Articles Posted in Low Power FM & Translators

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others.  This month’s issue includes:

  • FCC Settles with Six Major Radio Groups Over Political File Violations
  • Texas Radio Stations Face Proposed Fines for Contest Rule Violations
  • $15,000 Fine Proposed for LPFM Station Airing Commercial Ads

The Six Decrees of Compliance: Major Radio Broadcasters Settle with FCC Over Political File Violations

Last week, the FCC announced that it had entered into settlements with six large radio broadcasters over violations of the political file rules.  In a flurry of Consent Decrees, the FCC settled investigations into various political file recordkeeping violations.  Combined, these broadcasters operate roughly 1,900 stations across the country.

Section 315(e)(1) of the Communications Act (“Act”) requires broadcast stations to retain records of requests to purchase political advertising time made (1) by or on behalf of a legally qualified candidate for public office; or (2) by third parties whose ads communicate a message relating to “a political matter of national importance.”  Under the Act and Section 73.1943 of the FCC’s Rules, stations must upload such records to their online political files “as soon as possible”, which means “immediately absent unusual circumstances.”  According to the FCC, maintaining a complete and current political file is critical, in part, because the information affects opposing candidates’ right to an equal opportunity to purchase airtime.  The FCC has also stated that political file disclosures promote the First Amendment goal of fostering an informed electorate capable of holding political interests accountable.

The six Consent Decrees are nearly identical, and concern the failure of the broadcasters’ respective stations to timely upload requests to purchase political advertising time.  Earlier this year, the broadcasters had voluntarily disclosed to the Commission that many of their stations had not timely uploaded the required documents.  One case, however, was prompted by a separate investigation involving an allegation that three New York stations had violated the “lowest unit charge” requirement, which prohibits stations from charging a candidate more than they charge their most favored advertiser for a spot of the same length, class, and daypart during certain periods before an election.  The investigation included a review of the stations’ political files and revealed wider recordkeeping issues.

According to the FCC, all of the stations’ political file violations were “consistent” with disclosures the broadcasters had made in past license renewal applications.

During the spring of 2020, the broadcasters had voluntarily adopted short-term compliance plans, which the FCC noted led to improvements in the stations’ compliance with the political file obligations during that time.  Citing this cooperation and the voluntary disclosures, as well as the significant stress on the radio industry brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission ended its investigation by entering into settlements with the parties, declining to impose fines for these violations.

Under the terms of the settlements, the broadcasters agreed to implement additional measures, including: (1) a more comprehensive compliance plan, (2) periodic compliance reports to the Commission, and (3) cooperation with the National Association of Broadcasters and state broadcasters associations to encourage and promote education and training for all radio broadcasters on political file obligations.

Since late last year, the FCC has issued a series of decisions and clarifications involving stations’ obligations under the political broadcasting rules.  As FCC guidance in this area continues to evolve, stations are advised to work with counsel to ensure compliance with these complicated rules, particularly as political ad buying picks up in the course of this year’s election cycle.  Additional information on the recordkeeping requirements and other political broadcasting rules is included in our Advisory on the subject.

No-Win Situation: Pair of Texas Radio Stations Face Proposed Fines Over Contest Rule Violations

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau recently issued Notices of Apparent Liability (“NAL”) against the licensees of an El Paso and a Houston-area FM station, each proposing fines for violations of the Commission’s rules governing on-air contests.

The FCC regulates on-air contests conducted by broadcasters to protect against practices that may deceive or mislead the public.  Section 73.1216 of the FCC’s Rules requires a licensee to “fully and accurately disclose the material terms of the contest” and the contest must be conducted consistent with those terms (“Contest Rule”).

The FCC’s investigation into the El Paso station’s contest began in March 2017, when it received a complaint alleging that the station failed to award concert tickets to the winner of an on-air contest that occurred at the end of the prior year.  The contest winner claimed that after being crowned the winning caller, they were informed by the station that the tickets were not yet available, and despite repeated requests over the next several months leading up to the concert, the station never awarded the prize.  The day after the concert, the caller filed their complaint.

In response, the Enforcement Bureau issued a Letter of Inquiry (“LOI”) to the station seeking additional information about the contest.  The station responded by acknowledging that it had held the contest and had no record of issuing the prize to the contestant, but maintained that the failure to award the tickets was due to “human error.”  The station further claimed that it was unaware of the issue altogether until it received the LOI, at which point it sought to remedy the error by offering the winner tickets to see the same performer in Las Vegas, along with complimentary travel accommodations.

In response, the FCC concluded that the station’s remedial efforts did not negate its violation of the Contest Rule, noting that the award of additional prizes does not excuse a rule violation.  Under the Commission’s forfeiture guidelines, the base fine for a Contest Rule violation is $4,000, which the FCC may adjust upward or downward based on the facts of a particular case.  In this case, the FCC proposed an upward adjustment in light of an unrelated 2012 enforcement action against a commonly-owned station.  Deeming this a “history of prior violations” by the station’s parent company, the FCC increased the proposed fine to $6,000.

