What do Pryor, Henryetta, Okmulgee and Muskogee have in common? Yes, they're all towns in Oklahoma, but more specifically, they are towns in Oklahoma who used to have local FM service. Oh, the stations are still there, sort of. But the owners, visions of bigger bucks dancing in their heads, relocated the transmitting facilities to be closer to the Tulsa metropolitan area, where they could go after big-city audiences while still paying lip service to the communities to which they are licensed.

Down here towards Oklahoma City, a more sparsely-populated part of the state, there aren't so many stations for the metro area to suck in, but the process has begun nonetheless. An FM station in Ada has relocated to Newcastle in search of Oklahoma City listeners; one in Enid will follow shortly. One local religious outlet seemed to be bucking the trend by setting up a station licensed to Shawnee, just off the eastern edge of Oklahoma City, and parking the transmitter 35 miles farther east — but judging from their promotional announcements, their goal is to cover both Oklahoma City and Tulsa from a single location. I don't know how well this is working in Tulsa, but they don't come in all that well at my listening post, about 30 miles northwest of Shawnee and within ten miles of the Oklahoma City antenna farm. Of course, their particular format is of no real interest to me, except in a let's-watch-the-train-wreck sort of way, but that's not the issue.

What is the issue is that the Federal Communications Commission, in its zeal to deregulate the broadcast industry, has apparently decided that a numerical increase in audience numbers is enough to satisfy that antiquated old "operating in the public interest" requirement. Who cares about Henryetta? They still have a 500-watt AM station in town, don't they? And hey, they can pick up that religious outlet "from Shawnee" just fine, and if they turn their antennas 90 degrees, they can even get the FM station that's allegedly assigned to them. If all this mucking about with the Table of Allocations actually resulted in better radio programming, I might not complain quite so much — but don't hold your breath. It hasn't happened yet. And even if it did, the benefit goes mostly to those metropolitan listeners again. Why is the rural population dwindling? Obviously radio, all by itself, isn't driving people to the cities, but listen to the message small-town America is getting from all these radio-station shuffles: "We don't care anything about you guys. You don't shop at chain stores, you don't eat enough fast food, you don't count for anything." I think I'd be upset by that, too.

The Vent

#103
1 June 1998

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