On May 20th, President and CEO of the Colorado Broadcasters Association, Justin Sasso, sent the letter below to FCC Chairman Pai and the Commissioners. The increased regulatory fees combined with license renewal on the horizon is an unnecessary burden given the economic devastation created by the coronavirus.
The letter was featured in several trade publications including Inside Radio and Radio Ink.
May 20, 2020
Hon. Ajit Pai
Federal Communications Commission Washington, DC
RE: FCC’s Proposed Higher Regulatory Fees MD Docket No. 19-105
Dear Chairman Pai,
Thank you for your recent, thoughtful comments regarding broadcasters and the efforts they’re making to keep their communities informed through the COVID-19 pandemic. In times like these, the Federal Communications Commission needs a leader at the helm who understands how communities are affected by local broadcast and we couldn’t be in better hands.
I recently read a letter that the New Jersey Broadcasters Association submitted to you regarding the harsh burden that increased FCC regulatory fees in 2020 will impose on broadcasters. I felt Colorado should share its own perspective, both in support of New Jersey’s comments, as well as to inform you of the hardships we’re experiencing in the West. Being a Kansas native, you know our area well. Communities are further spread out and, in rural areas, over-the-air broadcast is sometimes the only way to get news and information. Having owned and operated a stand-alone AM radio station in an agricultural-based Colorado town, I know first-hand how an economic downturn hurts local businesses. During the Great Recession, we literally watched small businesses disappear overnight and the families associated with those businesses lose everything. The community’s largest locally-owned bank, which held many of those mom-and-pop business loans, was one of the first in the nation to be shut down by the FDIC. At our station, we went to great lengths to keep advertising affordable and the community as a whole supporting local business.
I was in radio for 25 years before coming to the Colorado Broadcasters Association. My father was a 40-year radio veteran who owned stations in Louisiana. I grew up watching and learning how a local radio station covers its community through a hurricane while keeping its employees safe and out of harm’s way. I was on the air in Colorado Springs when news of the Columbine school shooting broke in 1999 and I was scrambling with my broadcast team, less than three years later, to cover 9/11 and to keep our community informed of what was happening.
I thought I was a hardened broadcaster who had seen it all, but the COVID-19 pandemic has humbled me. In the blink of an eye, Colorado’s governor mandated shutdowns and stay-at-home orders for all Coloradans. Colorado’s world-renowned ski resorts were forced to shut down during spring break, at the peak of their season, as those communities became “hot spots” for the coronavirus due to the high number of out-of-state travelers. Now, as Spring is upon us and Colorado’s beautiful parks, trails and backcountry should be opening, accessibility is still an unknown.
As businesses have clambered to find new ways to function, citizens are staying glued to radio and television to get daily updates from their Governor; broadcasters remain on the air. Radio and television found ways to continue reporting on community outbreaks, sharing safety information to avoid the further spread of COVID-19. Some even opened their airwaves, at no cost, to all businesses in their communities so they could share their modified setups with potential customers.
Through all of this, broadcasters continue serving their communities and through all of this, broadcasters are losing the only thing that keeps the staff paid, the transmitters humming and the lights on: advertising income. The CBA polled its members in the early days of the Colorado shutdown and repeatedly, reports came back that stations were losing up to 75% of their Q2 income. Now, as summer is on the horizon, broadcasters are being forced to cancel community concerts, expos, festivals and many more sponsored, public gatherings that they depend on to pay their employees and stay on the air.
I share this boots-on-the-ground report from Colorado with you because, in September, broadcasters will face an additional burden: a proposed Regulatory Fee increase. While the increase may have been rational in a pre-pandemic era, it only serves to further hinder the ability of these cash-strapped broadcast operations. Furthermore, 2020 is a license renewal year for Colorado’s broadcasters, adding additional hardship to the already overstrained expense accounts of our broadcasters.
We hope, we pray, that by fall of 2020, the economy is making a turn for the better and COVID-19 has lost its battle with humanity. In the meantime, I ask that the FCC reconsider the increase to the 2020 Regulatory Fees and do its part to alleviate some of the financial stress from which broadcasters are suffering, during this already taxing period.
President & CEO