Broadcast Law Blog

Broadcast Law Blog

FCC Releases Notices on Radio License Renewal Process – New Form, New Database and More Scrutiny of the Public File

Posted in AM Radio, FM Radio, License Renewal

The FCC yesterday released two public notices about the procedures to be used in the upcoming radio license renewal cycle. These actions were previewed by the FCC at the NAB Convention last week (see our article here). As we wrote here and here, the license renewal cycle begins with the filing of license renewal applications by stations in Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia and West Virginia that must be submitted by June 3 (as the June 1 deadline falls on a weekend, the deadline is extended to the next business day). Stations in these states should already be running their Pre-Filing Announcements on the 1st and 16th of the 2 months preceding the renewal filing (see our articles here and here).

The first of yesterday’s notices announces that the renewals will be filed in the FCC’s LMS database which was first used by radio broadcasters in connection with the filing of their last set of Biennial Ownership Reports. In addition to the license renewal form (now FCC Form 2100, Schedule 303-S), broadcasters will also have to submit a Broadcast Equal Employment Opportunity Program Report (LMS Form 2100, Schedule 396). The Public Notice says that the forms will be available by May 1. It also notes that, over time, other radio forms will migrate to the LMS database as the FCC leaves behind CDBS, the database that it has used for broadcasting for well over a decade. Continue Reading

FCC Seeks Comments on Proposal to Allow All-Digital AM Radio Transmission

Posted in AM Radio

The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice announcing the receipt of the Petition for Rulemaking asking that the FCC allow AM stations the option to operate an all-digital facility. We wrote about that Petition here. Currently, AM digital operations are allowed only in a hybrid mode – where the station transmits both an analog and a digital signal. Proponents of the all-digital operation argue that the full digital operation allows for better reception and increased stability of the transmission, and submit that it is time for stations that are willing to transmit in this better system to be allowed to do so without having to seek experimental authority – the only way in which an all-digital AM transmission is now allowed.

Some have suggested that, in order for the FCC to move this proposal forward on a timely basis, industry support is needed. Comments on this Petition for Rulemaking, specifically seeking comments on allowing operation in the MA3 All-Digital Mode of HD Radio, are due on May 13. If you are interested in having the option to operate an all-digital AM station, comments urging the FCC to move forward on this Petition should be filed by that deadline. Once comments are received, the FCC will consider them and, if they sense enough industry support, they will issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking additional comments on rules for implementing this proposal. FCC approval for an all-digital AM service will not happen overnight, but this Public Notice and the comments due in May are certainly the first step in this evolution of AM radio.

Regulatory Issues from the NAB Convention: License Renewals, ATSC 3.0, Translator Interference, Ownership Rules, and Children’s TV

Posted in Children's Programming and Advertising, FM Translators and LPFM, General FCC, License Renewal, Multiple Ownership Rules, Programming Regulations, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

Questions about regulations from Washington don’t disappear just because you are spending time in Las Vegas, and this week’s NAB Convention brought discussion of many such issues. We’ll write about the discussion of antitrust issues that occurred during several sessions at the Convention in another post. But, today, we will report on news about more imminent actions on other issues pending before the FCC.

In his address to broadcasters at the conference, FCC Chairman Pai announced that the order on resolving translator interference complaints has been written and is now circulating among the Commissioners for review. The order is likely to be adopted at the FCC’s May meeting. We wrote here about the many suggestions on how to resolve complaints from full-power stations about interference from FM translators. While the Chairman did not go into detail on how the matter will be resolved, he did indicate that one proposal was likely to be adopted – that which would allow a translator that is allegedly causing interference to the regularly used signal of a full-power broadcast station to move to any open FM channel to resolve the interference. While that ability to change channels may not resolve all issues, particularly in urban areas where there is little available spectrum, it should be helpful in many other locations. Continue Reading

FDA Schedules Hearing on Cannabis; FTC and FDA Send Cease and Desist Letters to Sellers of CBD Products – What is the Effect on Advertising?

Posted in Advertising Issues, Programming Regulations, Public Interest Obligations/Localism

The developments surrounding the regulation of cannabis products, and the impact of that regulation on the ability of broadcasters and other media companies to run ads for these products, continue on an almost daily basis.  Of course, the developments don’t all point in a single direction.  As described below, at the same time as the FDA schedules a hearing to look at cannabis products and the rules that should apply to them, the FTC and FDA together have written warning letters to CBD marketers advising them to stay away from making specific health claims about their products and to avoid promoting edible products.  What does this mean for media companies that have been approached to advertise these products?