The complaint against the Houston-area station similarly alleged that the station failed to timely award an advertised prize, this time in the form of an all-expenses-paid vacation, to the winner of a 2016 fantasy sports contest.  In October 2018, the Enforcement Bureau issued an LOI to the station seeking information and documents related to the contest.  According to the station, the resort operator withdrew its commitment and the station employee overseeing the contest failed to inform station management or otherwise take action to make good on the prize.  Though the contestant eventually accepted a $3,600 cash replacement prize in return for withdrawing the FCC complaint, the Commission determined that this occurred only after the station received the LOI, and did not warrant ending the investigation.

Consistent with Commission precedent, the FCC found that the remedial measures taken did not negate the rule violation, as the station failed to promptly respond to the contestant’s inquiries about the prize, allowing the issue to remain unresolved for two years.  As a result, the FCC proposed an upward adjustment to the $4,000 base fine, resulting in a total proposed fine of $5,200.

Ads on Colorado Noncommercial LPFM Station Lead to Proposed $15,000 Fine

In an NAL issued this month, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau proposed a $15,000 fine against the licensee of a Colorado low power FM (“LPFM”) station for violating the underwriting laws, which prohibit commercial advertisements on stations with noncommercial authorizations.

While noncommercial stations may broadcast announcements acknowledging their financial supporters, Section 399B of the Communications Act and Section 73.503(d) of the FCC’s Rules prohibit such stations from airing paid advertisements on behalf of for-profit entities.  The FCC has explained that these rules are meant to preserve a locally focused, commercial-free service, and in turn, these stations benefit from access to spectrum designated for their service and fewer regulatory requirements.  Although the Commission permits noncommercial licensees to exercise reasonable “good faith” judgment in determining whether an announcement complies with the Commission’s underwriting requirements, it has also established categorical prohibitions on certain forms of announcements.

Since 2015, the FCC had received complaints from local listeners alleging that the licensee was airing advertisements on the station.  After reviewing these complaints, local FCC field agents began monitoring the station, and recorded what sounded like commercial announcements for 14 different sponsors.  The FCC followed up with an LOI, to which the licensee responded.  The response acknowledged that more than 1,600 advertisements were aired on the station over a three-month period in late 2018, and that the licensee had entered into contracts to air paid announcements for over a dozen for-profit entities.

The FCC identified 14 announcements which violated its underwriting rules that had been aired repeatedly by the station.  It noted that these spots contained numerous prohibited promotional practices, including the use of comparative language to describe products or services, the inclusion of pricing information, references to “menu listings” of products or services, and announcements exceeding 30 seconds in length.  With respect to the length of the announcements, the Commission previously determined that longer announcements are more likely to exceed the limited purpose of merely identifying underwriters, instead becoming promotional in nature.

The FCC’s forfeiture guidelines establish a base fine of $2,000 for underwriting violations, which may be adjusted upward based on the specific facts of the case.  In light of the protracted period of time over which the violations occurred, and the number of announcements at issue, the FCC proposed a $15,000 fine.

A PDF version of this article can be found at FCC Enforcement Monitor ~ July 2020.

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Full power commercial and noncommercial radio stations and LPFM stations, licensed to communities in Illinois and Wisconsin, and full power TV and Class A TV stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in North Carolina and South Carolina, must file their license renewal applications by August 3, 2020.

August 3, 2020 is the license renewal application filing deadline for commercial and noncommercial radio and TV broadcast stations licensed to communities in the following states:

Full Power AM and FM, Low Power FM, and FM Translator Stations:
Illinois and Wisconsin

Full Power TV, Class A, LPTV, and TV Translator Stations:
North Carolina and South Carolina

Overview

The FCC’s state-by-state license renewal cycle began in June 2019 for radio stations and in June 2020 for television stations.  Radio and TV stations licensed to communities in the respective states listed above should be moving forward with their license renewal preparation.  This includes familiarizing themselves with not only the filing deadline itself, but with the requirements for this important filing, including recent changes the FCC has made to the public notice procedures associated with the filing (discussed below).

The license renewal application (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 303-S) primarily consists of a series of certifications in the form of Yes/No questions.  The FCC advises that applicants should only respond “Yes” when they are certain that the response is correct.  Thus, if an applicant is seeking a waiver of a particular rule or policy, or is uncertain that it has fully complied with the rule or policy in question, it should respond “No” to that certification.  The application provides an opportunity for explanations and exhibits, so the FCC indicates that a “No” response to any of the questions “will not cause the immediate dismissal of the application provided that an appropriate exhibit is submitted.”  An applicant should review any such exhibits or explanations with counsel prior to filing.

