Each week, we summarize some of the regulatory and legal actions of the last week significant to broadcasters – both those from the FCC and those taken elsewhere –with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.  Here is this week’s list of significant

The responses by the major record labels to Commissioner O’Rielly’s inquiry into allegations of payola practices (see our article here) were published last week while we were all distracted with pandemic issues.  While the responses (available here on the Commissioner’s twitter feed) were perhaps not surprising – saying that the record labels do not engage in any on-air pay-for-play practices where the payment is not disclosed – they nevertheless highlight some practices that should be observed at every radio station.  As I have said in many seminars to broadcasters around the country when talking about FCC sponsorship identification requirements, if you get free stuff in exchange for promoting any product or service on the air, disclose that you got that free stuff. As made clear in these responses, when the record companies give free concert tickets or similar merchandise to a radio station for an on-air giveaway to promote a concert or the release of new music by one of their artists, they agree with the station to reveal on the air that the record company provided the ticket or merchandise that is being given away.

The responses also indicate that these record companies do not provide musical artists to play at station events with any agreement – explicit or implicit – that the station will play those artists more frequently because of their appearance.  While that might happen naturally, it also might not (if, for instance, the band is one of many acts participating at some station-sponsored festival).  The record companies state that their contracts with stations for such events make clear that there is no agreement that any artist appearance is tied to additional airplay for that artist.
Continue Reading Record Companies Respond to FCC Commissioner on Payola – What Should Broadcasters Learn from the Responses?

Taking a station off the air is often the last resort of a broadcast company in desperate financial times.  While Payroll Protection Act loans have helped many small broadcasters avoid that action even in light of the dramatic decrease in broadcast advertising revenue in the last two months, and some relief may come in areas of the country looking at some reopening of business in the coming weeks, we have still heard of some stations that just can’t manage continued operations in this period of turmoil – either for financial or operational reasons caused by the current health crisis.  If this action is in the cards for your station because of the pandemic or for any other reason including technical failures, do not forget about the FCC requirements for taking a station silent.

When a broadcast station goes silent, it must notify the FCC of that status within 10 days of going off the air.  If the situation will continue for a longer period, a request for Special Temporary Authority providing the reasons for going off the air must be filed within 30 days of going silent.  These STAs are granted for no more than 6 months at a time, so that date should be noted for the filing of any extension that may be needed.  But be careful, as if a station is silent for a full year, Section 312(g) of the Communications Act provides that the license will be cancelled unless the FCC makes an affirmative finding that there are special public interest reasons for not taking that action (a finding made in very rare cases).  When stations resume operations, they must notify the FCC that they are back on the air.  But to be considered back on the air, there must be programming – running a test pattern is insufficient (see the case we wrote about here).  Even with authority to remain silent, there are risks.
Continue Reading Broadcast Stations Going Silent – What You Need to Do

During most months, FCC procedures, rules and regulations, with their mostly predictable schedules and deadlines, give broadcasters a feeling of routine.  In this time of stay-at-home orders, social distancing measures, and face-mask wearing, even FCC deadlines cannot provide the semblance of normality we are all looking for.  In fact, May is one of those months where there are no regularly scheduled regulatory filings (e.g., no renewals, EEO reports, fee filings, or scheduled public file disclosures).  Nevertheless, as always, there are a number of important regulatory dates—and changes in some dates—for May of which broadcasters should be aware.

The radio license renewal process continues its march across the country, and the renewal cycle for television begins with the required filing by June 1 of license renewals by full-power TV, Class A TV, TV translator, and LPTV stations in DC, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.  Those stations should be working on their renewals in May, looking to file them on or before the June 1 deadline.  See our article here on the FCC’s recent announcement of the procedures for filing TV renewal applications.
Continue Reading May Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – License Renewal Preparations, FCC Meeting, and Comments on the Communications Marketplace, Significant Viewing and FM Zonecasting

The FCC issued public notices this week on the license renewal process for both radio and television operators.  The Public Notice on television renewals was perhaps more significant, as it addressed several issues and procedures for the television renewal process which begins with the filing of renewals for stations located in Maryland, DC, Virginia

In the last few weeks, both on the radio and TV side of the broadcasting house, significant actions have been taken to potentially expand the use of zoned broadcasting to allow broadcasters to better target their audience with programming and advertisements.  For TV, that is the proposed increase in use of distributed transmission systems, about which we will write in another article.  For radio, a petition for rulemaking has been filed by a company called GeoBroadcast Solutions, proposing to use FM boosters to be able to provide such targeted programming within an FM station’s service area.  The FCC last week issued a public notice asking for initial comments on the proposal – and those comments are due by May 4.