We very recently wrote about the murky state of the law on CBD advertising (mentioning our continuing concerns about marijuana advertising even in states where it has been “legalized”).  In that article, we warned that broadcasters should be particularly concerned about selling advertising that markets CBD products to be ingested, or advertising which makes unsupported health claims.  In a joint action announced last week, the FTC and the FDA wrote letters to three sellers of CBD products, warning those companies that their marketing raised legal issues.  In these letters, the FTC expressed concern that the marketing contained health claims that could not be substantiated, and the FDA was concerned about the marketing of supplements and other CDB products to be taken orally that had not been approved by the FDA as either foods or medicines.  At least one of the letters cited a “salve” that presumably was not to be ingested, so the concern there seemed to be solely the specific health claims made for the product.  These letters reinforce the concerns that we expressed about advertising that contains specific health claims or which deals with products to be taken by mouth (either as dietary supplements, medicines or in other foods) – so stations should be especially wary of such ads.  Continue Reading

Music Rights Suit by Radio Music License Committee Against GMR Moved to California Courts – No End in Sight?

Posted in Broadcast Performance Royalty, Intellectual Property, Music Rights

This week, the lawsuit brought by the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC) against new performing rights organization GMR (Global Music Rights) for alleged violations of the antitrust laws was determined by a court in Pennsylvania to have been brought in the wrong place – and transferred to a court in California.  This case has been on hold for well over two years while this procedural question was ironed out.  Now that the case has been transferred to California, the litigation that has been on hold while the jurisdictional issue was resolved can begin – but don’t expect quick results as these complicated cases can take years to resolve.  What is involved in this case?

Back in 2016, when RMLC concluded that it was not likely to reach a negotiated royalty rate for radio’s use of the musical compositions controlled by GMR songwriters and publishers, it brought the Pennsylvania court action.  In that action, it argued that the rates that GMR wanted were an abuse of the market power that GMR was able to exercise by banding these songwriters together and offering a license to radio stations on an all-or-nothing basis (see our articles here and here for more on the initial suit).  As it had done successfully with SESAC (see our article here), and as has been the case for decades with ASCAP and BMI, RMLC had hoped to have the court declare that GMR’s unrestrained royalty demands were contrary to the antitrust laws, and that some limits should be imposed on those rates.  The RMLC suit against GMR was brought in the same Pennsylvania court in which RMLC had sued SESAC, which led to the settlement subjecting SESAC rates to arbitration if the parties could not voluntarily agree on rates (and the arbitration process ultimately resulted in significantly lower rates for commercial radio than SESAC had previously received – see our article here on the results of the arbitration). Continue Reading

April Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Radio License Renewal, Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and Children’s Television Reports, Repacking and EEO Dates, and Comments on the Quadrennial Review

Posted in EEO Compliance/Diversity, General FCC, Incentive Auctions/Broadband Report, License Renewal, Multiple Ownership Rules, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

April, as we wrote last month, begins the start of the radio license renewal process, with stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia having to run on the 1st and 16th of the month public notices of the planned filing of their license renewals at the beginning of June.  As we also noted last month, April also brings a requirement that, by the 10th of the month, stations add to their online public file Quarterly Issues Programs Lists for the prior quarter, setting out the most important issues facing their communities in the prior quarter, and the programming that they aired to address those issues.  We have written about the importance of these quarterly reports to the FCC to show how you served the public interest and the fines that can be imposed at renewal time if the lists are not properly prepared and uploaded to the online public file.  So don’t forget the obligation this obligation that applies to all full-power stations (and Class A TV stations).  We expect that the FCC will be watching (and in fact already is, as evident from some of their recent warnings to stations)!

In addition, April 1 brings the obligation for radio and television stations in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas that are part of an Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees, to add to their online public inspection file their Annual EEO Public Inspection File Report.  This report documents the full-time employment openings at the station in the prior year, the recruitment sources used to fill those positions, and the non-vacancy specific outreach efforts (the menu options) that stations use to inform their community about broadcast job openings and the efforts they make to train their staffs to assume more involved roles at their stations.  TV stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware will also file with the FCC their Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Reports – likely the last mid-term reports to be filed as the FCC’s order abolishing these reports should become effective before the next such reports are due to be submitted (see our articles here and here on the FCC’s abolition of the Mid-Term Report and its continued enforcement of the EEO rules through EEO audits). Continue Reading

April Fool’s Day is Monday – Don’t Let the Joke Be on You by Forgetting the FCC’s Hoax Rule

Posted in Emergency Communications, FCC Fines, General FCC

It’s that time again.  If you are planning any on-air pranks on Monday for April Fools’ Day, think twice.  As we do every year about this time, we need to play our role as attorneys and ruin the fun by repeating our reminder that broadcasters need to be careful with any on-air pranks, jokes or other bits prepared especially for the day.  While a little fun is OK, remember that the FCC does have a rule against on-air hoaxes. While issues under this rule can arise at any time, broadcaster’s temptation to go over the line is probably highest on April 1.

