News and News/Talk Formats as Public
Interest: Availability and diversity in local radio markets
When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) started deregulating the radio
industry in the 1980s, policy makers based their decision on the argument in an
era of increasing competition for media, market forces would encourage
individual stations to operate in the public interest, convenience and necessity
(cf. Fowler & Brenner, 1982; Krasnow & Stern, 1984). In other words, radio
would be regulated by the public's interest (through the local marketplace)
rather than a government more uniformly, and statically, defined conception of
public interest. One consequence of a reliance on market forces has been a
shift in considering how public interest is served in markets. Before
deregulation, the FCC basically asserted that each station individually had to
serve a diverse range of public interests. That is, each station was held to a
standard of having to serve the public interest as if it were the only available
media outlet. With a shift to a reliance on market forces came a similar shift
in attitude about how the public interest was served. Instead of requiring each
station to individually serve the public interest, the FCC seems to suggest that
the key issue is whether the public interest is served by the market taken as a
whole. Using this reasoning, the FCC essentially switched measuring the public
interest from a station to a market perspective (Bates, 1995).
This shift can be seen more clearly in considering the case of one aspect of
broadcast operations consistently held to be in the public interest: the
provision of news and public affairs information. Before deregulation, the FCC
held individual stations responsible for providing news and public affairs
programming to their listeners. Over time, the FCC developed guidelines
suggesting that stations should provide certain levels of news and public
affairs programming. With deregulation, stations were no longer required to
program specific non-entertainment elements. It was argued that if a market
wanted a type of programming, stations would respond to the public's interest by
providing that programming. If news and public affairs programming were in the
public interest, then it would be in demand in the market, and would be provided
by at least some stations in the market. In fact, some stations might seek to
make news their predominant programming. It was suggested that the "public
interest" in news and public affairs programming might be as well served by a
few stations focusing on providing such content as it would by all stations
providing a little.
Critics have long challenged the presumptions and effectiveness of
deregulation, particularly in the area of the provision of public interest
programming (cf. Aufderheide, 1990; Bates, 1993; Chambers & Bates, 1992;
Ferrall, 1989; Kunkel, 1988; Levin, 1986; Schwartzman & Sohn, 1991). Much of
this criticism has argued that deregulation would lead to reduced coverage of
news and public affairs programming by individual stations. The majority of
specific studies of deregulation and its impacts have focused on examining the
consequences of deregulation from the station perspective (Bates, 1993; Bates &
Chambers, 1992; Lacy & Riffe, 1994; McKean & Stone, 1992; Wasburn, 1995).
However, as noted above, the FCC seems to have shifted from an individual
station perspective to a market perspective in considering diversity and the
provision of specific programming. This would seem to suggest that, in order to
appropriately measure the effectiveness of the marketplace rationale of the
deregulation decision, one must concentrate on the market, not the station.
This is the main aim of this study; to take a market-based approach to the
question of whether the public interest is served by the provision of news
programming, by attempting to measure the availability of news programming
within radio markets.
The validity and appropriateness of radio deregulation has been challenged from
several perspectives. One of the most critical has been the argument that, in
the absence of specific regulatory guidelines, there would be a decline in the
provision of news and public affairs information. Recent research into radio
news has focused on the impact of deregulation (Bartlett, 1993; Bates &
Chambers, 1992; McKean & Stone, 1992), competition (Lacy & Riffe, 1994), the
public interest (Wasburn, 1995), and general characteristics (Lipschultz & Hilt,
1994; Riffe & Shaw, 1990). In general, the researchers reasoned that radio news
was an important element for a station and the audience. McKean & Stone (1992)
found a decline in television news operations, but little impact on radio news
except for a small decrease in local news coverage; Wasburn (1995) found little
decrease in the amount of news, but argued that radio network news coverage
tended to be uniform, raising the issue of diversity. Bates and Chambers (1992)
found that spending on news programming seemed to have a negative impact on
station profits, suggesting that it might be cut in the absence of specific
requirements. These studies seemed to suggest that the marketplace might not be
sufficient to encourage this specific public interest behavior.