When answering questions in the license renewal application, the relevant reporting period is the licensee’s entire 8-year license term.  If the licensee most recently received a short-term license renewal, the application reporting period would cover only that abbreviated license term.  Similarly, if the license was assigned or transferred via FCC Form 314 or 315 during the license term, the relevant reporting period is just the time since consummation of that last assignment or transfer.

Stations can find more detail on the FCC’s license renewal application process in our most recent Advisory on the subject.

Certifications for Full Power and Class A TV Stations Only

While there is significant overlap between the certifications included in both the radio and TV applications, an important portion of the license renewal application specific to full power and Class A TV stations concerns certifications regarding the station’s children’s television programming obligations.

The Children’s Television Act of 1990 provides that commercial full power and Class A TV stations must: (1) limit the amount of commercial matter aired during programming designed for children ages 12 and under, and (2) air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children ages 16 and under.  While stations have been required to submit Children’s Television Programming Reports and commercial limits certifications demonstrating their compliance with these requirements on a quarterly or annual basis,[1] the license renewal application requires applicants to further certify that these obligations have been satisfied and documented as required over the entire license term and to explain any instances of noncompliance.  Stations can find additional information on the children’s television programming and reporting obligations in our most recent Children’s Television Programming Advisory.

Although noncommercial TV stations are not subject to commercial limitations or required to file Children’s Television Programming Reports, such stations are required to air programming responsive to children’s educational and informational needs.  In preparation for license renewal, such stations should therefore ensure they have documentation demonstrating compliance with this obligation in the event their license renewal is challenged.

For Class A television stations, in addition to certifications related to children’s television programming, the application requires certification of compliance with the Class A eligibility and service requirements under Section 73.6001 of the FCC’s Rules.  Specifically, the Rules require such stations to broadcast a minimum of 18 hours a day and average at least three hours per week of locally produced programming each quarter to maintain their Class A status.  Applicants must certify that they have and will continue to meet these requirements.

Post-Filing License Renewal Announcements

In prior license renewal cycles, stations were required to give public notice of a license renewal application both before and after the filing of that application.  For the current cycle, the FCC eliminated the pre-filing public notices and modified the procedures for post-filing notices. These changes modify the timing and number of on-air announcements required and revise the text of the announcements themselves.  While these changes are subject to Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) approval and therefore have not yet gone into effect, such approval could be received at any time.  Accordingly, stations should continue to follow the prior rule for the moment, but remain alert for an announcement that the new rules have gone into effect.

As such, full power radio and LPFM stations, and full power TV and Class A TV, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, must broadcast six post-filing license renewal announcements.  These announcements must air once per day on August 1,[2] August 16, September 1, September 16, October 1, and October 16, 2020.

For full power radio and LPFM stations, at least three of these announcements must air between 7:00 am and 9:00 am and/or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.  At least one announcement must also air in each of the following time periods: between 9:00 am and noon, between noon and 4:00 pm, and between 7:00 pm and midnight.  For commercial stations not operating between either 7:00 am and 9:00 am or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm, at least three of these announcements must air during the first two hours of operation.

For full power TV and Class A TV stations, at least three of these announcements must air between 6:00 pm and 11:00 pm (Eastern/Pacific) or 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm (Central/Mountain).  At least one announcement must also air in each of the following local time periods: between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm, between 1:00 pm and 5:00 pm, and between 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm.  LPTV stations capable of local origination must broadcast these announcements at these times or as close to the above schedule as their operating schedule permits.

The text of the post-filing announcement is as follows:

On [date of last renewal grant], [call letters] was granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee until December 1, 2020.  [Stations that have not received a renewal grant since the filing of their previous license renewal application should modify the foregoing to read: “(Call letters) is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee.”]

Our license will expire on December 1, 2020.  We have filed an application for renewal with the FCC.

A copy of this application is available for public inspection at www.fcc.gov.  It contains information concerning this station’s performance during the last eight years [or such other period of time covered by the application, if the station’s license term was other than a standard eight-year term].

Individuals who wish to advise the FCC of facts relating to our renewal application and to whether this station has operated in the public interest should file comments and petitions with the FCC by November 1, 2020.

Further information concerning the FCC’s broadcast license renewal process is available at [address of location of the station] or may be obtained from the FCC, Washington, DC 20554, www.fcc.gov.

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Full power commercial and noncommercial radio stations and LPFM stations, licensed to communities in Michigan and Ohio, and full power TV and Class A TV stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, must begin airing pre-filing license renewal announcements on April 1, 2020.

License renewal applications for these stations, and for in-state FM translator and TV translator/LPTV stations, are due by June 1, 2020.

If a station misses airing any of these required announcements, it should broadcast a make-up announcement as soon as possible and contact counsel to further address the situation.  Special rules apply to noncommercial educational stations that do not normally operate during any month when their announcements would otherwise be due to air, as well as to other silent stations.  These stations should also contact counsel regarding how to give the required public notice.

