The quieted voice: The rise and demise of localism in American radio.

Author:Armstrong, John S.
Position::Critical essay

Hilliard, R. L, & Keith, M. C. (2005). The quieted voice: The rise and demise of localism in American radio. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 213 pages.

For the 8 decades that the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) and then the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have regulated broadcasting, localism has been a key component of the public interest standard. Like the public interest standard, localism is a sometimes elusive concept to which regulators have attached different meanings at different points in broadcast history. A version of localism--one that is dear to media reformers--prescribes locally owned radio and television stations that originate programs giving voice to the local community's news, public affairs, and culture. Robert L. Hilliard and Michael C. Keith explore how, for U.S. radio, this version of localism has been gravely eroded. Their book not only examines the tumultuous decade of radio deregulation and conglomeration that began with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, it also describes the historical development of broadcast localism.

As Napoli (2000, 2001) has noted, a competing notion of localism holds that local stations should provide whatever programs their audiences desire, regardless of where the programs originate. Hilliard and Keith's own perspective on radio localism is clear: they argue that a public good is being lost as locally produced programming is replaced by generic fare that is piped in by radio giants such as Clear Channel, owner of over 1,200 American stations.

The book's first four chapters follow radio's regulatory history, from the creation of the FRC in 1927, up to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Hilliard and Keith discuss the tension between the centralizing pull of the powerful radio networks, and the FCC's efforts to promote localism. They also describe how radio reinvented itself as a local medium when the network system faltered in the face of television competition in the 1950s. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 assess the impact of the Telecommunications Act, which eliminated the rule limiting companies to ownership of 40 radio stations. Hilliard and Keith...

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