As life slowly returns to something approaching normal after the last two years, radio stations may be inclined to go big on some April Fool’s Day stunt.  But remember that not everyone may be in on the joke and a prank that may seem funny to some could trigger concerns with others.  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 on-air bits prepared especially for the day.  While a little fun is OK, remember that the FCC does have a rule against on-air hoaxes.  Issues under this rule can arise at any time, but a 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 foreseeable that the broadcast of the material will cause substantial public harm and (3) substantial 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.”  If you air a program that fits within this definition and causes a public harm, you should expect to be fined by the FCC.
Continue Reading April Fool’s Day and the FCC’s Hoax Rule – Be Careful Out There

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, and two important deadlines in the week ahead, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC Enforcement Bureau this week announced its latest round of random

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, and a look ahead at an important deadline next week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • New FCC sponsorship identification rules that impose obligations on almost

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, and a look ahead to events of importance next week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The Media Bureau this week released the first of what

In a Consent Decree released earlier this week, the FCC showed how serious it is about requiring that when a broadcaster applies for and receives authority to construct a new station or a modification of an existing station, it really plans to construct the station and operate on a permanent basis. In this case, a company called Lowcountry Media agreed to pay $250,000 to the government and surrender FCC authorizations for about 100 LPTV stations to resolve allegations that it had abused FCC processes by filing for and receiving construction permits for changes in at least 30 of its stations without a serious intent to permanently construct and operate each station to serve the public in the area authorized by the permits.  After Lowcountry agreed to these penalties, the FCC allowed the sale of numerous other Lowcountry stations, and gave Lowcountry additional time to construct other new stations whose authorizations it retained.

The FCC explained its concerns leading to the penalties in the following language:

While some Stations were constructed with temporary facilities because of Lowcountry’s alleged difficulty obtaining permanent equipment as a result of supply chain issues….. at least 30 of Lowcountry’s stations were constructed with temporary facilities and only operated for a limited duration (a matter of days) with no apparent intention to provide permanent programming to viewers.

Lowcountry’s business plan apparently was to utilize the Commission’s minor modification application process to relocate the facilities distances greater than 30 miles, without contour overlap, and never permanently operate them at the location specified in the construction permits it acquired from prior licensees and in some cases applied for itself. The Bureau believes that Lowcountry’s actions and filings amounted to an abuse of the Commission’s licensing processes…..

In the LPTV service, the holder of a license or permit for a station can file a “minor change” application at any time.  A minor change is a change in the power or location of a station where some portion of the station’s existing service area overlaps with the area proposed to be served in the newly proposed facilities.  However, in no event can a minor change move a station more than 30 miles.  A major change is one does not fit within the definitions of a minor change.  Major changes can only be filed only when the FCC opens a major change window – which rarely happens (and is usually accompanied by the opportunity to file for new stations – as a major change in an existing facility would preclude the opportunity for someone else to file for a new station).  The FCC is concerned about a broadcaster using multiple “hops” of an LPTV which is not tied to any specific city to accomplish, through serial minor modifications what should only be permitted by a major change – and by doing so cutting off other applicant’s opportunity to file for a new station at some point in the future when a new window does in fact open.  The FCC had a secondary concern that many of these permits were received in a window almost 15 years ago when applicants were restricted to filing for stations in rural areas and, through multiple hops, some of these stations were moved into metropolitan areas.
Continue Reading $250,000 Fine and Surrender of 100 LPTV Authorizations Shows FCC Insistence on Permanent Construction of Stations Authorized by Construction Permits – “Serial Moves” Can Be Abuse of Process

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued a Notice of Apparent Liability proposing a $20,000 fine on an iHeart radio station for

In the last week, the FCC issued proposed fines to two big radio companies for alleged violations of FCC requirements. One proposed fine was for apparent violations of the FCC’s EEO rules, and the other dealt with the obligations of broadcasters to disclose and follow rules for on-air contests.  In both cases, the proposed fines focused on paperwork issues, not necessarily substantive issues.  These decisions seem to signal to the broadcast industry generally that they need to dot every “I” and cross every “T” to avoid penalties like those proposed in these cases.

The EEO Notice of Apparent Liability, issued unanimously by all four FCC Commissioners, proposed a $32,000 fine on Cumulus Media because of one Annual EEO Public File Report that was uploaded to the online public file of co-owned stations in a Georgia market about 9 months after the due date for uploading the report (and the link to that report on each stations’ website was also missing for that period).  In addition, the FCC said that another fine for failing to self-assess the station’s EEO program was warranted. Broadcasters are required to regularly assess the effectiveness of their EEO program.  But what was that failure to assess?  The evidence relied on in issuing this fine was that the public file report had not been uploaded for over 9 months so, if the licensee had been regularly assessing its program, it would have noted that the required report had not made it to the online public file.  The decision did not cite any failure by the licensee to recruit widely when it had open positions, nor any failure of the group to conduct the required EEO non-vacancy specific outreach (described in our posts here and here).  The alleged violations cited in the decision were simply tied to the failure to upload the required documents.  While the base fines for these violations totaled less than $10,000, the proposed fine was increased because Cumulus previously had been found to have had FCC rule violations for EEO and sponsorship identification matters.
Continue Reading Two Proposed FCC Fines Suggest Tougher Enforcement – $32,000 for EEO Paperwork Issues and $20,000 for Alleged Contest Rule Violations

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC proposed a $32,000 fine to a subsidiary of Cumulus Media for EEO and public file violations by a

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • Following up on its proposals from last summer to clean up radio technical rules that were inconsistent, outdated, or inaccurate,

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced several leadership changes at the FCC. The changes include a new head of the Media