In a decision issued last week, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau once again made clear that stations will be given no slack if they don’t announce on the air all of the material terms of a contest – even the specifics of changes in prizes to be awarded over a long period of time. In this decision, the FCC imposed a $4000 fine on a radio station for a contest called “Who Said That,” where the station broadcast a clip of a celebrity saying something, and gave prizes to listeners who identified the celebrity. The fine was triggered by the last clip in the series, broadcast in 2007, that was not correctly identified for 20 months. Through the summer of 2008, the station continued to broadcast the contest rules, but apparently stopped broadcasting them except when prompted by a listener from summer 2008 through September 2009, when the prize was finally awarded, . The failure to announce the rules during this time period, and the failure to announce that prizes had changed during this time, led to the $4000 fine.

The Commission faulted the licensee for not updating the on-air announcement of the list of the prizes to be awarded. The licensee argued that there was no material violation as, when certain prizes became unavailable (e.g. tickets to concert that occurred during the period when the prize remain unawarded), the station substituted prizes of equal value. But the failure to announce the substitutions, or even that substitutions would be made, was seen by the FCC as a violation of Section 73.1216 of the rules.

This fine was imposed even though, in the contest rules posted on the station’s website, it was made clear that the prizes of equal value could be substituted if announced prizes became unavailable. The FCC said that was not sufficient, as material terms of a contest must be broadcast on the air, and the nature of the prizes, and the fact that there might be substitutions of the prizes over time, were material terms. Simply posting material terms online is not a substitute for broadcasting them on the air.

What are the material terms? We’ve written about what the FCC considers to be the material terms in articles here and here. Broadcast those terms enough so that your listeners are likely to have heard them. As this case makes clear, the Commission is not going to give you a break if they get a complaint and your disclosures are not perfect – and a fine will be coming your way