WASHINGTON — Following post-election tradition, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Monday said he will step down next month, allowing President-elect Bill Clinton to appoint his own head of the influential regulatory agency.
Alfred C. Sikes, a Republican, has been chairman of the five-member FCC since Aug. 8, 1989. In letters to President George Bush and President-elect Clinton, Sikes made public his decision to resign as of Jan. 19. His term was to end June 30, 1993.
In his three years on the commission, Sikes, a lawyer and a one-time radio station owner, has been a leader in the Bush Administration's effort to reduce government regulation of the telecommunications industry. The FCC is responsible for regulating U.S. radio, television, wire, cable and satellite communications, and is considered one of the most influential of federal agencies.
There was no immediate indication who might succeed Sikes. But industry and agency sources speculated that candidates include Antoinette Cook, who is senior counsel for the Senate communications subcommittee and daughter-in-law of Clinton transition team Director Vernon Jordan; and Sharon Nelson, chairman of the Washington State Public Utilities Commission, who is said to be highly regarded by Vice President-elect Al Gore.
During his tenure, Sikes earned the nickname "The Enforcer" for his campaign to clamp down on abuses by broadcasters who violated technical rules and FCC administrative procedures. He and other commissioners have recently been engaged in a highly public effort to fine radio station owners who aired alleged indecent broadcasts from radio shock jock Howard Stern.
Just Monday, an FCC member said the agency was considering new fines of up to $900,000 against Infinity Broadcasting Corp., the company that employs Stern.
Sikes' departure is expected to pave the way for a more activist commission.
"The FCC under Clinton will not be so afraid of appropriate safeguards in marketplace when needed," said Mickey Gardner, a Washington communications attorney. "He will also not be afraid to use the FCC to realize broader public policy goals like fostering new technologies that we can then export."
Times staff writer John Lippman contributed to this story.