Pre-Filing License Renewal Announcements

Full power radio and LPFM stations, and full power TV, Class A TV, and LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in the states identified above, must air a total of four pre-filing renewal announcements alerting the public to their upcoming renewal applications beginning two months before their license renewal filing date.  As a result, these stations with June 1 renewal filing deadlines must air the first pre-filing renewal announcement on April 1.  The remaining pre-filing announcements must air once a day on April 16, May 1, and May 16.

For full power radio and LPFM stations, at least two of these four announcements must air between 7:00 am and 9:00 am and/or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.

For full power TV and Class A TV stations, at least two of these four announcements must air between 6:00 pm and 11:00 pm (Eastern/Pacific) or 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm (Central/Mountain).   LPTV stations capable of local origination must broadcast these announcements at the same times or as close to the above schedule as their operating schedule permits.

Stations can find more information on pre- and post-filing announcements, as well as more detail on the FCC’s license renewal cycle, in our most recent radio Advisory on the subject.

The text of the pre-filing announcement is as follows:

On [date of last renewal grant], [call letters] was granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee until October 1, 2020.  [Stations that have not received a renewal grant since the filing of their previous renewal application should modify the foregoing to read: “(Call letters) is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee.”]

Our license will expire on October 1, 2020.  We must file an application for renewal with the FCC by June 1, 2020.  When filed, a copy of this application will be available for public inspection at www.fcc.gov.  It contains information concerning this station’s performance during the last eight years [or other period of time covered by the application, if the station’s license term was not a standard eight-year license term].  Individuals who wish to advise the FCC of facts relating to our renewal application and to whether this station has operated in the public interest should file comments and petitions with the FCC by September 1, 2020.

Further information concerning the FCC’s broadcast license renewal process is available at [address of location of the station] [1] or may be obtained from the FCC, Washington, DC 20554, www.fcc.gov.

Post-Filing License Renewal Announcements

Once the license renewal application has been filed, full power radio and LPFM stations, and full power TV, Class A TV, and LPTV stations capable of local origination must broadcast six post-filing renewal announcements.  These announcements must air once per day on June 1, June 16, July 1, July 16, August 1, and August 16, 2020.

For full power radio and LPFM stations, at least three of these announcements must air between 7:00 am and 9:00 am and/or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.  At least one announcement must air in each of the following time periods: between 9:00 am and noon, between noon and 4:00 pm, and between 7:00 pm and midnight.  For commercial stations not operating between either 7:00 am and 9:00 am or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm, at least three of these announcements must air during the first two hours of operation.

For full power TV and Class A TV stations, at least three of these announcements must air between 6:00 pm and 11:00 pm (Eastern/Pacific) or 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm (Central/Mountain).  At least one announcement must air in each of the following local time periods: between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm, between 1:00 pm and 5:00 pm, and between 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm.  LPTV stations capable of local origination must broadcast these announcements at the same times or as close to the above schedule as their operating schedule permits.

The text of the post-filing announcement is as follows:

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Full power commercial and noncommercial radio stations and LPFM stations licensed to communities in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee must begin airing pre-filing license renewal announcements on February 1, 2020.

Full power commercial and noncommercial radio stations and LPFM stations licensed to communities in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee must begin airing pre-filing license renewal announcements on February 1, 2020.  License renewal applications for these stations, and for in-state FM translator stations, are due by April 1, 2020.

Full power commercial and noncommercial radio and LPFM stations must air four pre-filing announcements alerting the public to the upcoming renewal application filing.  As a result, these radio stations must air the first pre-filing renewal announcement on February 1.  The remaining pre-filing announcements must air once a day on February 16, March 1, and March 16, for a total of four announcements.  At least two of these four announcements must air between 7:00 am and 9:00 am and/or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.

The text of the pre-filing announcement is as follows:

On [date of last renewal grant], [call letters] was granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee until August 1, 2020.  [Stations that have not received a renewal grant since the filing of their previous renewal application should modify the foregoing to read: “(Call letters) is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee.”]

Our license will expire on August 1, 2020.  We must file an application for renewal with the FCC by April 1, 2020.  When filed, a copy of this application will be available for public inspection at www.fcc.gov.  It contains information concerning this station’s performance during the last eight years [or other period of time covered by the application, if the station’s license term was not a standard eight-year license term].  Individuals who wish to advise the FCC of facts relating to our renewal application and to whether this station has operated in the public interest should file comments and petitions with the FCC by July 1, 2020.

Further information concerning the FCC’s broadcast license renewal process is available at [address of location of the station][1] or may be obtained from the FCC, Washington, DC 20554, www.fcc.gov.

