Radio Degulation in the 1980s
SacTV.com "Video of the Day" review by
Alex Cosper on April 20, 2012
Sacramento radio veteran Tony Cox describes how FCC regulations required radio entertainers to know
about engineering in order to get a license prior to 1980s deregulation. Jocks actually had to know
how to do calculus equations to take meter readings. In order to get a job on the air you first had
to take an FCC exam on radio engineering in San Francisco. Deregulation softened the rules so that
anyone could get on the air, including loudmouth shock jocks who knew nothing about how radio works. Part of
the reason for this deregulation was new digital technology began to automatically monitor frequencies
so that jocks didn't have to manually adjust power if a station started to bleed onto an adjacent
station, which was prohibited and could result in big fines.
Cox talks about how deregulation affected the talent pool, opening the doors for anyone to have a
radio show. On one hand, deregulation was a milestone for the public in the sense that it no longer shut them
out of the airwaves, which were originally intended by the FCC to be owned by the public. On the
downside, deregulation didn't really offer many new career opportunities for many common people who wanted
to have a voice in their communities since the radio industry remained
a closed circle surrounded by iron walls protected by the old guard. In other words, it was never easy to
get a job in radio, but deregulation did make it easy for followers of corporate mantras to bypass
radio education and just start spreading misinformation and recklessness on the air.
The intent of radio deregulation became more clear with the Telecom Act of 1996, which let big radio
chains form through mergers and acquisitions to literally take over the radio industry. The effects
of deregulation is what transformed radio from a community showcase to an automated jukebox. Thanks
to deregulation, lots of radio stations began to sound the same everywhere with the same controlled
playlists that no longer reflected regional flavor, but a move toward generic national programming.
This nationalization benefitted big advertisers, but many radio listeners say it marked the death of local
radio. Read more about Sacramento media history here.
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