The FCC’s rule against broadcast hoaxes, Section 73.1217, prevents stations from running any information about a “crime or catastrophe” on the air, if the broadcaster (1) knows the information to be false, (2) it is reasonably foreseeable that the broadcast of the material will cause substantial public harm and (3) public harm is in fact caused.  Public harm is defined as “direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public, or diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties.”  Air a program that fits within this definition and causes a public harm, and expect to be fined by the FCC. Continue Reading

Time for All-Digital AM?  Petition for Rulemaking Asks that the FCC Allow It

Posted in AM Radio

For decades, the FCC has been attempting to solve problems with AM reception – in the 90s looking to protect AMs from each other, and today trying to assist them in overcoming the effects of background “noise” coming from the proliferation of electronic devices in the environment which make AM reception, particularly in urban areas, very difficult. Even a number of car makers have announced plans to remove AM radios from new vehicles – particularly electric ones – given these stations’ susceptibility to interference from in-car electronics. Is there a solution?

Bryan Broadcasting (a long-time client that I assisted with its pleading) thinks it is time that the FCC do something dramatic to give AM a long-term future. This week it filed a Petition for Rulemaking asking the FCC to allow any AM to go all-digital in its operation.  The pleading does not suggest that any AM be forced to convert to an all-digital operation – instead it proposes that stations be given the option to make that conversion whenever they want. This is not a new concept, the FCC having considered it in the past and, in its 2015 AM Revitalization Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, discussed listed it as an issue on which they wanted comments so that they could consider such a transition at some point in the future (that discussion principally advanced in the FCC’s questions about the future use of the expanded band – see our post here on that 2015 Order).  Already, there is one AM station in Maryland operating full-time with all-digital facilities under experimental authority, and several tests have been conducted across the country on this all-digital operation.  While these tests have shown many positive results, why suggest this option for AM stations to make this digital conversion now? Continue Reading

Advertising for CBD – Safe for Broadcasters?

Posted in Advertising Issues, General FCC

In the last few months, we probably have had more questions about advertising for CBD products than any other topic. At this point, CBD products seem to be sold in nearly every state in the country, and discussions about CBD’s effectiveness seem to be staples on national and local television talk programs. Broadcasters naturally ask whether they can advertise these seemingly ubiquitous products. Unfortunately, the state of the law on CBD at the current time is particularly confusing, as discussed in this article.

First, a primer on terminology. CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a derivative of the Cannabis sativa plant. Industrial hemp is produced from portions of a strain of the same plant containing low concentrations of the psychoactive chemical known as THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, and hemp can also be used to produce CBD. In contrast, recreational and medical cannabis, derived from the dried flowers, leaves, and stems of the female Cannabis plant (which we’ll call marijuana to distinguish it from hemp), contains higher concentrations of THC and lower concentrations of CBD. Preliminary clinical research has shown the potential benefits of using CBD to treat anxiety, cognition, movement disorders, and pain, and certainly these properties are attributed to the substance in popular culture. But is it legal? Continue Reading

FCC Adopts Rules for Reimbursement of LPTV, TV Translators and FMs Displaced by Incentive Auction; Releases Catalog of Reimbursable Expenses; and Lifts Filing Freeze

Posted in FM Radio, Incentive Auctions/Broadband Report, Low Power Television/Class A TV

In a flurry of actions in the last week, the FCC has acted to assist LPTV stations and TV translators displaced by the TV incentive auction.   It also adopted rules to assist FM stations (including FM translators and Low Power FM stations) that were adversely affected by tower work caused by the incentive auction on the towers they share with TV stations. At the FCC meeting last week, the FCC issued its Report and Order agreeing to reimburse LPTV and TV translator stations for the expenses that they incur in changing channels to accommodate the shrinking of the TV band and the repacking of primary TV stations, as long as those expenses were not reimbursed by other parties (certain wireless carriers have reportedly reimbursed some of these stations for moving quickly to vacate their old channels). FM stations will also be reimbursed for their expenses incurred by tower work by TV stations involved in the repacking that displaced the FM station’s operations. The FCC did not adopt proposals for only partial reimbursement of expenses dependent on the length of displacement (see our article here for more on what those proposals were) – good news for FMs affected by these changes.

The FCC subsequently released a catalog of the types of expenses that would be reimbursed, with estimates for the expected range of those expenses. While displaced stations can seek reimbursement for other expenses that were incurred as a direct result of the incentive auction (excluding any reimbursement for lost sales or employee time), and for expenses that proved to be greater than the FCC’s expectations, the station seeking such reimbursement will need to prove that the expenditures were reasonable and justified. As noted in the Public Notice accompanying the catalog of reimbursable expenses, the FCC will be, at a later date, announcing when eligible stations can start filing for reimbursement. So if you are expecting reimbursement, watch for that notice. Continue Reading