Articles Posted in Radio

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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:

  • Wireless Internet Provider Hit With $25,000 Proposed Fine for Interference Caused by Network Equipment
  • Unauthorized License Transfers Lead to Consent Decree and $70,000 Civil Penalty
  • FCC Issues Notice of Violation to AM Daytimer Operating Past Sunset

FCC Proposes $25,000 Fine Against Wireless Internet Provider for Causing Harmful Interference

The FCC recently issued a $25,000 Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture against a wireless Internet provider.  This is one of several recent proposed fines involving unauthorized equipment causing harmful interference to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) weather radar systems.

Section 301 of the Communications Act generally prohibits the use or operation of a device for the transmission of radio signals, communications, or energy without an FCC license.  There is an exception, however, for low power devices emitting radiofrequency energy in compliance with certain technical restrictions under Part 15 of the FCC’s Rules.  Relevant to this particular matter, the FCC has authorized unlicensed operations in portions of the 5 GHz band for U-NII (Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure) devices, which are commonly used to provide Wi-Fi and broadband access.  The FCC’s rules require U-NII devices to have Dynamic Frequency Selection (“DFS”), allowing them to detect and thereby avoid interfering with radar systems operating on similar frequencies in the 5 GHz band.

In May 2018, the FCC issued a written warning to the Internet provider concerning interference to the FAA’s nearby doppler weather radar station from unlicensed devices operating on nearby frequencies.  In response, the Internet provider confirmed that all of its equipment conformed to the FCC’s rules designed to prevent such interference.

A year later, however, the FAA notified the FCC that its weather radar station was still experiencing interference from a source operating on a nearby frequency.  Following an investigation, the FCC determined that some of the equipment used by the provider’s network was causing the interference.  Further analysis indicated that the provider’s U-NII devices were improperly configured, and that DFS functionality had been disabled.  The FCC instructed the provider to reconfigure the devices to operate on a different frequency.  Following this change, the interference ceased immediately.

The FCC’s rules establish a base fine of $10,000 for operation without a license or other authorization from the Commission.  In this case, the FCC found two separate $10,000 rule violations: (1) the unauthorized operation of devices in the 5 GHz frequencies, and (2) failure to enable DFS functionality.  The FCC also applied an upward adjustment of $5,000 for failing to address the problem after the first warning, and the provider’s false claim that its equipment complied with FCC rules.

In addition to the $25,000 proposed fine, and to protect the FAA’s weather radar systems from further interference, the FCC ordered the provider to submit a signed statement within 30 days certifying that its U-NII operations comply with the FCC’s rules and all applicable equipment authorizations.

Hospitality Company Enters Into FCC Consent Decree Over Unauthorized Transfer of Wireless Licenses

The FCC entered into a Consent Decree with a large hospitality company to resolve an investigation into unauthorized transfers of wireless licenses acquired in connection with several corporate acquisitions and other transactions.  The resulting $70,000 civil penalty serves as a reminder to companies that don’t often deal with the FCC of the risks and regulatory obligations at play in transactions involving control of FCC licenses. Continue reading →

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This Pillsbury Broadcast Station Advisory is directed to radio and television stations in the areas noted above, and highlights upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule.

June 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, New Mexico, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their Public Inspection File and post the report on their station website.  In addition, certain of these stations, as detailed below, must submit their two most recent EEO Public File Reports along with FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 as part of their license renewal application submissions due by June 1.

Under the FCC’s EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units (“SEUs”), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees (“Nonexempt SEUs”) must also comply with the FCC’s three-prong outreach requirements.  Specifically, Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening, except in exigent circumstances,[1] (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits, based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives (“Menu Options”) suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station’s eight-year license term.  These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, participating in job fairs, and having an internship program.

Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the Public Inspection Files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station’s license renewal application.  The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU’s EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities.  As discussed below, nonexempt SEUs must submit to the FCC their two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports when they file their license renewal applications.

For a detailed description of the EEO Rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broadcasters should consult The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters  published by Pillsbury’s Communications Practice Group. Continue reading →

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This afternoon, the FCC released a brief Order looking toward the day when life in the U.S. hopefully returns to normal, and broadcast stations begin rehiring furloughed workers.

In the two-page Order, the FCC waived the requirement in its EEO Rule that broadcasters and MVPDs engage in “broad outreach” when filling each full-time job position.  Making clear that this relief is restricted to the circumstances of COVID-19, the FCC limited application of the waiver to the rehiring of station employees that were laid off due to the pandemic, and only where the employee is then rehired within nine months of being laid off.

