What's Local About Local Broadcasting?

A Joint Report of the
Media Access Project &
Benton Foundation

April 1998

Introduction | Background | Methodology | Findings -- National | Findings -- Chicago | Findings -- Phoenix |
Findings -- Nashville | Findings -- Spokane | Findings -- Bangor | Research Partners


What's local about local broadcasting? An analysis of a two-week period in late February and early March finds that the answer is "not much." Broadcasters in five markets chosen to represent conditions in small towns and big cities around the country are providing almost no programming that addresses local issues in the communities they serve. The numbers are staggering:

  • In the five markets combined, 40 commercial broadcasters provided 13,250 total hours of programming -- just 0.35% (46.5 hours) were devoted to local public affairs.

  • In three markets -- Nashville, Tennessee, Spokane, Washington, and Bangor, Maine -- not one commercial station aired any local public affairs programming.

  • 35% of the stations surveyed provide no local news; 25% offer neither local public affairs programming or local news.

  • A total of two hours of local public affairs programming was available between 6:00pm and midnight, when viewership numbers are highest. Just two stations aired any local public affairs during this time period.

Background


Local programming is the keystone commitment of America's broadcast system and the basis for the licensing scheme under which every broadcaster operates. The nation has hundreds of commercial broadcasters in place not to rebroadcast national programming, but to be responsive to the interests, convenience, and necessity of the communities they serve. This compact between local broadcasters and their communities -- that a broadcaster receives a license to act as a public trustee of the public interest -- is expressed in both court rulings and Federal Communications Commission policy.

Under the Communications Act of 1934, applicants for broadcast licenses must agree to provide program service to the particular community to which they are licensed. This requirement was the basis for the United States Court of Appeals ruling in 1956 that in requiring "a fair, efficient and equitable distribution" of service, Section 307(b) of the Communications Act encompasses "not only the reception of an adequate signal but also community needs for programs of local interest and importance and for organs of local self-expression." The Court affirmed that "the prime factor" in broadcast programming regulation "is the presentation of programs of local interest and importance."(1)

The local basis of its service distinguishes broadcasting from cable and satellite services which consist almost entirely of national programming and (in the case of cable) retransmission of local TV stations. News, public affairs programming and other opportunities for local self-expression are the most important of the 14 specific programming "elements usually necessary to meet the... needs and desires of the community in which the station is located...," as enumerated in the FCC's classic formulation of public interest programming obligations, issued in 1960:

The principal ingredient of such obligation consists of a diligent, positive and continuing effort by the licensee to discover and fulfill the tastes, needs and desires of his service area.(2)

Methodology

What's Local About Local Broadcasting was designed and analyzed by staff of the Benton Foundation in consultation with the Media Access Project. This study is based on analysis of television programming listings on clickTV <http://www.clicktv.com/>, a comprehensive TV information Website from TVData. The site provides 24-hour program listings for markets around the country and identifies types of programming including public affairs. Information from clickTV was complemented by telephone conversations with programming staff at select stations to identify programs as national or local and to confirm clickTV's identification. Staff also consulted station web sites, TV listings in online versions of local newspapers when available, and TV Guide Magazine.

The study examines all programming between Monday, February 23 and Sunday, March 8, 1998. The time period was chosen to avoid interference in normal programming due to the 1998 Winter Olympic Games or "sweeps weeks."

The study includes every full power television station in five US markets: Chicago, Illinois; Phoenix, Arizona; Nashville, Tennessee; Spokane, Washington; and Bangor, Maine. The markets were selected to represent Top 10, Top 25, Top 50, Top 100, and 100+ Nielsen markets and for geographic diversity.

The resulting sample consists of 40 full power, commercial stations and 13,250 hours of programming.

Local public affairs programming is defined as programs devoted to local issues of governance or civic affairs. Public affairs programs and opportunity for local self-expression were two of the fourteen elements of programming that would usually be necessary to meet the Federal Communications Commission's public interest standard.(3)

Findings -- National

The five-market survey found that commercial broadcasters are doing little local public affairs programming. In the five markets combined, 40 commercial broadcasters provided 13,250 total hours of programming over a two-week period. Just 46.5 hours (or 0.35% of total programming) were devoted to local public affairs.

