot of attention (like media ownership) are partisan votes, but generally communications policy is not political.
Who are you? Why is music important to you?
Thinking about ways to make music more vibrant. Localism in radio is important to musicians. Setting payola rules,
I like it all, and play it all, like bluegrass flute. Was in a band for a while, called the Screaming Elmers, and tried to blend all these roots rock together into this loud thing.
Media Ownership
I just walked into this situation where then-Chairman Powell was set to roll back ownership limits tremendously. Went out into the country to talk to people and found that people were unanimously against consolidiation– radio had become homogenized and boring– and people did not want what happened to radio to happen to television. The plan the Commission adopted was so bad that the 3rd Circuit struck it down.
Something like 1 in 100 people in the US contacted FCC about media ownership reform, and that grasroots effort had a major influence.
The Commission needs to listen to the consensus– get feedback on draft proposals before adopting rulemaking. Plan to go and seek comments on media ownership reform.
It wasn’t until Eliot Spitzer came around to subpoena people and investigate payola, that the Commission found out it was true. The most widespread, flagrant, systematic abuse of FCC rules. Broadcast regulations require disclosure of pay-for-play schemes. Spitzher came out with such a vast array of evidence that the Commission has to step up and investigate. Spitzer has 2 rooms full of evidence that found violations of both NY state and federal law. Payola really saps the vitality of radio.
Is there a linkage between the structural reforms, payola, and more indecent content
Radio is losing its real life force and is also losing market share to satellite radio (and iPods and streaming). As these companies get larger and larger, there is a loss of the soul of music, like the local DJ who is in touch with the local music scene and can take a band from a local/regional exposure to break nationally.
What power does the FCC have over the radio stations to enforce payola regulations?
The FCC does have the authority to revoke license. Array of penalties available– civil fines, consent decrees. If the broadcaster wants to retain its license, can put in place policies that will prevent payola. Radio station is required to operate in the public interest and follow rules. We knew there was smoke, but until Spitzer used subpoena power to get the evidence, we didn’t really have the evidence as to what is going on.
Why isn’t the Commission investigating like Spitzer? Does the FCC have subpoeana power?
Genreally, the FCC reacts to complaints, rather than investigating from the outset. Now, there’s enough evidence just to go through that and figure out what violations of law occurred and be busy mining that information. FCC has subpoena power, but rarely uses it, generally only to pursue investigating complaints. There’s institutional intertia that makes it difficult to investigate, but the Spitzer info is helpful. It would be a good idea to investigate on our own.