The FCC reasoned that:

Given the unique importance of broadcasters and MVPDs in providing access to breaking news and critical information relating to the pandemic, the public interest, convenience, and necessity would be best served by encouraging these entities to maintain, or quickly resume, normal operations. Facilitating the expeditious re-hiring of full-time employees laid off as a result of the pandemic to job vacancies created by the pandemic supports this important goal.

While the FCC has long recognized a narrow exception to its broad recruitment requirement where a hire occurs under “exigent circumstances” (and it’s hard to imagine more exigent circumstances than a station bringing its employees back on board after a pandemic), today’s waiver avoids the need for stations to have to prove exigent circumstances existed when facing an EEO audit or other EEO review down the road.

The good news is that today’s waiver gives broadcasters and MVPDs one less thing to worry about during the pandemic.  The bad news is that it still leaves about 999,999 others for them to address in the coming months.

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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:

  • Radio Skit Gone Wrong Draws $20,000 Proposed Fine for False Emergency Alert
  • Wireless Microphones Operating on Unauthorized Frequencies Generate Hefty Proposed Fine
  • FCC Issues Citation to Convenience Store Over Errant Surveillance Equipment

No Laughing Matter: Emergency Alert Parody Leads to Proposed $20,000 Fine Against New York FM Station

The FCC recently issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture proposing a $20,000 fine against a New York radio station for airing a false emergency alert.  As we have written in the past, the FCC strictly enforces its rules against airing false Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) tones, arguing that false alerts undermine public confidence in the alert system.

The EAS system is a public warning system utilizing broadcast stations, cable systems, satellite providers, and other video programming systems to permit the President to rapidly communicate with the public during an emergency.  Federal, state and local authorities also use the EAS system to deliver localized emergency information.  The FCC’s rules expressly forbid airing EAS codes, the EAS Attention Signal (the jarring long beep), or a recording or simulation of these tones in any circumstance other than in an actual emergency, during an authorized test, or as part of an authorized public service announcement.  Besides desensitizing the public to alerts in cases of real emergencies, the data embedded in the codes can trigger false activations of emergency alerts on other stations.

On October 3, 2018, FEMA, in coordination with the FCC, conducted a nationwide test of the EAS and Wireless Emergency Alert (“WEA”) systems.  Shortly afterwards, the FCC received a complaint that a New York FM station transmitted an EAS tone during an on-air skit lampooning the scheduled test.  The FCC issued a Letter of Inquiry to the station, demanding a recording of the program and sworn statements regarding whether the tone was, in fact, improperly transmitted.

In response, the station confirmed that it aired the EAS Attention Signal as part of a skit produced by a station employee.  When reviewing the skit before airing, the station spotted an improper EAS header code in it, and told the employee to delete it.  However, the employee merely replaced the header code with a one-second portion of the EAS Attention Signal.  The station then approved and aired the program.

In response, the FCC found that the segment violated its rules, noting that the “use of the Attention Signal in a parody of the first nationwide test of the EAS and WEA is specifically the type of behavior section 11.45 seeks to prevent.”  The FCC also noted that the brief duration of the tone aired was not a defense to a finding of violation.

As a result, the FCC proposed a $20,000 fine.  Although the base fine for airing a false EAS alert is $8,000, the FCC concluded that the circumstances surrounding this case warranted an upward adjustment.  In particular, the FCC stressed the gravity of the situation, noting that the broadcaster aired the false alert on one of the highest-ranking stations in New York City, which itself is the nation’s largest radio market.  Given these facts, the FCC proposed a $20,000 fine.  The station has thirty days to either pay the fine, or present evidence to the FCC justifying reduction or cancellation of it.

A Broad Spectrum of Violations Creates Problems for Wireless Microphone Retailer

In a recently-issued Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture, the FCC proposed a $685,338 fine against a seller of wireless microphones, asserting that the retailer advertised 32 models of noncompliant wireless microphones.

The FCC allocates radiofrequency spectrum for specific uses, with particular attention given to the potential for harmful interference to other users.  The FCC has made certain bands available for use by wireless microphones, with technical rules varying depending on the particular band used.  For manufacturers and retailers, this means their devices must be designed to operate only within the permitted frequency bands.