On the other hand, there is other evidence that the marketplace appears to have
recognized the public's interest in news. Bates (1995) emphasized that the
current marketplace approach to radio deregulation achieves diversity through a
multiplicity of sources, rather than within each source (p. 5). This matches
with the current characterization of radio market as monopolisticly competitive
(Bates, 1995; Lacy & Riffe, 1994), with competition driving firms into product
differentiation through programming. Bartlett (1993) argued that by encouraging
competition and promoting diversity, deregulation has clearly benefited the
genuine public interest (p. 49). Following the marketplace rationale of the
deregulation decision, the existence of a news format within a market would
satisfy the public interest requirement. Using this market-based public
interest definition, are radio markets making news available to the public?
According to the 1995 M Street Radio Directory, 1,168 stations reported a news
or talk format, compared to only 426 stations reporting a news or talk format
in 1989 (1990 M Street Directory, p. 16). Using the FCC's marketplace
rationale, it would appear that an increase in the number of stations has
contributed to improved public interest service to at least some communities.
Other factors have been shown to impact on the provision of news programming in
stations and markets. Riffe and Shaw (1990) showed that the amount of local
news programming increased as market size increased. They estimated that 80
percent of all-news all the time stations devoted more time to local rather than
non-local coverage (p. 690). They also reported that the majority (83 percent)
of the all-news stations responding to the survey were AM.
The market approach to public interest raises a somewhat different set of
questions to be examined. While it is clear that the number of stations with
predominantly news and informational programming has increased, it is not clear
what the impacts on markets has been. Are there news stations in all markets?
Is there competition and diversity in news sources in markets? Is the provision
of news formats consistent across markets or is it, and the presence of
competition and diversity influenced by market size?
While the above questions raise some general questions about the provision of
news and public affairs programming by news format stations, there are grounds
for a more concrete consideration of whether this aspect of public interest is
met in radio markets. The FCC previously had guidelines for the amount of news
and public affairs programming, indicating that news and public affairs
information should account for roughly 6-8% of a station's programming
("Delegation of Authority", 1973). If we transfer those earlier guidelines to
the market perspective, that would suggest that roughly 8% of stations in a
market should be news format. Are those guidelines upheld, when looking at a
To answer these questions, data regarding markets and radio stations were
collected from the 1995 M Street Radio Directory. As a resource, the Directory
provides information about radio markets, stations, ratings, ownership and
formats. Although all markets were not measured, the 1995 Directory included
information for 384 of the larger radio markets. The M Street Directory
provides three measures of a market: an M Street ranking, an Arbitron metro
ranking and an Arbitron total survey area (TSA) ranking. The M Street ranking
is based on the two-year-old-plus population of a market. The M Street ranking
is based on zip codes, not counties. The Arbitron metro and TSA rankings are
based on twelve-year-old-plus populations of a market and/or its service area.
In the present study, those markets included in the M Street Directory with at
least one licensed radio station were included in the analysis. As the
Directory did not include TSA estimates for all markets, only the M Street
population was used to measure market size.
For the station information, all operating stations AM, FM, commercial and
non-commercial, were counted. Silent (off-the-air) stations or new stations
with construction permits were not counted in this study. In order to get an
appropriate measure of each market, the total number of stations, as well as,
the number of AM and FM stations should be included. Stations reporting a news
or news/talk format were identified as a news format station. Any combination
of news or news/talk was included in this measure. For example, a station might
program news for six hours of the day. It will not be excluded from the study.
If a station simulcasts programming, only one station was counted. General
talk, business, or sports formats were not considered as a news format.
Two other formats were also considered: non-profit stations, and those
predominantly using satellite-delivered programming.
For each market, separate counts of stations, news format stations,
non-profits, and satellite formats were made, both by band and combined. The
relative proportion of news formats to total numbers of stations was then
calculated, again by both bands and combined. The combined market proportions
were then grouped by proportion for further analysis. Markets were also ranked,
and then grouped by rank for further analysis.