Seventy percent of the commercial stations in our survey do no local public affairs programming at all. Just two hours of local public affairs programming were available between 6:00pm and midnight when viewership numbers are highest. Much of the local public affairs programming is found in the early morning hours on Saturdays and Sundays -- before 8:00am.

Broadcasters claim that this obligation is met by carriage of news and public service announcements. However, the survey showed that one-fourth of the stations carried no news or public affairs programming. Moreover, while public service announcements can be of considerable value to a community, by definition they do nothing to educate or inform citizens about elections, legislation, political controversies or other matters relating to self-governance.

While those stations that carry locally-produced newscasts do provide coverage of such events, the legal obligation is on each station to make a contribution to coverage of local affairs. Ten of the 40 stations carried no local programming.

Moreover, genuine discussion of local issues on newscasts appears to be an ever-smaller proportion of newscasts. A recently published survey conducted by a consortium of eight universities showed that, once weather, sports and advertising are excluded, "government and politics" comprised only 15.3% of local newscast content. By contrast, crime news was 29.3% of the "news hole." (Cities studied were New York, Miami, Chicago, Syracuse, Los Angeles, Austin and Indianapolis.)

A March 1998 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Center for Media and Public Affairs documents similar findings about coverage of crime. Assessing Local Television News Coverage of Health Issues reports that crime is the most common topic of local newscasts. In a typical 30-minute newscast, commercials (8 minutes), crime (4 minutes), and sports (4 minutes) make up more than half the air time, the study found. All other topics averaged one minute or less.

ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC affiliates air national public affairs programming like This Week, Face the Nation, Fox Sunday News, and Meet the Press, but there is rarely a local complement to such programming.

Findings -- Chicago

Chicago, Illinois is Nielsen Market #3. The market is served by 12 commercial stations. In the two-week period 2/23/98-3/8/98, these stations provided 3,995 hours of programming -- 12.5 hours were devoted to local public affairs.

Five stations -- WBBM, WCIU, WSNS, WJYS, and WGBO -- provide no local public affairs programming at all.

WMAQ aired a special one-hour Decision Ninety-Eight Debate before the Illinois primary on Sunday, March 8 at 11:00am. WLS aired one half hour of local public affairs, Chicagoing, on the same Sunday at 11:30am. On Saturday mornings from 6:00am to 7:00am, WGN airs Charlando and People to People. WFLD airs 32 This Week and Esta Semana between 6:00 and 7:00am on Sundays. On Mondays at 12:00am, WCFC airs Bruce Dumont. On Saturdays between 6:00am and 7:00am, WPWR airs Power to Make a Difference and Dimensions Northwest Indiana. Sundays at 6:00am, WEHS airs In Your Interest.

Sixty-four percent of the local public affairs programming shown on commercial stations is aired between 6-7:00am on Saturday and Sunday mornings; another 16% is shown at midnight on Mondays.

Just 2.5 hours of local public affairs programming on commercial stations is available at times when people are likely to be awake to see it.

Four stations -- WCIU, WPWR, WEHS, and WJYS -- offer no local news.

Chicago Commercial Station List:

  • WBBM (CBS)
  • WMAQ (NBC)
  • WLS (ABC)
  • WGN (WB)
  • WCIU (Ind)
  • WFLD (FOX)
  • WCFC (Ind)
  • WSNS (TEL)
  • WPWR (UPN/Ind)
  • WEHS (HSN)
  • WJYS (Ind)
  • WGBO (TEL)


Station Contact Information

2
WBBM
CBS
Chicago (Cook) IL
Owner: CBS Inc.
630 N. McClurg Ct. 60611
Tel: 312/944-6000 Fax: 312/943-7193

5
WMAQ
NBC
Chicago (Cook) IL
Owner: NBC Subsidiary Inc.
NBC Tower-454 N. Columbus Dr. 60611-5555
Tel: 312/836-5555 Fax: 312/527-4825
Email:wmaq@nbc.com