Under Section 302(b) of the Communications Act, “[n]o person shall manufacture, import, sell, offer for sale, or ship devices or home electronic equipment and systems, or use devices, which fail to comply with regulations promulgated pursuant to [FCC Rules]”.  Section 74.851(f) of the FCC’s Rules requires devices that emit radiofrequency energy (like wireless microphones) to be approved in accordance with the FCC’s certification procedures before being marketed and sold in the United States.  Such devices are also subject to identification and labeling requirements. Continue reading →

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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:

  • Rebroadcast Changes Lead to FM Translator Station Fine
  • Delinquent Regulatory Fees Threaten AM Station License
  • Procedural Missteps Lead to Dismissal of Stations’ Applications in Administrative Proceeding

North Carolina FM Translator’s Primary Station Change Leads to Fine

Following a Notice of Apparent Liability issued last year, the FCC recently issued a Forfeiture Order fining a North Carolina FM Translator station $2,000 for changing the station it rebroadcasts without notifying the Commission.  However, in an oversight by the FCC, the Order was issued in error as the station had already paid the outstanding fine.

Sections 74.1232(b) and 74.1251(c) of the FCC’s Rules set forth eligibility, licensing, and other technical rules applicable to FM translator stations.  Under Section 74.1232(b), an entity may not hold multiple FM translator licenses to retransmit the same signal to substantially the same area without showing a “technical need” for an additional station.  Section 74.1251(c) requires a translator licensee to notify the FCC in writing if it changes the primary station it rebroadcasts.

The Media Bureau’s investigation began in response to a Petition for Reconsideration challenging the grant of a construction permit for the translator station.  The licensee originally applied for the permit in July 2018, but amended its application to change its primary station.  The Bureau granted the amended application the following month.

In its filing, the petitioner acknowledged that it was not a party to the application proceeding, but argued that it was effectively precluded from participating because the FCC granted the application only ten days after the amended application was placed on public notice.  The Commission ultimately dismissed the challenge, determining that ten days is a reasonable amount of time to prepare and file a pleading and further concluded that the petitioner had sufficient notice of the amended application.  The Commission also found that reconsideration of the application grant is not required in the public interest under the FCC’s rules.

In April 2019, the station filed a license application for the now-constructed station, which the Commission granted shortly thereafter.  In response, the petitioner filed a new petition contesting the grant of the license itself claiming that (1) there was no “technical need” for the translator, such as issues with poor signal quality, and (2) the translator was not operating as authorized.  This petition prompted the FCC’s review of the station’s rebroadcasting practices.

In December 2019, the FCC issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order and Notice of Apparent Liability that again rejected the petitioner’s argument that there was no “technical need” for the translator station, noting that this issue is considered at the permitting, not the licensing phase, and that a showing of technical need is only required when the same party proposes to own more than one translator rebroadcasting the same signal in substantially the same area.

The FCC did, however, conclude that the station violated the FCC’s rules by rebroadcasting a station not specified in its authorization without notifying the FCC.  The FCC found that for roughly a month, the translator rebroadcast a nearby AM station, rather than the FM station specified in its license.

Despite these violations, the FCC concluded that permittees are entitled to a “high degree of protection” and a presumption that the Commission’s public interest determination in granting the permit should remain in effect unless it is shown that the station’s operation would go against the public interest.  As a result, the Commission dismissed the license challenge and instead proposed a fine to resolve the violations.

The Notice of Apparent Liability proposed a $2,000 fine.  Although the base fine amount for failure to file required information is $3,000, and $4,000 for unauthorized transmissions, the FCC proposed the reduced fine due to the short duration of the violations and a lack of history of prior offenses.  The Commission recently followed this NAL with a Forfeiture Order requiring the station to pay the $2,000 fine or file a written statement justifying a reduction or cancellation of the fine.  Days later, however, the Commission issued a separate order cancelling the Forfeiture Order, noting that the station had actually already paid the fine, and indicating that the Forfeiture Order was therefore “issued in error”.

Delinquent Payments Come at a High Price: Failure to Pay Regulatory Fees Threatens California AM Station

As previous CommLawCenter posts demonstrate, failure to pay regulatory fees can lead to significant penalties, including license revocation.  In one recent example, the FCC initiated a license revocation proceeding against a California AM station, ordering it to either pay its delinquent regulatory fees or demonstrate why no payment is due.

