The FCC has asked for comments on a rulemaking proposal that would fundamentally change the way in which LPFM stations operate – proposing that they be allowed to take commercial messages (as opposed to the current limit the they operate noncommercially, only taking underwriting announcements and other noncommercial sponsorships), allowing them to be owned by local small businesses (as opposed to the current rule that limit their ownership to nonprofit organizations), and giving them primary status (protecting them against being displaced by a subsequent move of a full-power station or the initiation of service by a new full-power FM station). The proposal also asks that the limits on ownership, which currently limit most nonprofit groups to ownership of a single LPFM, be lifted. There is also a suggestion that LPFM stations be governed by the same spacing rules that apply to FM translators, letting them locate wherever there is no predicted interference, not limiting them to locations where they meet mileage separation requirements set out by the current rules. This is a new proposal, going beyond the proposal we wrote about here to allow LPFM stations to increase power to 250 watts, on which the FCC recently took comments.

Comments on this proposal are due on August 30. The proposal is not a proposal by the FCC to adopt rules on these matters, but instead just a preliminary notice that the petition asking for these changes to the rules was filed, and asking for public comment as to whether the FCC should take any action and further pursue the proposals being made. Obviously, some broadcasters may want to comment on this proposal which would fundamentally change the nature of the LPFM service.
Continue Reading Proposal Asks that Low Power FM Stations Be Given Primary Status, and Allowed to Operate Commercially

Last week, the FCC issued several fines to noncommercial broadcasters who had underwriting announcements that sounded too commercial.  In these decisions, the Commission found that the stations had broadcast promotional announcements for commercial businesses – and those announcements did not conform to the FCC’s rules requiring that announcements acknowledging contributions to noncommercial stations cannot contain qualitative claims about the sponsor, nor can they contain "calls to action" suggesting that listeners patronize the sponsor.  These cases also raised an interesting issue in that the promotional announcements that exceeded FCC limits were not in programming produced by the station, but instead in programs produced by outside parties who received the compensation that led to the announcement.  The FCC found that there was liability for the spots that were too promotional even though the station itself had received no compensation for the airing of that spot.

The rules for underwriting announcements on noncommercial stations (including Low Power FM stations) limit these announcements to ones that identify sponsors, but do not overtly promote their businesses.   Underwriting announcements can identify the sponsor, say what the business of the sponsor is, and give a location (seemingly including a website address).  But the announcements cannot do anything that would specifically encourage patronage of the sponsor’s business.  They cannot contain a "call to action" (e.g. they cannot say "visit Joe’s hardware on Main Street" or "Call Mary’s Insurance Company today").  They cannot contain any qualitative statements about the sponsors products or services (e.g. they cannot say "delicious food", "the best service", or "a friendly and knowledgeable staff" ).  The underwriting announcements cannot contain price information about products sold by a sponsor.  In one of the cases decided this week, the Commission also stated that the announcements cannot be too long, as that in and of itself makes the spot seem overly promotional and was more than was necessary to identify the sponsor and the business that the sponsor was in.  The spot that was criticized was approximately 60 seconds in length. 


Continue Reading FCC Fines for Noncommercial Stations Having Underwriting Announcements That Were Too Commercial – Even Where the Station Received No Money