Another radio topic sure to be discussed at the NAB convention this week is the ongoing story of the thousands of FM applications translators still pending at the FCC from the 2003 FM translator window. While this has been a topic at many of the NAB Conventions in the last 10 years, it looks like the end is near. On Tuesday, the FCC adopted yet another order in the processing of these translators, allowing applicants who specified that they were noncommercial operators to amend their applications in a window from April 8 to April 17 to specify commercial operations. That is important to such applicants as, soon after these applications were filed back in 2003, the FCC adopted a policy that said that applicants who elect noncommercial processing could not participate in an auction – and that they would be dismissed if they were mutually exclusive with commercial applicants. Not allowing these applicants the opportunity to amend (as the FCC has done in several other auctions from this period), would mean that the applicants would be dismissed for a defect that had not been announced at the time of their filing.

This is but one more step in the ongoing attempts to complete the processing of these applications so as to permit a new LPFM window later in the year. This will probably mean that thousands of new FM translators will be granted in the coming months – providing opportunities for the expansion of broadcasters’ signals, either in the traditional way of filling in holes in the coverage of FM broadcast stations, or by allowing for the retransmission of AM and FM-HD signals. This should prompt many discussions at the NAB Convention as broadcasters look at the opportunities that these new translator stations will present.


Continue Reading FCC Processing of Translator Applications from 2003 Moves Ahead – Window for Opting Out of Noncommercial Status to Participate in the Auction

Broadcasters are inevitably moving toward a digital future – exploiting new Internet and mobile platforms to supplement their traditional over-the-air operations.  Last week, I conducted two sessions in Salt Lake City for the Utah Broadcasters Association, one on the legal issues to be considered in connection with broadcasters’ use of the digital media, and a second updating broadcasters on all the legal and regulatory issues that they face from Washington with their over-the-air operations.  Slides from the digital media presentation, Broadcasters Online: Legal Issues in the Cyber Jungle, are available here, and those from the broadcast update, the Top Ten Washington Issues that Should Keep Broadcasters Awake at Night, are available here.

To show how quickly things move in Washington, since the seminar, there have been two new developments that relate to topics discussed at the seminar.  On the day of the seminar, the Commission’s Enforcement Bureau came out with a policy statement about a certification that broadcasters need to include in all of their advertising contracts certifying that the advertising was not sold with a discriminatory purpose – as there will be a specific question about the certification in all license renewal applications.  We have summarized the requirements for the clause to be included in the advertising contract here


Continue Reading Digital Media Issues and a Washington Update for Broadcasters – Presentations to the Utah Broadcasters

Public performances, synch and master use licensing, sound recordings, musical compositions – what are all these terms, and how does a digital media company make sense of them and figure out where to go get permission to use music in their business?  These issues were discussed in a webinar that I did with my partner Rob Driscoll

Fines for noncommercial broadcasters who air acknowledgments of their donors and contributors that sound too much like commercials have been a problem area for many noncommercial educational radio and television stations, and have resulted in significant fines from the FCC.  The FCC allows "enhanced underwriting announcements" that identify a sponsor, what their business is

The nuts and bolts of legal issues for broadcasters were highlighted in two sessions in which I participated at last week’s joint convention of the Oregon and Washington State Broadcasters Associations, held in Stephenson, Washington, on the Columbia River that divides the two states.  Initially, I conducted a seminar for broadcasters providing a refresher on their

The NAB Radio Show in Washington two weeks ago was a upbeat reflection of the present state of the broadcast industry.  But sandwiched around that conference, in the last three weeks, I have spoken at three digital media conferences – and as someone who has grown up on over-the-air radio, and based a career on representing radio stations, the discussions at these conferences raised many questions about the future of the radio industry. At the Radio and Internet Newsletter (RAIN) Summit East in DC, prior to the NAB Radio Show, I gave a summary of the royalty issues facing Internet Radio operators. At the Future of Music Policy Summit in DC the next week, I spoke on a panel on the Future of Radio. And at the Digital Music Forum West in Los Angeles last week, I moderated a panel on music licensing issue for digital media companies. At each of these conferences, the focus was on the digital media, not on over-the-air broadcasting, and many times the question was raised as to whether traditional radio was still relevant in the digital age. I’m not sure how many times I was asked, when I told someone that I am a lawyer who represents radio stations, what I plan to do next when my clients are extinct? Even in media-related industries, many seem to regard radio broadcasters as old-school – a throw back to some other entertainment era. Yet, what surprised me was how these same people who questioned the relevance of radio were all able to talk about what songs were or were not being played on the local rock station, or about the crazy thing some local DJ said that morning and the contests running on radio stations in their market, or about the story on NPR that kept them in their car seats when they were sitting in their driveway at home the night before.