Section 9 of the Communications Act (the “Act”) requires the FCC to “assess and collect regulatory fees” to recover the costs of its regulatory activities.  When a payment is late or incomplete, a monetary penalty equal to 25 percent of the fee amount owed will be assessed.  The Act also requires the FCC to charge interest on the debt owed.  In addition to these monetary penalties, Section 9A(c)(4) of the Act and Section 1.1164(f) of the FCC’s Rules provide that the FCC may revoke a licensee’s authorization for failure to timely pay regulatory fees.  If the FCC wishes to pursue that option, the licensee must be given at least 60 days to either pay the debt or demonstrate why the fees are inapplicable.  Although applied sparingly by the FCC, the Commission may waive, reduce, or defer payment of the debt where a party demonstrates “extraordinary circumstances” that outweigh the public interest in recovering the regulatory fees. Continue reading →

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Early this afternoon, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing an extension of broadcasters’ deadlines for certain filings in light of the disruptions being caused by the coronavirus epidemic.  Specifically, the FCC indicated that:

As a result of the fluid and challenging situation caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Media Bureau hereby extends the filing deadline for the first annual Children’s Television Programming Report (FCC Form 2100, Schedule H) from March 30, 2020 to July 10, 2020.  Additionally, we extend the deadline by which radio and television broadcasters must place their first quarter issues/programs lists into their Online Public Inspection File from April 10, 2020, to July 10, 2020.  As a result, the filing deadline for both the first and second quarter issues/programs lists will be the same.

In making the announcement, the FCC also noted that “this Public Notice does not modify any requirements or filing deadlines related to stations’ political files, nor does it modify any other filing obligations or deadline related to broadcasters’ public files.”

So, barring any further announcements from the FCC, other regulatory deadlines remain in place, including the obligation to file license renewal applications by April 1 for radio stations in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

With station staffs already stretched thin and many working remotely, the FCC’s announcement will be welcome news.  While the FCC’s announcements in the initial days of the epidemic focused primarily on the telecommunications industry and broadband access, it’s good to see the FCC acknowledge the challenges broadcasters are also facing during this unprecedented time.

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This Pillsbury Broadcast Station Advisory is directed to radio and television stations in the areas noted above, and highlights upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule.

April 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their Public Inspection File and post the report on their station website.  In addition, certain of these stations, as detailed below, must submit their two most recent EEO Public File Reports along with FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 as part of their license renewal application submissions due by April 1.

Under the FCC’s EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units (“SEUs”), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees (“Nonexempt SEUs”) must also comply with the FCC’s three-prong outreach requirements.  Specifically, Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening, except in exigent circumstances, (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits, based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives (“Menu Options”) suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station’s eight-year license term.  These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, participating in job fairs, and having an internship program.

Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the Public Inspection Files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station’s license renewal application.  The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU’s EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities.  As discussed below, nonexempt SEUs must submit to the FCC their two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports when they file their license renewal applications.

For a detailed description of the EEO Rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broadcasters should consult The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters  published by Pillsbury’s Communications Practice Group.

Continue reading →

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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:

Continue reading →

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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:

  • Violations of the Live Broadcasting Rule Lead to $50,000 Consent Decree
  • Decision Affirming Dismissal of Mississippi Station’s License Renewal Application Highlights Intricacies of License Renewal Process
  • FCC Reversal Leads to Reinstatement of Georgia Radio Station’s License

Is This Live?  California Broadcaster Settles with FCC Over Violations of the Live Broadcasting Rule

The FCC recently entered into a Consent Decree with a large California-based radio broadcaster for violating the FCC’s rule prohibiting the broadcast of prerecorded programming that “creates the impression that it is occurring live” (often referred to as the “live broadcasting rule”).  This settlement represents the first time the FCC has publicly enforced the rule in recent years.

According to the FCC, the live broadcasting rule is effectively a consumer protection rule that ensures viewers are not misled into believing that a program is live when it is not.  Under Section 73.1208 of the FCC’s Rules, where “time is of special significance” to the program material aired, or “an affirmative attempt is made to create the impression that [the program material] is occurring simultaneously with the broadcast,” broadcasters must disclose if the program was previously taped, filmed, or recorded.  Such disclosure must be made at the beginning of the broadcast “in terms commonly understood by the public”.  The live broadcasting rule does not extend to prerecorded commercial, promotional, or public service programming.

The FCC began its investigation after receiving a complaint alleging that one of the broadcaster’s Los Angeles-area AM stations was airing a call-in show with the word “Live” in its title even though the show was actually prerecorded.  The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau responded by directing a Letter of Inquiry to the station’s licensee seeking additional information about the program.  In response, the licensee admitted the broadcast had indeed been prerecorded and that at several times during the broadcast, the program’s host had suggested that he was taking listener calls live over the air.  The licensee acknowledged that even though the program created the impression that the broadcast was live, the station under investigation, as well as other commonly-controlled stations that broadcast the same program, had failed to make the required disclaimer.

To resolve the investigation, the licensee’s parent company entered into a Consent Decree with the Enforcement Bureau.  Under the terms of that agreement, the company: (1) agreed to pay a $50,000 civil penalty; (2) admitted to violating the live broadcasting rule; and (3) must implement a three-year compliance plan to prevent future violations.  Considering the costly penalty, broadcasters should be wary when airing prerecorded programming, taking care to determine whether the audience needs to be informed of that fact.

