The FCC on Friday issued a Public Notice reminding radio stations that the license renewal cycle begins in June, when all stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia are due to electronically file their license renewal applications, along with the Broadcast Equal Employment Opportunity Report on Form 396 (the 396 being required of all full-power stations, even those with fewer than 5 full-time employees). It is still unclear whether these applications will be filed using the current electronic database for radio (called CDBS), or whether the FCC will require radio stations to use the new electronic database that TV stations have been using for several years now (called LMS).
The renewal filing obligation applies to LPFMs and FM translator stations, as well as full-power stations. As we have written many times in recent months (for example here and here), after the June filing deadline for these Mid-Atlantic states, the renewal cycle moves south – with stations in the Carolinas filing by August 1. Every other month for the next 3 years, radio stations in other states will file their renewal applications. The order in which stations file is available on the FCC’s website, here. The TV renewal cycle starts one year later, beginning in June 2020.
The Public Notice reminds stations whose renewals are approaching that they must give public notice of the upcoming renewal filing on the 1st and 16th days of the two months preceding the renewal filing. We noted in our most recent post on upcoming regulatory dates that this pre-filing notice for stations in the Mid-Atlantic states with the June filing deadline must start running on April 1. The FCC’s Public Notice notes that the pre-filing notices should follow the format set out in the rules, even though that format is outdated, as it assumes a paper public file and a manned main studio, even though neither continue to be required by the FCC. Unfortunately, the FCC has not yet managed to update the public notice rule to take these changes into account.
The Public Notice also reminds stations of the importance of the online public file, and the documents that are required to be in that file. Last week, we wrote about an inquiry that came from the FCC addressed to many stations that either had not activated the file or which had incomplete online public files. This notice seems to confirm our concerns that the FCC will be reviewing the public file at license renewal time, and that stations that have not complied with the public file rules may be facing substantial penalties. As we wrote in the last license renewal cycle, stations that were missing Quarterly Issues Programs Lists for several quarters were receiving fines of $10,000 or more (see our articles here, here, here, here and here). This kind of penalty highlights the cost of noncompliance.
So the next license renewal is quickly becoming a reality for radio stations. Be ready to file when your turn comes, and keep up to date on new information from the FCC, including what database to use in order to file your renewal application. Finally, be sure that you are in compliance with the online public file rules and other compliance requirements to avoid big penalties during the renewal cycle.