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others.  This month’s issue includes:

  • Government Shutdown and Other “Compelling Reasons” Prompt FCC to Reinstate NY Radio Station License
  • FCC Fines Virginia AM Station and Limits License Renewal to Two Years for Missing Quarterly Programs/Issues Lists
  • Virginia Station’s Late License Renewal Application Proves Costly

How Do You Measure a Year?  “Unique Circumstances” Lead to New York AM Station’s Reinstatement

In a Memorandum Opinion and Order and related Consent Decree, the Media Bureau agreed to reinstate the license of a Long Island, New York AM radio station that had been silent for nearly all of 2018 before going back on air without authorization in the midst of this year’s partial government shutdown.  The Media Bureau also approved an application to sell the station that had been pending since February.

Section 73.1745(a) of the FCC’s Rules requires a station to broadcast according to the “modes and power” specified in its license, and further requires licensees to seek special temporary authority (often referred to as an “STA”) when seeking to operate at variance from their license.  Even where a station obtains temporary authority from the FCC to remain silent, Section 312(g) of the Communications Act of 1934 provides that a broadcast station’s license automatically expires if it does not transmit a broadcast signal for 12 consecutive months.  The FCC does not consider unauthorized operation to be a “broadcast signal” for purposes of declaring a station’s operations to be resumed under Section 312(g).  Fortunately, the FCC has the discretion to reinstate a license that would otherwise be lost under Section 312(g) where it is appropriate as a matter of “equity and fairness.”

On January 25, 2018, the AM station went silent due to the loss of its licensed transmitter site.  Shortly thereafter, the licensee sought and was granted authority by the FCC to remain silent through August 16, 2018.  When that date arrived, the station continued to remain silent, but failed to apply for an extension of that authority.  On January 15, 2019, the licensee informed the FCC that it had resumed operations on an emergency antenna at low power, and it filed a request for special temporary authority to operate at those parameters.  The station’s request fell on deaf ears, however, as the federal government was shut down at that time due to a budget dispute.  The FCC did not resume normal operations until January 26, 2019, and did not grant the STA request until February 1. Continue reading →

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Full power commercial and noncommercial radio stations and LPFM stations licensed to communities in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi must begin airing pre-filing license renewal announcements on December 1, 2019. 

Full power commercial and noncommercial radio stations and LPFM stations licensed to communities in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi must begin airing pre-filing license renewal announcements on December 1, 2019.  License renewal applications for these stations, and for in-state FM translator stations, are due by February 1, 2020.  Note that because this filing deadline falls on a weekend, submission of the license renewal application may be made on February 3.  However, the post-filing license renewal announcement for that day (discussed below) must still be made on February 1.

Full power commercial and noncommercial radio and LPFM stations must air four pre-filing announcements alerting the public to the upcoming renewal application filing.  As a result, these radio stations must air the first pre-filing renewal announcement on December 1.  The remaining pre-filing announcements must air once a day on December 16, January 1, and January 16, for a total of four announcements.  At least two of these four announcements must air between 7:00 am and 9:00 am and/or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.

The text of the pre-filing announcement is as follows:

On [date of last renewal grant], [call letters] was granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee until June 1, 2020.  [Stations that have not received a renewal grant since the filing of their previous renewal application should modify the foregoing to read: “(Call letters) is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee.”]

Our license will expire on June 1, 2020.  We must file an application for renewal with the FCC by February 1, 2020.  When filed, a copy of this application will be available for public inspection at www.fcc.gov.  It contains information concerning this station’s performance during the last eight years [or other period of time covered by the application, if the station’s license term was not a standard eight-year license term].  Individuals who wish to advise the FCC of facts relating to our renewal application and to whether this station has operated in the public interest should file comments and petitions with the FCC by May 1, 2020.

Further information concerning the FCC’s broadcast license renewal process is available at [address of location of the station][1] or may be obtained from the FCC, Washington, DC 20554, www.fcc.gov.

If a station misses airing an announcement, it should broadcast a make-up announcement as soon as possible and contact counsel to further address the situation.  Special rules apply to noncommercial educational stations that do not normally operate during any month when their announcements would otherwise be due to air, as well as to other silent stations.  These stations should also contact counsel regarding how to give the required public notice.

Post-Filing License Renewal Announcements

Once the license renewal application has been filed, full power commercial and noncommercial radio and LPFM stations must broadcast six post-filing renewal announcements.  These announcements must air, once per day, on February 1 and February 16, 2020, as well as March 1, March 16, April 1, and April 16, 2020.  At least three of these announcements must air between 7:00 am and 9:00 am and/or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.  At least one announcement must air in each of the following time periods: between 9:00 am and noon, between noon and 4:00 pm, and between 7:00 pm and midnight.

The text of the post-filing announcement is as follows:

On [date of last renewal grant], [call letters] was granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee until June 1, 2020.

Our license will expire on June 1, 2020.  We have filed an application for renewal with the FCC.