The data analysis included information for news and news/talk stations for 380
markets for which complete information was available. The distribution of news
format stations is given in Table 1. An examination of this data with regard to
the basic research question of the availability of news. The data show that
almost 20% of markets did not have any news format station. On the other hand,
more than half of the markets examined had more than one news format station,
and roughly a quarter of markets had three or more distinct news format
Table 1. Markets with News Format Stations
News Stations Number of Markets with Number of News Format Stations
in Market AM & FM % AM Only % FM Only %
0 72 18.9 107 28.2 207 54.5 1 102 26.8 128 33.7 139 36.6 2 96 25.3 94 24.7 26
6.8 3 64 16.8 40 10.5 7 1.8 4 29 7.6 8 2.1 1 0.3 5 9 2.4 1 0.3 6 4 1.1 2 0.
5 7 2 0.5 8 2 0.5
The fairly sizable percentage (18.9%) of markets without any self-identified
news format station might tend to suggest that market forces are not perfect in
their provision of public interest formats such as news. Before reading too
much into this, however, it should be remembered that this study is counting
only those stations which identify themselves as having a news or news/talk
format, not those stations providing any news programming. It is also not
counting other informational formats, such as business, sports, or all-talk
Thus, it is quite possible that news is provided by stations in some or all of
those markets, just not as the primary format, or that other informational
programming of public interest may also be provided in the marketplace. Perhaps
a better interpretation would be that over 80% of the radio markets examined
contained at least one station which provided news as their primary format.
In addition, more than half of the markets examined contain more than one news
format station. Thus, the data indicates that for slightly more than half of
the examined markets, not only is there news programming, but there is
competition and arguably diversity, in the provision of news and public affairs
programming. In fact, there can be considerable diversity in news programming,
with news formats counting for up to 8 stations, and up to 38% of all stations
in a market. The presence of such competition and diversity in the majority of
markets provides some background support for the argument that full-time,
competitive and diverse new stations may serve the public interest more than
every station providing essentially the same news reports.
The number of stations in a market is an absolute indicator of competition and
diversity. However, the FCC guidelines are phrased more in terms as a
proportion of programming rather than absolute amounts. Thus, we constructed a
measure of the proportion of stations in markets identifying themselves as
having news formats. Further examination of the proportions of news formats in
markets indicated that, on average, 8% of stations in markets had news formats.
This falls below the old FCC guidelines for news and public affairs programming
(roughly 12-16%). However, as also mentioned above, this does not include all
news and informational programming in the market.
While the above table and results give some indication of the distribution of
news format stations in markets, it does not take into consideration other
factors, particularly market size, which theory, conventional wisdom, and/or
previous studies suggest might impact on the provision of news. Economic models
would suggest that larger markets (in terms of numbers of stations) would tend
to be more likely to have specialty format stations. Conventional wisdom argues
that news is a relatively expensive format, and thus is more likely to be found
in markets with higher revenues. Previous research also suggests that larger
markets are more likely to have news formats, and greater competition within
news formats (i.e., more news format stations).
We looked at the impact of market size in several ways. Table 2 separates out
the counts of news format stations by market rank. As might be expected, larger
markets tended to have higher numbers of news format stations (X2 = 159.33, 40
d.f, p < .0001). Only 4% of the top 50 markets had no news format stations,
while 38.8% of the smallest markets (in terms of population) had no news format
Table 2. News Stations in Markets, by Market Rank
News Stations Percentage of Markets, by Market Rank
in Market 1-50 51-100 101-150 151-200 201-300 301-380
0 4.0% 8.0% 10.0% 20.0% 20.0% 38.8 1 6.0 14.0 30.0 32.0 28.0 41.3 2 16.0 32.0
34.0 30.0 34.0 7.5 3 24.0 34.0 16.0 12.0 13.0 10.0 4 28.0 6.0 8.0 4.0 4.0 2.5
5+ 22.0 6.0 2.0 2.0 0.0 0.0
Chi-Square (40 df) = 159.33 p < .0001. Kendall's Tau-b (correlation) = - 0.396
The impact of market size on the proportion of news stations was measured in
several ways. Table 3 shows the results of some of these. As the proportion
measures are interval in nature, two parametric procedures were considered
first. A linear regression analysis was run with proportion of news stations as
the dependent variable, and market population as the independent variable. As
seen in Table 3, the results of the regression analysis indicated that there was
not a statistically significant relationship between market population and the
proportion of news stations in markets. An analysis of variance was also
performed, with the market rank groupings used in Table 2 as factors. Once
again, the analysis indicated that there was no significant difference among
group means. That is, the proportion of news format stations in markets was
roughly consistent across all market ranks, averaging about 8% of stations.