At each of these conferences, in listening to the discussions of the issues facing all the new media (like how to make money), the dark view of radio seemed overblown.  Radio still seems to be a vital medium, especially if it can emphasize the advantages that it has. Harnessing the power of radio with digital media creates platforms that neither has on its own. In many ways radio, of all the traditional media, is best able to use its place in the media landscape to expand in the digital world. Radio has always excelled in reaching niche audiences, in much the same way that the Internet now does. By playing to its strengths, whether that be music, news, talk or sports, or some combination thereof, radio can expand its connection and provide broader and deeper services to its listeners, and serve its audiences like never before.  And all the digital media companies seem to recognize this potential, but seem to be discounting radio’s ability to capitalize on its advantages. 


Continue Reading Reflections on the State of Radio – A Month of Discussions at The Radio Show, State Broadcasters Meetings and Digital Media Conferences

So you want to start streaming your radio station on the Internet?  Or maybe you want to start a whole new Internet radio station.  In a session at last week’s Texas Association of Broadcasters Annual Convention in Austin, Dave Oxenford talked about the legal considerations starting an Internet radio station, while Chris Dusterhoff

As I was preparing for a session updating and refreshing broadcasters about their obligations under the FCC’s EEO rules at the Iowa Broadcasters Association annual convention in Des Moines on June 30, I learned of what seemed to be a startling development – the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, one of the most effective advocates in Washington for minority hiring and ownership, had urged the FCC to suspend its enforcement of the EEO rules. What was this all about? I went on with my presentation (the PowerPoint slides for which are available here, and the slides for the presentation that I did at another session providing an update on Washington issues for radio broadcasters are available here), quickly adding a summary of the MMTC request. While some broadcasters might have hoped that the request recognized that the EEO rules were no longer necessary as broadcasters were, on their own, making great strides in diversifying their workforce, in fact what the MMTC was seeking was tighter EEO enforcement, contending that the current rules are so ineffective as to not be worth the time spent on their implementation and enforcement.

While MMTC acknowledged that there have been a number of recent cases fining stations for noncompliance with the EEO rules, it contends that often the stations that are hit by such fines have very diverse workforces, and thus should not have to worry about EEO outreach. We have written about some of these fines.  These cases demonstrate that the current rules are not targeted at minority and gender-based affirmative action, as FCC rules requiring any evaluation of minority and gender-based hiring were twice declared by the US Court of Appeals to be instances of unconstitutional reverse discrimination. Instead, the current rules are focused instead on bringing new people into the broadcast employment workforce – people recruited from a wide variety of community groups, and not exclusively by word of mouth or through other hiring avenues that simply take people from traditional broadcast hiring sources. But, as MMTC points out, these rules are not based on necessarily seeking to include members of minority groups or women in station workforces.  Thus, as their focus is simply on wide dissemination of information about job openings, even stations that have high percentages of minorities and women on their staffs can still run afoul of the rules by not publicizing job openings.


Continue Reading David Oxenford Reviews EEO Rules with the Iowa Broadcasters, While MMTC Asks the FCC to Suspend EEO Enforcement

Davis Wright Tremaine attorneys David Oxenford and Rob Driscoll conducted a seminar –  Using Music in Digital Media: Business and Legal Issues – on June 16, 2010 in New York City.  The seminar was presented to attorneys from committees of the New York State and New York City bar associations.  In the seminar, Dave and

On May 27, 2010, David Oxenford spoke to the Vermont Association of Broadcasters annual meeting in Montpelier, updating the broadcasters on Washington events of importance, and discussing the FCC’s political broadcasting rules.  A copy of Dave’s PowerPoint on issues of importance to broadcasters will be posted here soon.  Broadcasters may want to refer to Davis Wright Tremaine’s Political Broadcasting Guide for a discussion of the political broadcasting issues that may arise in this election season.  One of the political broadcasting issues that was discussed in detail was the issue of what a station should do when faced with a political ad that comes from a third party, attacking a political candidate, and the candidate tells the station that the ad is untrue and, if it continues to run on the air, it may subject the station to liability.

This issue may be coming up more in the coming months.  The recent Citizens United case signals the potential for more campaign spending by corporations and labor unions. This money would be spent directly by these organizations, not contributed to the candidates, as the case did not loosen the limits on corporate contributions directly to candidate’s campaign committees. Thus, as the ads will not come from candidates, they will not be subject to the “no censorship” rule that applies only to candidate ads. Because the no censorship rules prevent a broadcast station from rejecting a candidate’s ad based on its content, stations are protected from any liability for the content of those candidate ads. In contrast, broadcasters are free to reject ads from corporations, labor unions, or other non-candidate groups. Because they can choose whether or not to accept such ads, they can technically be held liable for the contents of those ads, should the ad be defamatory or otherwise contain legally actionable material. This should not be new to broadcasters as, even before Citizens United, stations were often faced with complaints from candidates about ads from third party interest groups (like the political parties’ campaign committees, or so-called 527 groups like MoveOn.org) that were permitted to advertise even before the recent decision. Most broadcasters want to be able to accept these advocacy ads from non-candidate groups, but they also want to avoid potential liability. What is a station to do when it receives such an ad, or when an ad is already running and a candidate complains about its contents?


Continue Reading David Oxenford Speaks to Vermont Broadcasters – Addresses What to Do When a Station Receives a Complaint about the Truth of a Political Ad