7
WLS
ABC
Chicago (Cook) IL
Owner: WLS Television Inc.
190 N. State St. 60601
Tel: 312/750-7777 Fax: 312/633-7015

9
WGN
WB
Chicago (Cook) IL
Owner: WGN Continental Broadcasting
2501 Bradley Place 60618
Tel: 312/528-2311 Fax: 312/528-6857
Email:<wgn-tv@tribune.com, wgntv@aol.com

26
WCIU
WBKids
Chicago (Cook) IL
Owner: Weigel Broadcasting Co.
141 W. Jackson Blvd. 60604
Tel: 312/663-0260 Fax: 217/663-0585

32
WFLD
FOX
Chicago (Cook) IL
Owner: News America Television Inc.
205 N. Michigan Ave. 60601
Tel: 312/565-5532 Fax: 312/819-0420
Email:webmaster@foxchicago.com

38
WCFC
FamNet/Wrshp
Chicago (Cook) IL
Owner: Christian Communications of Chicagoland
38 S. Peoria 60607
Tel: 312/433-3838 Fax: 312/433-3839

44
WSNS
TEL
Chicago (Cook) IL
Owner: Video 44
430 W. Grant Pl. 60614
Tel: 312/929-1200 Fax: 312/929-8153

50
WPWR
UPN
Gary (Lake) IN
Owner: Channel 50 Television Corp.
2151 N. Elston Ave. 60614
Tel: 312/836-5050 Fax: 312/276-6477

60
WEHS
HSN
Aurora (Kane) IL
Owner: SKIL Broadcasting Partnership
100 S. Sangamon St. Suite 300 60607
Tel: 312/829-8860 Fax: 312/829-1059

62
WJYS
ind.
Hammond (Lake) IN
Owner: Jovon Broadcasting Corp.
18600 S. Oak Park Ave. Tinley Park IL
Tel: 708/633-0001 Fax: 708/633-0040

66
WGBO
UNI
Joliet (Will) IL
Owner: WGBO License Partnership
541 N. Fairbanks Court #1100 Chicago 60611-3314
Tel: 312/751-6666 Fax: 312/670-1037

Findings -- Phoenix

Phoenix is Nielsen Market #17. It is served by ten commercial television stations. During the two-week period 2/23/98 - 3/8/98, these stations provided 3,320.5 hours of programming. Of this total, just 34 hours (or just over one percent) was devoted to local public affairs programming.

Of those 34 hours, 28 were aired by KUSK -- just six total for the other nine stations. Of these five hours, two was aired on by KTVK at 6:30am on Sunday mornings and 2:30am on Mondays, two hours were aired on KSAZ before 8:00am on Sundays, one hour was aired by KUTP at 7:00 am on Saturday mornings and one hour was aired by KASW at 6:30am on Sundays.

Half of the commercial stations -- KPHO, KPNX, KNXV, KPAZ, KTVW -- do no local public affairs programming at all. KPAZ, KUPT, and KASW do not have a daily local newscast either.

KUSK, by contrast, airs 28 hours of local public affairs programming. Every weekday, KUSK airs 1.5 hours of original local public affairs programming -- Sam Steiger for one hour at 9:00am followed by Tonya Mock for a half hour at 10:00am -- and rebroadcasts Sam Steiger every weekday at 5:00pm. The station also airs the one hour public affairs show On Target on Sundays at 5:00pm and the half hour Common Sense at 9:30 on Sunday evenings.

Phoenix Commercial Station List:

  • KTVK (Ind.)
  • KPHO (CBS)
  • KUSK (Ind.)
  • KSAZ (FOX)
  • KPNX (NBC)
  • KNXV (ABC)
  • KPAZ (TBN)
  • KTVW (UNI)
  • KUTP (UPN)
  • KASW (WB)


Station Contact Information:

3
KTVK
Ind/news
Phoenix (Maricopa) AZ
100.0kW-542' FCC-data
Address: 5555 N. 7th Ave. 85013
Tel: 602/263-3333 Fax: 602/263-3377
Email:news@azfamily.com

5
KPHO
CBS
Phoenix (Maricopa) AZ
100.0kW-539' FCC-data
Address: 4016 N. Black Canyon Hwy. 85017 (85036-0100)
Tel: 602/264-1000 Fax: 602/650-5545