Undisclosed Death of Mississippi Radio Station Owner Ends in Non-Renewal of License

In a recent Memorandum Opinion and Order (“Order”), the FCC denied an Application for Review which challenged the dismissal of a Mississippi AM station’s 2012 license renewal application.  The application had failed to disclose that the station’s licensee had previously died, and unsurprisingly, also failed to include the deceased licensee’s signature.

The years-long saga began in January 2011 following the death of the station’s licensee.  Continue reading →

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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:

  • Arkansas University’s Underwriting Violations Lead to $76,000 Consent Decree
  • Large TV Broadcaster Agrees to Pay $1.3 Million Over Predecessor’s Tower Compliance Problems
  • Recent Fine Cancellations Prompt Broadcasters to Double-Check Fees and Fines

A Word From Our Sponsors: Arkansas University Settles With FCC Over Underwriting Violations

The FCC recently entered into a Consent Decree with an Arkansas university for violating the FCC’s underwriting rules for noncommercial stations.  The university admitted that two of its FM stations aired announcements over several days in 2016 that impermissibly promoted the products or services of its financial contributors.  The two stations are operated by a community college under the University’s control.

Noncommercial educational (“NCE”) broadcast stations are prohibited from airing promotional announcements on behalf of for-profit entities in exchange for any benefit or payment.  Instead, NCE stations may broadcast announcements that identify but do not “promote” station benefactors.  Such messages may not, among other things, include product descriptions, price comparisons, or calls to action on behalf of a for-profit donor.  According to the FCC, these limitations “protect the public’s use and enjoyment of commercial-free broadcasts” and “provide a level playing field for the noncommercial broadcasters that obey the law and for the commercial broadcasters that are entitled to seek revenue from advertising.”

The FCC was tipped off to the violations when the licensees of several nearby commonly-owned stations filed a Formal Complaint outlining over a dozen announcements broadcast on the University’s stations.  The complainants alleged that these messages, which were aired on an ongoing basis in 2016, violated the underwriting rules by either including promotional statements or promoting specific products for sale.  Most of the announcements were sponsored by local businesses, including an announcement for a nearby car dealership described as “impressive with a very clean pre-owned model or program unit,” a furniture store that has a “good deal … going there” where listeners can get “pretty stuff,” and a local insurance agent offering services that he had “never done on radio before.”

The Enforcement Bureau responded to the Formal Complaint by issuing multiple Letters of Inquiry to the University seeking additional information about the announcements and the University’s underwriting compliance efforts.  In its response, the University admitted that the announcements had been simulcast on both stations, but emphasized that the stations’ staff had received “extensive” training on underwriting issues, and that it believed that the stations had complied with the underwriting rules.

To resolve the years-long investigation, the University agreed to enter into a Consent Decree under which the University agreed to: (1) pay a $76,000 civil penalty; (2) admit to violating the FCC’s underwriting rules; and (3) implement a five-year compliance plan to ensure there will be no future violations.

Tower Records: Predecessor’s Lax Oversight of Antenna Structures Leads to $1.3 Million Settlement for Large Broadcast Company

A large television broadcast company has agreed to settle an FCC investigation into whether the prior owner of several of the company’s towers failed to sufficiently monitor and maintain records regarding them.

Part 17 of the FCC’s Rules requires a tower owner to comply with various registration, lighting and painting requirements.  Tower marking and lighting is a vital component of air traffic safety, and noncompliant structures pose serious hazards to air navigation.  To this end, a tower owner is responsible for observing the tower at least once every day for any lighting failures or to have in place an automatic monitoring system to detect such failures.  The tower owner must also maintain a record of any extinguished or improperly functioning lights.  The FCC’s rules also require a tower owner to notify the FCC within 5 days of a change in a tower’s ownership.

In September 2018, a small plane crashed into a southern Louisiana broadcast tower, prompting an FCC investigation into the tower and its owner.  The FCC determined that the tower was registered to a subsidiary of a national broadcaster which at the time controlled over a dozen television stations and related antenna structures.  Following up on the crash, the Enforcement Bureau issued the company a Letter of Inquiry seeking information about its compliance with the FCC’s tower rules.  The company responded by disclosing numerous “irregularities” in its monitoring of the lighting systems of the toppled tower and nine other towers.  It also disclosed that it had failed to keep complete records of a dozen lighting failures at several of its towers, and that it had not notified the Commission of its acquisition of two other towers. Continue reading →