With the holiday season getting smaller in the rear-view mirror and many parts of the country dealing with ice, snow, and single-digit temperatures, broadcasters could be forgiven for dreaming about the sunshine and warmth that come with spring. Before spring arrives, however, broadcasters need to tend to important regulatory matters in February. And, if you find yourself eager to plan past February, use our 2020 Broadcasters’ Calendar as a reference tool for tracking regulatory dates through the end of 2020.
But focusing on the month ahead, by February 3, all AM, FM, LPFM, and FM translator stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi must file their license renewal applications. For the full-power stations in the state, there’s an additional EEO task to complete irrespective of how many employees a station employment unit (SEU) has. Before filing for license renewal, stations in these three states must submit FCC Schedule 396. This schedule is the Broadcast Equal Employment Opportunity Program Report, which is a reporting to the FCC of the SEU’s equal employment opportunity activities for the last license period (SEUs with fewer than five full-time employees are not required to maintain an EEO recruitment program and are only required to check a box that they have fewer than 5 full-time employees and skip ahead to the certification). The sequencing here is important: When filing for license renewal, the application (Schedule 303-S) asks for the file number of your already-filed Schedule 396. So, without having already filed the schedule, you won’t be able to complete your renewal application.
Beginning February 1, stations filing renewals must begin airing a series of six post-filing announcements (one announcement each on February 1, February 16, March 1, March 16, April 1, and April 16). Stations in Alabama and Georgia that filed earlier in the renewal cycle air their fifth post-filing announcement on February 1 and their sixth and final announcement on February 16. These stations must then place in their online public file certifications of air times and dates for all the pre- and post-filing announcements they ran.
Full-power AM, FM, LPFM, and FM translator stations in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee are due to file license renewal applications by April 1, but, before that, those stations must air a series of announcements alerting listeners to their upcoming license renewal filing. The first of four of these pre-filing announcements must air on February 1, with announcements two, three, and four airing on February 16, March 1, and March 16 respectively.
Stations are required to air pre-filing announcements in the two months prior to the month in which their license renewal application is due. For more on pre-filing announcements, including the timing of the announcements and sample text to use, visit the FCC’s radio license renewal page here.
February 1 also brings the obligation for full-power radio and television stations in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma with five or more full-time employees in their SEU to place in their online public file and on their station website an EEO report reporting on their hiring from February 1, 2019 to January 31, 2020. An SEU is one or more stations under common control, serving the same area, and sharing one or more full-time staff person. As a reminder, your Annual EEO Public Inspection File Report should include, among other things, a list of all full-time vacancies filled by the SEU during the year, identified by job title and the recruitment source(s) used to fill the vacancy, the recruitment source that referred the person(s) hired for each full-time vacancy during the year, data showing how many people were interviewed for full-time openings, and a showing of your efforts throughout the year to engage in non-vacancy specific EEO recruitment activities to inform your community about broadcast employment and to train people for broadcast positions. Remember, the FCC conducts random EEO audits and has not been shy over the last few years about fining stations for EEO violations.
In addition to these routine deadlines, there is plenty more going on for broadcaster to consider. Turn on any news program, and there is bound to be some discussion of the early presidential primaries and caucuses happening in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Don’t forget that those four contests are merely a pre-cursor to the dozens of primaries and caucuses that follow across the country. Several primaries and caucuses happen in March and April, so lowest unit rate (LUR) windows for several states open throughout February. These begin on February 1 with LUR windows opening in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, N. Mariana Islands (R), and Ohio. LUR windows open later in the month in the following states (in some cases only dealing with contests for the Republican or Democratic nomination): February 5 (Kentucky (R)); February 8 (American Samoa (R) and Georgia); February 11 (North Dakota (R)); February 13 (Puerto Rico (D)); February 19 (Alaska (D), Hawaii (D), Louisiana, and Wyoming (D)); and February 22 (Wisconsin). For more on issues computing lowest unit rates, see our articles here, here and here (this last article dealing with the issues of package plans and how to determine the rates applicable to spots in such plans), and our Political Broadcasting Guide, here.
Also in February is the close of the filing window for the latest FM auction. See our articles here and here on the upcoming auction and the new FM channels that are available. If you want to participate in the April auction, you need to file an FCC Short-Form application by February 11 at 6 PM Eastern Time. Note that there is a freeze on FM minor change applications during the filing window for that auction – from January 29 through February 11.
Reply comments are due in February in FCC proceedings to assess whether to allow the continuation of FM operation on channel 6 LPTV stations (so-called Franken FMs), which we wrote about here. Reply comments are due by February 6. Reply comments are also due that day on the FCC’s proposal to change the prohibition on the duplication of more than 25% of the programming on two AMs or two FMs that serve substantially the same area. See our article here on this proposal.
February will also bring an FCC decision as to whether or not to appeal to the Supreme Court the Third Circuit’s decision throwing out the FCC’s 2017 changes to the ownership rules, including the abolition of the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership prohibition and the rule that required that there remain 8 independent TV owners and operators in a market before two TV stations can be commonly owned. We wrote about the Third Circuit decision and its aftermath here, here and here.
Parties should also be preparing for the March 9 filing deadline for comments in the FCC’s rulemaking on whether or not to allow AM stations to voluntarily convert to all-digital operations. See our articles here and here on that proposal.
As always, consult with legal counsel and the FCC rules to be sure your station is meeting all of its obligations, and stay tuned to broadcastlawblog.com for updates.