7
KUSK
AIN
Prescott (Yavapai) AZ
Address: 3211 Tower Rd. 85040
Tel: 602/778-6770 Fax: 602/445-5210
Email:team@kusk.com

10
KSAZ
FOX
Phoenix (Maricopa) AZ
Address: 511 W. Adams 85003
Tel: 602/257-1234 Fax: 602/262-0177

12
KPNX
NBC
Mesa (Maricopa) AZ
Address: 333 N. 5th. St. 85004 (85001-0711)
Tel: 602/257-1212 Fax: 602/258-8186

15
KNXV
ABC
Phoenix (Maricopa) AZ
Address: 4625 South 33rd. Pl. 85040
Tel: 602/243-4151 Fax: 602/232-5994
Email:News15@primenet.com

21
KPAZ
TBN
Phoenix (Maricopa) AZ
Address: 3551 E. McDowell Rd. 85008
Tel: 602/273-1477 Fax: 602/267-9427

33
KTVW
UNI
Phoenix (Maricopa) AZ
Address: 3019 E. Southern Ave. 85040
Tel: 602/263-3333 Fax: 602/276-8658

45
KUTP
UPN
Phoenix (Maricopa) AZ
Address: 4630 S. 33rd. St. 85040
Tel: 602/268-4500 Fax: 602/276-4082
Email:robertf@primenet.com

61
KASW
WB/Fox Kids
Phoenix (Maricopa) AZ
Owner: Brooks Broadcasting
Address: 5555 North 7th Av. 85013
Tel: 602/661-6161 Fax: 602/263-3377
Email:news@azfamily.com

Findings -- Nashville

Nashville, Tennessee is Nielsen Market #33. The market is served by ten commercial stations.

Between 2/23/98-3/8/98, none of these stations provided any local public affairs programming. During this time period, the commercial broadcasters provided 3,338.5 total hours of programming.

Some stations air national public affairs programming like This Week (WKRN), Meet The Press (WSMV), Face the Nation (WTVF on Mondays at midnight), Fox News Sunday (WZTV), 700 Club (WHTN) and (WPGD), and Newsbeat (WJFB), but WNPX, WUXP, WNAB do not.

Six stations -- WNPX, WUXP, WHTN, WPGD, WNAB, and WJFB -- do not air local newscasts.

Nashville Commercial Station List:

  • WKRN (ABC)
  • WSMV (NBC)
  • WTVF (CBS)
  • WZTV (FOX)
  • WNPX (PAX)
  • WUXP (UPN)
  • WHTN (Ind)
  • WPGD (TBN)
  • WNAB (WB)
  • WJFB (Shop@Home)

Station Contact Information:

2
WKRN
ABC
Nashville (Davidson) TN
Owner: WKRN L.P.
Email:news@wkrn.com

4
WSMV
NBC
Nashville (Davidson) TN
Owner: Meridith Corp.
PO Box 4 ; 37202
Tel: 615/353-4444 Fax: 615/353-2348
Email:enews4@wsmv.com

5
WTVF
CBS
Nashville (Davidson) TN
Owner: WESH-TV Broadcasting
474 James Robertson Pkwy. 37219
Tel: 615/244-5000 Fax: 615/248-5207
Email:nashnc5@nc5.infi.net

17
WZTV
FOX
Nashville (Davidson) TN
Owner: Sullivan Broadcasting
631 Mainstream Dr. 37228
Tel: 615/244-1717 Fax: 615/259-3962
Email:wztv@wztv.com

28
WKZX
Wrshp/INTV
Cookeville (Putnam) TN
Owner: Roberts Broadcasting
9330 Sand Springs Church Rd. Monterey TN 38574
Tel: 615/839-6173 Fax: 615/839-6172

30
WUXP
UPN
Nashville (Davidson) TN
Owner: Mission Broadcasting
300 Peabody St. 37210
Tel: 615/256-3030 Fax: 615/244-7442

