Super Channels. What are they? What makes them super? How do I get to listen?

Super Channels is a term coined by terrestrial radio broadcaster Radio One, as they seek to get a grasp on exactly how the minority and public interest channels agreed to as part of the merger will come to fruition.

Radio One has taken the step of meeting with the FCC in order to help facilitate an outline and rules by which these minority channels will be leased. In the opinion of Radio One, there should be a simple process by which applicants for programming can be sorted.

The Radio One proposal seems to be a fair groundwork that will allow many entities to participate, while at the same time outlining that the broadcasters, and not Sirius XM, would be responsible for content as well as following any applicable rules and regulations. However, the proposal of Radio One also strips away the ability of many to be able to participate, by suggesting qualifiers for company size, and the race of the ownership.

This is where "Super Channels' comes into play. As many are aware, Sirius XM agreed to supply 12 channels to minority and informational programming as part of the merger. Radio One proposes that the first group of Super Channels be on the Sirius system, and simulcast to the XM system. The remaining channels would not necessarily be simulcast, and could carry a wide variety of programming.

For Super Channels, Radio One proposes that the following criteria be met:

  • Propose to serve a Black, Hispanic, or Asian audience
  • Certify that the applicant has a proven track record as a broadcaster
  • Certify that the applicant has a national platform through ownership or operation in at least 10 different geographic markets.
  • Commit to a five year lease term
  • Satisfy the requirements of a Qualified Entity, meaning an entity with 51% voting power in the hands of minorities
  • Propose 24/7 operation
  • Certify that the entity has sufficient financial resources to provide the programming on a 24/7 basis.
  • Not currently operate a channel on Sirius XM.

The Radio One proposal is very detailed, and at a minimum provides some good points for discussion. Personally I feel that there are aspects of the proposal that put limits on the number of participants who may qualify. If the goal is to get minority programming into the pipeline, shouldn't it be the quality of the programming that matters more than the race of ownership, or the size of the company?

By example, the criteria set forth by radio One would exclude an entity such as Media Ventures, which filed a letter with the FCC expressing interest in participating in the process. Media Ventures does not own or operate in 10 geographic markets, and therefore by the Radio One definition would not qualify. Also potentially excluded would be a company such as AlphaStar , who would be highly qualified in all respects except that the company is not "minority" owned.

It is time that we stop and look at the goals of these channels. Companies that are capable of satisfying those goals should not be hampered because of race or their size. The idea of Super Channels is great, but implementing them should not be exclusionary.

As the issue heats up, and more suggestions come in, we may begin to hear more about Super Channels. Let's hope that the FCC has the wisdom to make the selection process fair, and allows it to proceed with a speed that will allow broadcasting to happen.

Position: Long SIRI