The Main Studio Rule – U.S. radio’s biggest opportunity in years

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

There’s change in the air – literally – in the US, the world’s biggest radio market.

SInce 1934, the FCC has had a rule that a radio station must have a main studio within its transmission area, and must also have a “meaningful management and staff presence”, which means full-time staff during business hours.

The FCC have just voted to eliminate this rule. As a local radio station, you now just need a local telephone number. Except, since they also allow a national, toll-free, number, you really need nothing at all locally.

No local studios, no local voices, no local office, no local address, no local telephone number. You’ll need to read the name of your place of licence once an hour in your legal ID, but other than that, your station can come from a server thousands of miles away and be delivered direct to a transmitter in the middle of nowhere.

Grizzled old radio presenters are, of course, up in arms. To them, a Nowheresville radio station should be from Nowheresville, where they can play Nowheresville’s biggest mix of Doobie Brothers hits from a crappy run-down studio in Nowheresville and astonish Nowheresville’s residents with their knowledge of the Billboard charts, tell us “it’s gonna be a hot one today in Nowheresville”, play ten songs in a row including “a great one from the Doobie Brothers”, and then sit and bitch on an internet forum somewhere about how much better radio was twenty years ago.

Let’s be clear. The abolition of the “Main Studio Rule” is the best news for US radio, and US radio listeners, for many years.

It means that networked radio stations can drop the pretence of being ‘local’. They can invest in the biggest and best radio programming, junk all these pointless old-fashioned local callsigns and horrible underinvested office space to offer a great-sounding, national, real, and relevant radio station. Nobody refuses to watch Stephen Colbert or Game of Thrones because it wasn’t made in Nowheresville. For that audience, radio will be better, more exciting, and much more highly produced. Marketing for this station can be national, moving into the big league; national advertising rates will increase, and radio will be a better and less confusion option for national advertisers. Audience figures will increase. Radio will go up. This is a happy day!

But, just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD. So, we’ll also see properly local radio stations all of a sudden be given a gift – as many of their “local” competitors give up. Fewer stations pretending to be local because they rent a space on contra down the strip mall with a cheap console with a fader permanently on “network” – where Bob the GM-and-sales-guy goes to have a nap after lunch. What remains of their local presence will disappear. And now you, a station that wants to play the “local” card, can now do so – safe in the knowledge that you now have far fewer local competitors. If “local” means something to your community – brilliant! The FCC have let the stupid people sign their own bankruptcy note, so YOU can own “local”, invest in news and local presenters, and be at every local event going. You’ll get the lion’s share of local advertising. Audience figures will increase. Radio will go up. This is a happy day!

The only stations that the Main Studio Rule’s abolotion will hurt are the ones who mistakenly believe that listeners in Nowheresville care that the voice telling them that “this the first Doobie Brothers track where Michael McDonald took lead vocal” is sitting in a studio just above closed pizza joint in the high street. They don’t.

Instead, the abolition of the Main Studio Rule benefits everyone in US radio. Those that want to play national can now do so in a better and more cost-effective way than before. And those that want to play local have the incredible gift of far, far fewer competitors. Whatever style of radio you want to listen to, you’ll get a better sounding station. Radio will be the winner.

This is a happy day, indeed!


About The Author

James Cridland, the radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes, a daily briefing on podcasting and on-demand, and writes a weekly international radio trends newsletter, at

Contact James at [email protected] or @jamescridland