39
WHTN
HSN
Murfreesboro (Rutherford) TN
Owner: Murfreesboro Television Corp.

50
WPGD
TBN
Hendersonville (Sumner) TN
Owner: Sonlight Broadcasting
Email:wpgd@xc.org

58
WNAB
WB
Nashville (Davidson) TN
Owner: Speer Communications Holdings
3201 Dickerson Pike 37207
Tel: 615/650-5858 Fax: 615/650-5855

66
WJFB
Shop@Home
Lebanon (Wilson) TN
Owner: Bryant Communications

Findings -- Spokane

Spokane, Washington is Nielsen Market #73. It is served by five commercial stations. In the two-week period Monday, February 23 - Sunday, March 8, the three commercial broadcasters provided Spokane with 1,619 hours of programming. None of it was devoted to local public affairs programming.

KAYU did not offer any local news programming during this time either.

Spokane Commercial Station List:

  • KREM (CBS)
  • KXLY (ABC)
  • KHQ (NBC)
  • KSKN (UPN)
  • KAYU (FOX/UPN)


Station Contact Information:

2
KREM
CBS
Spokane (Spokane) WA
Address: 4103 South Regal St. 99223 (99203-0037)
Tel: 509/448-2000 Fax: 509/838-7308

4
KXLY
ABC
Spokane (Spokane) WA
Address: 500 Boone Av. 99201
Tel: 509/324-4000 Fax: 509/328-5274
Email:news4@kxly.com

6
KHQT
NBC
Spokane (Spokane) WA
Address: S. 4202 Regal St. 99223 (99203-8088)
Tel: 509/448-6000 Fax: 509/448-4694
Email:q6news@khq.com

22
KSKN
UPN
Spokane (Spokane) WA
Address: 3353 Trent St. 99202 (99203-0037)
Tel: 509/448-2000 Fax: 509/838-7308

28
KAYU
FOX
Spokane (Spokane) WA
Owner: Salmon River Communications
Address: S. 4600 Regal 99223-0028
Tel: 509/448-2828 Fax: 509/448-3815

Findings -- Bangor

Bangor, ME is Nielsen Market #155. It is served by three commercial stations. In the two-week period Monday, February 23 - Sunday, March 8, the three commercial broadcasters provided Bangor with 997.5 hours of programming. None of it was devoted to local public affairs programming.

Bangor Commercial Station List:

  • WLBZ (NBC)
  • WABI (CBS)
  • WVII (ABC)


Station Contact Information:

2
WLBZ
NBC
Bangor (Penobscot) ME
Owner: Maine Broadcasting Co.
PO Box 415; 04402
Tel: 207/942-4821 Fax: 207/945-6816
Email:wlbz@wlbz.com

5
WABI
CBS
Bangor (Penobscot) ME
Owner: Diversified Communications
35 Hildreth St. 04401
Tel: 207/947-8321 Fax: 207/941-9378

7
WVII
ABC
Bangor (Penobscot) ME
Owner: Bangor Communications
371 Target Industrial Circle 04401
Tel: 207/945-6457 Fax: 207/942-0511


Research Partners

The Benton Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation that works to realize the social benefits made possible by the public interest use of communications. Through demonstration projects, media production and publishing, research, conferences, and grantmaking, Benton probes relationships between the public, corporate, and nonprofit sectors to address the critical questions for democracy in the information age.

Andrew Blau
Director, Communications Policy and Practice
Benton Foundation
1634 Eye St, NW
Washington, DC 20006
202-638-5770
202-638-5771 (fax)
www.benton.org
blau@benton.org

Media Access Project ("MAP") is a twenty-five year old non-profit, public interest law firm which promotes the public's First Amendment right to hear and be heard on the electronic media of today and tomorrow.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman
President & CEO
Media Access Project
1707 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
202-232-4300
202-466-7656 (fax)
www.mediaaccess.org
aschwa02@counsel.com


1. Pinellas Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 230 F.2d 204, 206 cert. denied, 350 US 1007 (D.C. Cir. 1956)

2. Report re En Banc Programming Inquiry, 44 FCC 2203, 2314 (1960)

3. 1960 Programming Policy Statement, 22 RR 1902 (1960)


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