A copy of this application is available for public inspection at www.fcc.gov.  It contains information concerning this station’s performance during the last eight years [or such other period of time covered by the application, if the station’s license term was other than a standard eight-year term].

Individuals who wish to advise the FCC of facts relating to our renewal application and to whether this station has operated in the public interest should file comments and petitions with the FCC by May 1, 2020.

Further information concerning the FCC’s broadcast license renewal process is available at [address of location of the station] or may be obtained from the FCC, Washington, DC 20554, www.fcc.gov.

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others.  This month’s issue includes:

  • Faith-Based Station Settles With FCC After Preempting KidVid Programming With Fundraising
  • Arizona LPFM Gets License Reinstated in Consent Decree
  • Christmas Tree’s Harmful Interference Results in Consent Decree With LED Company

Gotta Have Faith: Washington TV Station That Preempted Children’s Programming With Fundraising Settles With FCC

The FCC recently entered into a Consent Decree with the licensee of a faith-based Washington TV station for inaccurate Children’s Television Programming Reports and for failing to provide a sufficient amount of “core” children’s educational programming.

Pursuant to the Children’s Television Act of 1990, the FCC’s children’s television programming (“KidVid”) rules require TV stations to provide programming that “serve[s] the educational and informational needs of children.”  Under the KidVid guidelines in place at the time of the alleged violations, stations were expected to air an average of at least three hours per week of “core” educational children’s programming per program stream.  To count as “core” programming, the programs had to be regularly-scheduled, at least 30 minutes in length, and broadcast between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10 p.m.  A station that aired somewhat less than the averaged three hours per week of core programming could still satisfy its children’s programming obligations by airing other types of programs demonstrating “a level of commitment” to educating children that is “at least equivalent” to airing three hours per week of core programming.  The FCC has since acknowledged that this alternative approach resulted in so much uncertainty that stations rarely invoked it.

Stations must file a Children’s Television Programming Report (currently quarterly, soon to be annually) with the FCC demonstrating compliance with these guidelines.  The reports are then placed in the station’s online Public Inspection File.  Upon a station’s application for license renewal, the Media Bureau reviews these reports to assess the station’s performance over the previous license term.  If the Media Bureau determines that the station failed to comply with the KidVid guidelines, it must refer the application to the full Commission for review of the licensee’s compliance with the Children’s Television Act of 1990.  As we have previously discussed, the FCC recently made significant changes to its KidVid core programming and reporting obligations, much of it having gone into effect earlier this month.

During its review of the station’s 2014 license renewal application, the Media Bureau noticed shortfalls in the station’s core programming scheduling and inaccuracies in the station’s quarterly KidVid reports over the previous term.  It therefore issued a Letter of Inquiry to the station to obtain additional information.  In response, the station acknowledged that it had in fact preempted core programming with live fundraising, but asserted that it still met its obligations through other “supplemental” programming, albeit outside of the 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. window for core programming.  Inaccuracies in its reports were blamed on “clerical errors.”

The Media Bureau concluded that the station’s supplemental programming did not count toward the station’s core programming requirements.  Without getting into the merits of the programming itself, the Media Bureau found the programming insufficient because it was aired outside of the core programming hours.  The Media Bureau also concluded that the station had provided inaccurate information on several of the quarterly reports.

In response, the FCC and the station negotiated a Consent Decree under which the station agreed to pay a $30,700 penalty to the U.S. Treasury and implement a three-year compliance plan.  In return, the FCC agreed to terminate its investigation and grant the station’s pending 2014 license renewal application upon timely payment of the penalty, assuming the FCC did not subsequently discover any other “impediments” to license renewal.

Radio Reset: LPFM License Reinstated (for Now) in Consent Decree Over Various Licensing and Underwriting Violations

In response to years of ownership, construction, and other problems that culminated in its license being revoked in 2018, the licensee of an Arizona low power FM (“LPFM”) station entered into a Consent Decree with the Media Bureau and the Enforcement Bureau. Continue reading →

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Full power commercial and noncommercial radio stations and LPFM stations licensed to communities in Alabama and Georgia must begin airing pre-filing license renewal announcements on October 1, 2019. 

License renewal applications for these stations, and for in-state FM translator stations, are due by December 1, 2019.  Note that because this filing deadline falls on a weekend, submission of the license renewal application may be made on December 2.  However, the post-filing license renewal announcement for that day (discussed below) must still be made on December 1.

Full power commercial and noncommercial radio and LPFM stations must air four pre-filing announcements alerting the public to the upcoming renewal application filing.  As a result, these radio stations must air the first pre-filing renewal announcement on October 1. The remaining pre-filing announcements must air once a day on October 16, November 1, and November 16, for a total of four announcements.  At least two of these four announcements must air between 7:00 am and 9:00 am and/or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.

The text of the pre-filing announcement is as follows:

On [date of last renewal grant], [call letters] was granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee until April 1, 2020.  [Stations that have not received a renewal grant since the filing of their previous renewal application should modify the foregoing to read: “(Call letters) is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee.”]