However, this finding does suggest that, at least on aggregate, the earlier FCC
public interest guideline for news programming is being met.
Table 3. Proportion of News Stations, by Market Size
Regression of Proportion of News Stations by Market Population
DF Sum Sq. Mean Sq. F Signif. F
Regression 1 0.00059 0.00059 0.16048 0.6889 Residual 378 1.39697 0.00370
Variable B SE B t Signif t
Metro Population -1.12 2.8E-9 -0.401 0.6889
Analysis of Variance, Proportion of News Stations by Market Rank Groupings
DF Sum Sq. Mean Sq. F Signif. F
Explained 5 0.017 0.003 0.899 0.482 Residual 374 1.381 0.004
Mkt Rank Group Means 0.08 0.07 0.08 0.07 0.09 0.08
While these results give an indication of the overall influence of market size
on the proportion of news format stations in markets, they do not give us a
clear picture of the nature of the relationship at hand. Thus, we recoded both
market size and market proportion into ordinal groups, and performed a
cross-tabs analysis to look for other, non-linear patterns of influence. The
results of that analysis are given in Table 4.
Table 4. Proportion of News Stations, by Market Rank Groups
Proportion of News Percentage of Markets, by Market Rank Stations in
Market 1-50 51-100 101-150 151-200 201-300 301-380
stations) 4.0% 8.0% 12.0% 20.0% 20.0% 40.0% 0.01-0.05% 10.0 16.0 14.0 18.0 7.0
2.5 0.06-0.10% 66.0 54.0 42.0 34.0 35.0 28.8 0.11-0.15% 18.0 16.0 24.0 22.0 21
.0 12.5 0.16-0.20% 2.0 6.0 8.0 4.0 12.0 7.5 0.21+ 2.0 5.0 8.8
Chi-Square (25 d.f) = 75.34, p < .0001 . Kendall's Tau-b (correlation) = -
This table, as did Table 2, indicates that there is definitely a relationship
between market size and the lack of news format stations. The Chi-Square test
for relationship showed the presence of a statistically significant relationship
( SYMBOL 99 \f "Symbol" 2 = 75.34, p < .0001), and the data showed a steady
increase in the number of markets with no news format stations as market size
declined. The low Kendall Tau correlation supports the argument that the
relationship is not linear. The data also showed an increase in the number of
markets with a high news proportion in smaller markets, although that may be an
artifact of the smaller number of stations in smaller markets.
What is probably a more significant result is the fact that over half of all
markets had proportions over the 6-8% guideline range. Since this proportion
reflects only the proportion of news format stations, and not total news
programming, this would tend to suggest that most markets would meet the early
FCC guidelines. However, it should also be noted that the data also suggests
that those guidelines might not be met in many markets.
This study attempted to examine the issue of whether the public interest is
being served by the provision of news and public affairs programming, on the
market level. Data on markets and stations were collected, and stations with
news and news/talk formats were identified. The presence of news format
stations in markets was then considered.
The data suggested that while there is a fairly large number of news format
stations, they are not uniformly distributed across the radio markets examined.
In fact, roughly one-fifth of markets have no stations with news formats.
Further, the data suggested that smaller markets are more likely to have no news
format stations than larger markets. This would suggest that deregulation has
had a mixed result. While the arguments of competition promoting diversity and
the provision of special interest programming would seem to be generally
supported, it must be remembered that such arguments are based on the level of
competition, a level which may not exist in smaller markets. This concern is
reinforced by the fact that there was a fairly strong correlation between market
rank and the number of news format stations (Kendall's Tau = -0.396).
