Powell Watch

Michael Powell's aides last week tried to squelch rumors that he will be exiting as FCC chairman, but they couldn't extinguish Washington gossip generated by a Time report asserting that he had notified the White House of plans to resign this fall. On the contrary, his office said, he has a fall agenda that includes tackling broadband regulation, spectrum policy and other critical areas. The real key to Powell's future, said other Washington sources, is whether he gets strong White House backing in the media-ownership fight, including help in building support for his much embattled 45% cap on national TV-household reach. So the thinking goes this way:

If the President walks away, Powell does, too.—B.M.

Idol Talk

The three major sponsors of American Idol
are back for next season's installment, and why not? The show was a huge hit and made up a lot of lost ground for the network in the second half of last season. The returning sponsors are Coke, ATT Wireless and Ford. A source familiar with the deals says all are paying record sums—upwards of $20 million each—for the ad packages.

If the idols-in-waiting get a visit from Heather Locklear tossing her tawny locks while talking on a cell phone and eating a turkey on honey oat bread with Vidalia onion sauce, you'll know why. Fox has signed secondary sponsorships with five advertisers that get product tie-ins for one episode. They include Old Navy, Clairol and Nokia—all of which had similar deals last season—and newcomer Subway.

Beyond that, the network sold some of the show's inventory in the upfront and has reserved time for the scatter marketplace.—S.M.

Sauce for the Goose

Among the criticisms of the FCC leveled by anti-deregulation activists was its acceptance of travel expenses to attend the conferences of deep-pocketed folks who wish to affect its decisions regarding media ownership. But now FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein are on the agenda to join some Democratic legislators in meeting with and talking to thinly funded anti-deregulation activists at a November media conference in Madison, Wis., organized by Free Press and its Mediareform.org Web site.

Will the organizers be footing the bill for any of the government attendees? Conference coordinator Nina Huntemann says it may have to. It has set aside funds, she said, adding, "It's par for the course, and some of these people expect it." We're told Copps, for one, has no such expectation. Commissioner Adelstein, for two, told B&C he also would expect to pay his own way.—J.E.

Renewal Reminders

Broadcasters will be getting some help in spreading the word that their licenses are up for renewal. The radio-renewal cycle begins in Washington this fall, with petitions to deny D.C. renewals due Sept. 1. Part of the purpose of Commissioner Michael Copps's planned license-renewal town hall meetings, which he announced last week, is to let the public know when and where those licenses are coming due. While there may not be enough time for a Washington meeting before September, it has not been ruled out. If Washington doesn't make the schedule, look for the first one in North or South Carolina in October, then perhaps Florida early next year. Word is, there isn't enough money to do one in every region, though.—J.E.

Calling All Calls

Do you know the story behind your station's call letters? If you do, you ought to get in touch with Ira Tumpowsky. He has just retired from the Ad Council and intends to dedicate his next few years to a book on call letters and what they mean. According to Tumpowsky, some call letters, like KDKA of the pioneering Pittsburgh AM, mean nothing at all. They were just randomly assigned by the government, he says. But most calls tell something of the station's history of the community it serves, he says. KTRH mean "Kome to The Rice Hotel," the hotel where the Houston AM got its start, he says.

Many are mysteries, or partial mysteries. For instance, Tumpowsky knows that WMAQ of NBC's Chicago TV station stands for "We Must Ask Questions," but he doesn't know why. "Was it a talk, call-in type of format?" he asks. In any event, Tumpowsky would appreciate your call-letter stories. His contact info: 25 Colony Rd., Westport, CT 06880; tump1@optonline.net; 203-227-2229.—H.A.J.