Our license will expire on April 1, 2020.  We must file an application for renewal with the FCC by December 1, 2019.  When filed, a copy of this application will be available for public inspection at www.fcc.gov.  It contains information concerning this station’s performance during the last eight years [or other period of time covered by the application, if the station’s license term was not a standard eight-year license term].  Individuals who wish to advise the FCC of facts relating to our renewal application and to whether this station has operated in the public interest should file comments and petitions with the FCC by March 1, 2019.

Further information concerning the FCC’s broadcast license renewal process is available at [address of location of the station][1] or may be obtained from the FCC, Washington, DC 20554, www.fcc.gov.

If a station misses airing an announcement, it should broadcast a make-up announcement as soon as possible and contact counsel to further address the situation.  Special rules apply to noncommercial educational stations that do not normally operate during any month when their announcements would otherwise be due to air, as well as to other silent stations. These stations should also contact counsel regarding how to give the required public notice.

Post-Filing License Renewal Announcements

Once the license renewal application has been filed, full power commercial and noncommercial radio and LPFM stations must broadcast six post-filing renewal announcements.  These announcements must air, once per day, on December 1 and December 16, 2019, as well as January 1, January 16, February 1, and February 16, 2020.  At least three of these announcements must air between 7:00 am and 9:00 am and/or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.  At least one announcement must air in each of the following time periods: between 9:00 am and noon, between noon and 4:00 pm, and between 7:00 pm and midnight.

The text of the post-filing announcement is as follows: Continue reading →

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The FCC has released its finalized schedule of annual Regulatory Fees for Fiscal Year 2019, and thanks to the collective efforts of all 50 State Broadcasters Associations and the National Association of Broadcasters, there is some good news for radio stations and satellite television stations.

But before we get to that, some information for you from the FCC’s Public Notice released today on filing requirements.  Fees will be due by 11:59 p.m. EDT on September 24, 2019.  You must file via the FCC’s Fee Filer system, which is available for use now.  You may pay online via credit card or debit card, or submit payment via Automated Clearing House (ACH) or wire transfer.  Remember that $24,999.99 is the daily maximum that can be charged to a credit card in the Fee Filer system.  As a result, many stations may have to pay their fees using the other methods.

Television broadcast stations will see an unfamiliar number in the “Quantity” box when they go to pay.  This relates to the FCC’s phase-in of a population-based methodology for calculating television station fee amounts.  It cannot be changed and should not be a cause for concern.  Regulatees whose total fee amount is $1,000 or less are once again exempt and do not need to pay.

In most years, the outcome of the annual Regulatory Fee battle ends with the FCC’s various regulatees rolling their collective eyes and murmuring “just tell me how much I have to fork over.”  This year’s Regulatory Fee proceeding had some surprises, however.  When the proposed fee amounts were first announced, they contained a dramatic increase in year-over-year fee amounts for most categories of radio stations.  Yet, the reason for this sudden increase was neither addressed by the FCC nor readily apparent from the FCC’s brain-numbing summary of its calculation process.

In response, all 50 State Broadcasters Associations and the NAB filed comments pressing the FCC to revisit its fee methodology and to explain or correct what appeared to be flawed data used to calculate broadcast Regulatory Fee amounts.  In particular, they pressed the FCC to explain why the estimated number of radio stations slated to cover radio’s share of the FCC’s budget had inexplicably plummeted between 2018 and 2019, resulting in each individual station having to shoulder a significantly higher fee burden.

In its regulatory fee Order, the Commission acknowledged that its estimate of the number of radio stations that would be paying Regulatory Fees in 2019 had been “conservative”, and failed to include 553 of the nation’s commercial radio stations.  Once these stations were added to the total number of radio stations previously anticipated to pay Regulatory Fees, the impact was to reduce individual station fees from those originally proposed by 9% to 13%, depending on the class of radio station.

This adjustment prevented what would have otherwise been a roughly $3 million dollar overpayment by radio stations nationwide, significantly exceeding the FCC’s cost of regulating radio stations in FY 2019.  The fact that the FCC listened to the concerns of broadcasters, investigated the discrepancy between 2019 station data and that of prior years, and made appropriate changes to fix the problem, is heartening, particularly given that stations’ only options are paying the fees demanded, seeking a waiver, or turning in their license.

Terrestrial satellite TV stations also received a requested correction to their fee calculations.  As noted above, the FCC is transitioning from a DMA-based fee calculation methodology to a population-based methodology for TV stations.  To phase in this new methodology, the Commission proposed to average each station’s historical and population-based Regulatory Fee amounts and use that average for FY 2019 before moving to a fully population-based fee in FY 2020.