The FM zonecasting petition calls for a change in Commission rules that currently require FM boosters to simulcast 100% of the programming from their primary station.  The proposed change in the rules would instead say that FM boosters would have to substantially duplicate the programming of the primary station but would allow commercials, news reports or other short content to be dropped into the programming on a booster that would be different than that programming on the main station. The proposal suggests that this would allow more targeted advertising within a market as well as more targeted news and information (including emergency information) within the market.
Continue Reading FCC Asked to Consider “Zonecasting” for FM Stations – Initial Comments Due May 4

The FCC last week released its tentative agenda for its April 23 open meeting.  For broadcasters, that meeting will include consideration of the adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (draft NPRM here) looking to broaden obligations for the audio description of television programming (referred to as the Video Description proceeding) – which we will write about in more detail later.  The agenda also includes a Report and Order modifying rules relating to Low Power FM stations, which also addresses the protection of TV channel 6 stations by FM stations (full-power or LPFM) operating in the portion of the FM band reserved for use by noncommercial stations.  The FCC’s draft order in this proceeding is here.  We initially wrote here about these FCC’s proposals when the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the proceeding was adopted last year. Today, we will look at how the FCC has tentatively decided to resolve some of the issues.

One of the most controversial issues was the proposal to allow LPFM stations to operate with a directional antenna.  While some directional operations had been approved by waiver in the past, there was some fear that allowing these antennas more broadly could create the potential for more interference to full-power stations.  As a directional antenna requires greater care in installation and maintenance to ensure that it works as designed, some feared that LPFM operators, usually community groups often without a broadcast background or substantial resources, would not be able to properly operate such facilities.  The FCC has tentatively decided to allow use of directional antenna by LPFM stations. However, it will require LPFM stations installing such antennas to conduct proof of performance measurements to assure that the antenna is operating as designed.  The cost of such antennas, the limited situations in which such antennas will be needed (principally when protecting translators and in border areas), and the additional cost of the proof of performance should, in the FCC’s opinion, help to limit their use to entities that can afford to maintain them properly.
Continue Reading FCC April Meeting to Consider LPFM and Video Captioning – Looking at the LPFM Proposed Order (Including Interference Protections for TV Channel 6)

In the last three weeks, we have written about actions that the FCC has taken to help broadcasters through the current crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus.  The FCC appears to realize that the business of broadcasting in the current crisis is vastly different than it was just a month ago.  The FCC has provided

FCC business marches on in this time of social distancing and mandatory lockdowns, though with modifications caused by the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  The FCC released a Public Notice yesterday announcing that its monthly open meeting scheduled for March 31 will be held by teleconference rather than live in the FCC meeting room.  It can be viewed on the FCC’s website and on its YouTube channel.  Most of the action items will have already been voted on by the Commissioners through the “circulation” process.  This means that the votes will be taken on the written orders without any formal presentations by FCC staff members explaining the actions, and without orally-delivered statements by any of the Commissioners – though the Commissioners can certainly make their feelings known in written statements on the items on which they will have voted.  The meeting itself is likely to consist of Commission announcements and statements by the Commissioners on the current state of affairs.

Issues that were to be considered at the meeting of interest to broadcasters include the adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Distributed Transmission System technology for TV stations – making it easier for TV stations to fill in their market coverage with multiple transmitters spread throughout the market, rather than a single big transmitter in the center of the market – a technology made easier as stations transition to the new ATSC 3.0 transmission system (see the draft NPRM here).  FCC Notices of Proposed Rulemaking on significantly viewed TV stations (draft NPRM here) and cable carriage disputes (draft Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking here) are also on the agenda.
Continue Reading FCC Activity in the Time of COVID-19 – Commission Meeting to be Held Virtually, Commissioner O’Rielly Nominated for New Term