WASHINGTON -- In a move likely to raise hackles in Congress, a staff report by the Federal Communications Commission recommended that a single company be allowed to buy as many radio stations in a city as it wanted until it had 25 percent of the audience.
In a highly fragmented market such as New York City, for example, a company could own four of the largest stations, or many more smaller stations, without exceeding the 25 percent limit.
In small markets with fewer than eight radio stations, the proposal specifies that a company could buy as many as four of the licenses.
Under current law, one owner is limited to an AM station and an FM station in a single market.
Under the proposal, if the company subsequently increased its audience share to more than 25 percent, it would not have to sell any stations.
The commission's staff report also calls for raising the limit on the number of radio stations one owner can have to as many as 200 stations from the current 12 AM and 12 FM.
The commission's chairman, Alfred C. Sikes, supports the proposals, but it is uncertain whether he can persuade his fellow commissioners to go along. The proposals, particularly the one on multiple ownership in a single market, are certain to provoke anger on Capitol Hill and may be amended by the commission.
In effect, the staff report sides with the bigger-is-better camp in the troubled radio industry, which argues that companies holding many stations have the best chance of remaining profitable and serving the public.
The other camp believes that such an approach seriously jeopardizes diversity of ownership, forcing out smaller broadcasters, including family companies and those owned by members of minority groups, that cannot compete with the broadcasting giants.
The proposals are expected to come up for a commission vote on March 12.