In calculating the average of the “old” and “new” fees, however, the FCC neglected to use the reduced fee amount historically paid by TV satellite stations, which is much lower than that paid by non-satellite TV stations in the same DMA.  As a result, a TV satellite station might have seen its 2019 fees jump by tens of thousand of dollars over FY 2018, only to see them drop again in FY 2020.  The FCC acknowledged that its intent in adopting the phase-in was not to unduly burden TV satellite stations in FY 2019, and it therefore recalculated those fees using the lower historical fee amounts traditionally applied to such stations.

While these reductions are a rare win against ever-increasing regulatory fees, there remain big picture issues that Congress and the FCC need to address in the longer term.  Significant among these is the FCC’s reliance on collecting the fees that support its operations from the licensees it regulates (a burden not a benefit), while charging no fees to those that rely on the FCC’s rulemakings to launch new technologies on unlicensed spectrum or obtain rights against other private parties via the FCC’s rulemaking processes (a benefit not a burden).  Such a narrow approach to funding the FCC makes little sense, particularly where it unduly burdens broadcasters, who, unlike most other regulatees, have no ability to just pass those fees on to consumers as a line item on a bill.

We live in a time of disruption.  Disruption affects all areas of the economy, but surely the most affected has to be the communications sector.  If any government agency can claim to be the regulator of this disruption, it must surely be the FCC.  Yet despite the FCC’s position at the forefront of these changes, its Regulatory Fee process is mired in a system in which broadcasters are left holding the bag for more than 35% of the FCC’s operating budget (once again, burden not benefit).  Even as the FCC spends more of its time and resources on rulemakings, economic analysis, and technical studies surrounding new technologies and new entrants into the communications sector whose main goal is to nibble away at broadcasters’ spectrum, audience, and revenue, it still collects regulatory fees only from the licensees and regulatees of its four “core” bureaus – the International Bureau, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Wireline Competition Bureau, and Media Bureau.  It’s an old formula, and it no longer works.

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Full power commercial and noncommercial radio stations and LPFM stations licensed to communities in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands must begin airing pre-filing license renewal announcements on August 1, 2019. License renewal applications for these stations, and for in-state FM translator stations, are due by October 1, 2019.

Full power commercial and noncommercial radio and LPFM stations must air four pre-filing announcements alerting the public to the upcoming renewal application filing. As a result, these radio stations must air the first pre-filing renewal announcement on August 1. The remaining pre-filing announcements must air once a day on August 16, September 1, and September 16, for a total of four announcements. At least two of these four announcements must air between 7:00 am and 9:00 am and/or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.

The text of the pre-filing announcement is as follows:

On [date of last renewal grant], [call letters] was granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee until February 1, 2020. [Stations that have not received a renewal grant since the filing of their previous renewal application should modify the foregoing to read: “(Call letters) is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee.”]

Our license will expire on February 1, 2020. We must file an application for renewal with the FCC by October 1, 2019. When filed, a copy of this application will be available for public inspection at www.fcc.gov. It contains information concerning this station’s performance during the last eight years [or other period of time covered by the application, if the station’s license term was not a standard eight-year license term]. Individuals who wish to advise the FCC of facts relating to our renewal application and to whether this station has operated in the public interest should file comments and petitions with the FCC by January 1, 2020.

Further information concerning the FCC’s broadcast license renewal process is available at [address of location of the station][1] or may be obtained from the FCC, Washington, DC 20554, www.fcc.gov.

If a station misses airing an announcement, it should broadcast a make-up announcement as soon as possible and contact counsel to further address the situation. Special rules apply to noncommercial educational stations that do not normally operate during any month when their announcements would otherwise be due to air, as well as to other silent stations. These stations should also contact counsel regarding how to give the required public notice.

Post-Filing License Renewal Announcements

Once the license renewal application has been filed, full power commercial and noncommercial radio and LPFM stations must broadcast six post-filing renewal announcements. These announcements must air, once per day, on October 1, October 16, November 1, November 16, December 1, and December 16, 2019. At least three of these announcements must air between 7:00 am and 9:00 am and/or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm. At least one announcement must air in each of the following time periods: between 9:00 am and noon, between noon and 4:00 pm, and between 7:00 pm and midnight.

The text of the post-filing announcement is as follows:

On [date of last renewal grant], [call letters] was granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee until February 1, 2020.

Our license will expire on February 1, 2020. We have filed an application for renewal with the FCC.

A copy of this application is available for public inspection at www.fcc.gov. It contains information concerning this station’s performance during the last eight years [or such other period of time covered by the application, if the station’s license term was other than a standard eight-year term].

Individuals who wish to advise the FCC of facts relating to our renewal application and to whether this station has operated in the public interest should file comments and petitions with the FCC by January 1, 2020.

Further information concerning the FCC’s broadcast license renewal process is available at [address of location of the station] or may be obtained from the FCC, Washington, DC 20554, www.fcc.gov. Continue reading →