The FCC this week published a Small Business Compliance Guide for companies looking to take advantage of the FCC’s elimination of the main studio rules and the studio staffing requirements associated with those rules (see our articles here and here summarizing the rule changes). The Compliance Guide points out that stations looking to eliminate their main studios still must maintain a local toll-free telephone number where residents of the community served by the station can call to ask questions or provide information to the licensee. The Guide also references the requirement that access to the public file must be maintained. While, by March 1, all broadcast stations (unless they have obtained a waiver) will have their public files online (see our article here), it is possible that some stations may have a remnant of their file still in paper even after the conversion date. “Old political documents” (documents dealing with advertising sales to candidates, other candidate “uses,” and issue advertising) that were created before the date that a station activates its online file for public viewing need not be uploaded but can be kept in a paper file for the relevant holding period (generally two years). If the station decides not to upload those old political documents, or closes its main studio before they have gone live with their online public file, they will need to maintain a paper file in their community of license. The Guide also mentions how Class A TV stations, which are required to show that they originate programming from their local service area, will be treated since they will no longer have a legally mandated main studio. But are there questions that the Guide does not address?

We think that there are, and that broadcasters who are considering doing away with their main studio need to consider numerous other matters. First, and most importantly, the obligation for a station to serve its local community with public interest programming remains on the books. So stations need to be sure that they are staying in touch with the local issues facing their communities, and they need to address those issues in their local programming. Addressing these issues needs to be documented in Quarterly Issues Programs lists which are the only legally-mandated documents that demonstrate how a station has served its community. There are other issues to consider as well.
Continue Reading What Issues Should Broadcasters be Considering When Taking Advantage of New Rules Abolishing Main Studio and Staffing Requirements?

In a Notice of Apparent Liability, the FCC proposed a $14,000 fine on a broadcaster for a series of violations with respect to its tower. The FCC found that the station failed to have the required lights on the tower operating after sunset on at least two days, failed to notify the FAA of the outage (so that the FAA could send out a NOTAM – a notice to "airmen" notifying them to beware of the unlit tower), and failed to properly register the tower when the current owner acquired the station from its previous owner. As the tower had been sold over 3 years prior to the inspection that discovered the tower lights being out, the FCC determined that the violations were particularly egregious, and upped the fine – which would have been $10,000 for a failure to have the lights operating, and $3000 for failing to update the Antenna Structure Registration ("ASR") by an additional $1000. As noted below, updating tower registrations is considered very important by the FCC as, in another recent decision, the FCC proposed a $6000 fine merely for the failure of a licensee to update a tower registration. 

The case also showed the importance of keeping accurate records of the observation of tower lights. While the FCC did not specifically fine the station owner for not logging the tower light inspections, it did note that there was confusion between the station owner and engineer as to who was inspecting the tower lights and how often they were being inspected, when first asked by the FCC inspector. While records were later provided by the licensee that supposedly showed that the tower lights were inspected on a daily basis, the records were inconsistent and seemed to contradict the observations of the FCC inspectors. What do the rules require?


Continue Reading $14,000 FCC Fine for Tower Violations – Obstruction Light Out, No FAA Notification and Failure to Update Antenna Survey Registration to Report New Owner

In the last few weeks, the FCC has fined a number of broadcast stations for failing to keep up with their EAS obligations. In one case, a low power FM operator was fined $1750 for not having any EAS receiver installed at its station – and not knowing that it was required. LPFM stations must

What should broadcasters worry about from an FCC inspection? A few weeks ago, I was speaking at the Kansas Association of Broadcasters’ annual convention. At the convention, I attended a session conducted by an FCC field inspector and the engineer who conducts the "alternate broadcast inspection program" ("ABIP") for the KAB.  We’ve written about the ABIP program before, and how beneficial participation in that program can be for stations that want to avoid an FCC inspection and possible fine. At the convention, these inspectors talked about the issues on which the FCC is focusing in recent inspections. These issues are not to the exclusion of other common issues that we have written about before – like the need to keep the public file updated, the completion of quarterly issues programs lists, the need to maintain operational an EAS encoder/decoder, and the requirements for manned main studios. But there are other issues, including some that have not been a focus in the past, that now require broadcasters to be on guard.