More detailed analysis also yielded what could be described as mixed results
for the impact of deregulation. While there was concern over the number of
markets with no news format station, there was also evidence that there was not
only news format stations in other markets, but that there was strong
competition within news formats (defined as 3 or more stations) in roughly
one-quarter of the markets considered. Similarly, the data showed that on
average, markets tended to reflect the early FCC guidelines for the proportion
of news and public affairs programming. Other analysis indicated that, again,
over half of markets seemed to meet those general guidelines. However, if most
markets did, there were still a large proportion of markets which failed to meet
those guidelines as measured by the proportion of news format stations in a
Overall, what can be concluded from this study? First, the data seem to
support the underlying validity of the basic deregulation arguments. For the
most part, strong competition does seem to provide for public interest
programming in the form of news and news/talk formats. There is also evidence
that there is considerable competition among news format stations, with the
potential for providing additional diversity. In one sense, this is strong
support for deregulation as Wasburn (1995) had found that there existed a lack
of diversity in the radio network newscasts used by most non-news format
However, there remains a question of whether that presumption of strong
competition is met in all radio markets. The data also indicate that market
size, and the total number of stations in a market, do impact on the number and
proportion of news format stations. Smaller markets are not as likely to have
news format stations, or competition among news format stations. This
implication carries even more concern when we also consider one of the
limitations of this study; that it only examined the markets identified in the M
Street Directory, which did not include many smaller, rural markets. There is
likely to be even less competition and fewer news format stations in those
Thus, this study finds some support for both critics and proponents of radio
deregulation. The data support many of the assumptions of the deregulation
movement, and seems to offer the argument that there is at least the potential
for the public interest being better served by market forces than by
governmental fiat. On the other hand, there is also strong evidence that this
potential is not uniformly achieved; that the public interest may not be
adequately served in each and every market. The issue of the overall impact
would seem to fall on a central philosophical question rather than that an
evidentiary one: is a uniform consistent standard better than one which might
provide higher levels of public interest in some cases, but lower levels of
service in others? In other words, should deregulation only be fostered where
there is, in fact, sufficient competition to guarantee that desired public
interest goals are met?
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programming and the public interest. Journal of Communication, 40,47-72.
Bartlett, D. (1993). News radio more than masters of disaster. Media Studies
Journal, 7(3), 37-49.
Bates, B. J. (1993) Station Trafficking in Radio: The Impact of Deregulation.
Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 37, 21-30.
Bates, B. J. (1995, April). The Economic Basis for Radio Deregulation. Paper
presented at the 1995 Popular Culture Association convention, Philadelphia PA.
Bates, B. J. & Chambers, L. Todd (1993, May). The Economic Value of Radio News:
Testing the Assumptions of Regulation. Paper presented at the 1993
International Communication Association convention, Washington, DC.
Chambers, L. T., & Bates, B. J. (1992, May). Effective Competition in Radio:
Testing the Basis for Deregulation. Paper presented at the 1992 ICA convention,
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Ferrall, V.E., Jr. (1989). The impact of television deregulation on private and
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Fowler, M.S., & Brenner, D.L. (1982). A marketplace approach to broadcast
regulation. Texas Law Review, 60, 207-257.
Krasnow, E.G., & Stern, J.A. (1984). Implementation of a marketplace approach
to broadcast regulation. Telematics and Informatics, 1, 321-347.
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radio news. Journalism Quarterly, 71 (3), 583-593.
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the absence of local broadcast news operations. Journalism Quarterly, 69 (3),
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News and News/Talk Formats as Public Interest: Availability and diversity in
local radio markets
Bates, Benjamin J.
Dept. of Broadcasting
College of Communications
333 Communications Bldg.
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN 37996-0333
[log in to unmask]
Paper submitted to Communication Technology and Policy Division for the 1996
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference
News and News/Talk Formats as Public Interest: Availability and diversity in
local radio markets
This study examines the impact of radio deregulation on the provision of news
programming from a market perspective. It examines data collected from the 380
U.S. markets identified in the 1995 M Street Directory as to the number and
proportion of news and news/talk format stations in markets. The data suggested
that news is being provided in most markets, and that many of those markets
offer diverse news sources. Overall, the proportion of news format stations
seemed to match early FCC guidelines as to the proportion of news programming.
On the other hand, a significant proportion of markets, particularly in smaller
markets, had no news format stations. The study provided mixed support for the
issue of whether deregulation served the public interest in terms of the
provision of news programming.
Radio News & Deregulation- PAGE 1
~ B B
~ B B it does not take into consideration other factors, particularly
market size, which theory, conventional wisdom, and/or previous studies suggest
might impact on the provision of news. Economic models would suggest that
larger markets (in terms of numbers of stations) would tend to be more likely to
have specialty format stations. c