MICHAEL COPPS ' 67
rules. Several of the company's stations formerly
aired Stern's show. (More recently Stern's show
has been picked up by nine new stations.)
Copps believes that broadcasters accused of
airing outrageously indecent shows should be
called before the commission and, if the accusa-
tions hold up, have their licenses revoked. "If
we do that once or twice, they'll know we're
serious. You do that, and you'll halt this race to
'Wanted to hear what the people thought'
Like the indecency spat, the wrangle over
media ownership began in the early days of
Copp's stint at the FCC and gradually gathered
momentum. The current FCC chairman, Pow-
ell, had priorities, too, when he joined the
board. One of them was relaxing what he
regarded as obsolete limits on the number of
TV and radio stations that a single company
could own in one market.
Historically, FCC rules had limited owner-
ship out of fear that a few companies would
gain control of the airwaves and thus squelch
opposing views and inhibit political discourse.
Powell and other proponents of deregulation
regarded those fears as archaic and overblown
in a world where people can get news and
entertainment not only through radio, TV and
newspapers but also cable, satellite and the Web.
When the issue first came before the com-
mission, Copps saw that the three Republican
board members, especially Powell, didn't share
his concerns. He wanted a series of public
hearings; Powell didn't think hearings were
"I wanted to hear what people thought,"
Copps recalls. "And I wanted people to know
that this was pending at the FCC because we'd
done no outreach to tell Mr. and Mrs. Average
American. The big media certainly didn't cover
it. So I wanted to go out on the road to get the
Using only his tiny personal travel budget
- Powell controls the agency's funds - Copps
organized a series of meetings across the coun-
try in which he invited normal folks to offer
their opinions on the proposed deregulation.
Sometimes, he and his aides would ask univer-
sities for meeting rooms and microphones;
other times, he was invited to locally organized
forums. The hearings typically would begin
with a panel of people from the media industry,
then the microphones would be opened for the
public's comments. "We didn't even have
money to get coffee and doughnuts for the
people on the panels," one of his aides says.
Copps held about 15 of the hearings. He
and, often, his Democratic colleague Adelstein
visited the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles,
Phoenix, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, New
York, Atlanta and even Durham. In Seattle, the
hearing lasted five and a half hours; people had
rented buses to come from Oregon to speak.
Raleigh singer-songwriter Tift Merritt '00
testified at the Durham hearing, which was
held in a classroom at Duke University. She
guesses that about 300 people showed up. Mer-
ritt sat on a panel that included the manager of
a North Carolina country music station that
wouldn't play her records - "and in North
Carolina, I'm selling as many records as the
national acts that they play," she said.
Copps' patience and his willingness to listen
wowed her. "He's such a dignified, sensible
man." Copps, in turn, was
impressed with Merritt.
She was invited to testifY
at a later FCC hearing -
one officially sanctioned
by Powell - in Char-
"Before the hearing,
somebody from the FCC
called and said, 'This
hearing is about localism,
not media ownership,' "
Merritt recalls . "They
didn't want me to talk
about ownership. I wrote
my speech about how
you can't talk about
localism without address-
"On the day of hear-
ing, Copps walked up to
me beforehand and said,
'You talk about whatever
you want to.' With his
blessing, it was so much
easier. I gave him one of my records. I hope he
Chances are, he does. Copps calls himself a
country music fan and counts Hank Williams
Sr. as his favorite performer.
Still against the tide
Even a top Republican official who doesn't
share copps' distrust of media deregulation
compliments his handling of the hearings.
"Whether you agree with Copps or not, his
ability to get beyond the Beltway and reach out
to people was really impressive, particularly for
a nonelective politician. Just that he was able to
' 1 wanted to hear what
people thought. And 1
wanted people to know
that this was pending at
the FCC because we'd
done no outreach to tell
Mr. and Mrs.Average
American. The big media
certainly didn't cover it. So
1 wanted to go out on the
road to get the word out.'
Michael Copps ' 67
Copps organized about 15 hear-
ings across the country In which
citizens could offer their opinions
on the proposed deregulation.
Here, at Duke University, he took
turns with Commissioner
Jonathan S. Adelstein.