One issue deals with broadcast auxiliaries. These are the licenses that broadcasters use in connection with their main studio operation. This includes licenses like Studio-Transmitter Links (STLs) that relay programming from the studio to the transmitter site and Remote Pickups (RPUs) that convey remote information back to the studio. During the summer, the FCC fined several stations for using auxiliaries without a license in amounts up to $20,000 (here and here), and issued a fine for $8000 for a station using an STL at a location different than that set out on the STL’s license. Have you moved a main studio in recent times? If so, did you amend your STL license to specify the new studio location – which is most likely the new transmit site for the STL? If you haven’t, and the FCC catches you, you may be looking at a fine.


Continue Reading FCC Inspection Issues for Broadcasters – Auxiliary Licenses, Chief Operator Designations, and Tower Issues

Last week, the FCC issued several fines to broadcasters for failure to observe some basic FCC rules.  As there many FCC rules to observe, broadcasters should use the misfortune of others who have suffered from these fines as a way to check their own operations to make sure that they meet all of the required Commission standards.  In the recent cases, fines were issued for a variety of violations, including the failure to have a manned main studio, the failure to have a working EAS system, incomplete public files, operations of an AM station at night with daytime power, and the failure to have a locked fence around an AM tower.  This post deals with the issues discovered at the studios of stations – a separate post will deal with the issues at the transmitter sites. 

The main studio rule violation was a case that, while seemingly obvious, also should remind broadcasters of their obligations under the requirement that a station have a manned main studio.  In this case, when the FCC inspectors arrived at the station’s main studio, they found it locked and abandoned.  Once they were able to locate a station representative to let them into the studio, they found that there was some equipment in the facility, but it was not hooked up, nor was there any telephone or data line that would permit the station to be controlled from the site.  The Commission’s main studio rules require that there be at least two station employees for whom the studio is their principal place of business (I like to think of it as the place where these employees have their desks with the pictures of their kids or their dog, as the case may be, and where they show up in the morning to drink their morning cup of coffee before heading out to do sales, news or whatever their job may be).  At least one of the two employees who report to the studio as their principal place of business must be a management level employee, and at least one of those employees must be present during all normal business hours.  Thus, the studio should never be devoid of human life.  The studio must be able to originate programming, and the station must be able to be controlled from that location so that the employees there could originate programming in the event of a local emergency.  In light of these violations and others, the station in this case was fined $8000.


Continue Reading FCC Inspections – Fines for Violations of Rules on Main Studio, EAS, and Public File

As we’re approaching the anniversary of September 11, it may be appropriate that the FCC issued an order on Friday upholding a fine imposed on a radio station that did not have an operating EAS system.  The station, while it had a system in place that was capable of transmitting the required EAS tones, had not received any EAS alerts for about a year, and had not entered any reasons for that failure in its station log at any time during the period.  The FCC initially issued an $8000 fine, but reduced the fine to $6400 based on a showing that the station did not have any history of past violations.  However, even though the station was operating at reduced power for a significant period of time due to towers damaged by a storm, the FCC refused to reduce the fine further based on financial hardship as the fine did not exceed 2% of the station’s average gross revenue during the previous three years.

The FCC will reduce fines for a variety of reasons – the most common being the past good record of the station.  In most cases, as here, a showing that the station has not previously been fined will be sufficient to demonstrate the past compliance of the station and justify some reduction in the amount of the fine.  Stations also often plead that they cannot afford to pay a fine.  The 2% of gross revenue standard announced by the Commission in this case seems to set the threshold at which the Commission will consider that plea.  To prove that a reduction of a fine is in order, according to this case, a station needs to submit financial statements showing the past three years performance, and demonstrating that the proposed fine will exceed 2% of the station’s average gross revenues.


Continue Reading Fine For EAS Violation – Financial Hardship Not Enough to Merit a Reduction