The FCC has issued Notices of Apparent Liability against two radio licensees for apparent EEO violations at their respective station clusters. These NALs, issued on the next to last day of the FCC’s business year, are the first to address EEO violations in a year and a half. The common thread in both NALs was the licensee’s failure to properly recruit for new hires, relying primarily on "walk-ins" or referrals in lieu of the "wide dissemination" required for information about job openings.  In one case, where the licensee failed to widely disseminate information about 28 job openings, the FCC proposed a fine of $20,000.  In the other case, where the station owner was able to document recruitment efforts for some of its openings, the FCC proposed a fine of $8000 for the six jobs where the required recruitment efforts were found lacking. 

In the first NAL, the $20,000 proposed forfeiture was based on a finding that the licensee failed to properly recruit for 28 of the 29 full-time vacancies filled over a six year period.  Instead, the licensee relied on "walk-ins" and referrals for six vacancies, and used the Internet or on-air ads for 22 vacancies.  These methods alone do not constitute sufficient dissemination of job vacancies under FCC rules.  In a post last year, we explained that the FCC does not consider Internet advertising alone to be sufficient for recruitment purposes, and questioned whether that policy is appropriate in this day and age.


Continue Reading FCC Imposes Fines Up to $20,000 for EEO Violations

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

If a broadcaster or other FCC regulatee has not paid their regulatory fees when they are due, the FCC’s computer system will show a "red light" on the company that owed the fee – and the FCC will not grant any applications filed by that company.  As it is, it can take days

Are you ready to file your next license renewal application?  It seems like the last license renewal cycle just ended (in fact, the last cycle is not over, as evidenced by the fact that the FCC in the last week has released several decisions dealing with late-filed renewals from the last cycle, and many TV stations still have license renewals that have not been granted due to pending indecency issues).  Nevertheless, a whole new cycle of Form 303 license renewal applications will soon be upon us – beginning in less than a year. The cycle begins with radio stations in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, who are due to file their license renewal applications on June 1, 2011.  Then, every two months thereafter, stations in another group of states files applications, until April 1, 2014 when radio stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware bring the radio renewal cycle to a close.  Television station renewal applications will be due on a state-by-state basis beginning one year later – starting with TVs in DC and the same three states in 2012.  A schedule for the radio renewal filings is available here.  With these deadlines almost upon us, what should stations be doing now to get ready? 

In the last renewal cycle, the biggest source of problems dealt with public file issues.  Remember, stations need to certify in their renewal applications that their public file is complete and accurate and, if it is not, to specify areas where there are deficiencies.  In the last cycle, many stations in particular had issues with Quarterly Programs Issues Lists that were missing from the files, in many cases incurring fines of $10,000 or more where there were many such reports missing from the files.  These reports are also very important, as they are the only required official records to demonstrate the programming that a station broadcast to serve the public interest needs of its service area.  If that service is ever challenged, you will need the reports to demonstrate how your station’s programming met the needs and interests of your city of license and the surrounding area.  Check out our last advisory on the Quarterly Programs Issues Lists, here.


Continue Reading FCC License Renewal Application Cycle Begins in Less Than A Year – What Stations Should Be Doing to Get Ready

The FCC today released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asking for public comment on its proposed Regulatory Fees for 2010. These fees are paid annually by most commercial entities that are regulated by the FCC for the privilege of being regulated. Noncommercial broadcasters are exempt from the annual regulatory fees. Collectively, the FCC is proposing to collect over $335 million in fees this year from licensees across the various regulated services. The fees are normally paid in September, and the specific deadline for the payment of this year’s fees will be set by a future Order after the FCC has received comments on, and formally adopted, this proposed fee schedule. The FCC has set a short time for comments, with initial Comments on the proposed fees due by May 4, 2010, and Reply Comments due on May 11, 2010.

As in the past, the Regulatory Fees for broadcast stations are generally based on the Class of Service and the population covered by a station. For the most part, the fees proposed for 2010 for broadcast stations are not much different from the 2009 rates, with the fees for a few categories of television stations actually going down slightly. Additionally, there is no change in the fee proposed for LPTV, Class A, and television translator stations.  The full list of proposed fees across the various categories of broadcast stations is provided below.  A few things to note with respect to the fees with respect to digital television stations. The NPRM proposes to collect annual regulatory fees from all digital full-service television stations, including any that may have been operating pursuant to Special Temporary Authority (rather than a license) on October 1, 2009.  With respect to low power and Class A television stations, the FCC has proposed that if a station is operating both an analog and a paired digital signal, then only a single regulatory fee will be assessed for the analog facility and no fee would be required for the digital companion channel.

Not surprisingly, the Commission has proposed to make the use of its electronic Fee Filer database  for the submission of the annual regulatory feesmandatory again, as it was in 2009.  It has also proposed that 2010 will be the last year that it will send out reminder letters to broadcast stations about the fees. Starting in 2011, the FCC is proposing to discontinue sending out media notification letters. As the payment deadline will be sometime in September, watch for an Order this Summer adopting the proposed fees, after folks have had a chance to comment. 


Continue Reading FCC Proposes 2010 Annual Regulatory Fees

A reminder that by February 1 noncommercial radio stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York, and noncommercial television stations in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma must prepare and file electronically a biennial Ownership Report with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) using the current noncommercial FCC Form 323-E.

Please note, this filing date

February 1st marks the deadline for two FCC EEO requirements.  First, by February 1st, radio and television stations located in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma must prepare their Annual EEO Public File Reports. Specifically, stations or Station Employment Units (SEUs) in those states with five or more full time

A jury in Sacramento returned a $16.57 million verdict against Entercom Broadcasting’s local subsidiary in the case involving the death of a contestant in a radio station-sponsored contest.  The contest – drinking water and waiting to see which contestant would win the Nintendo Wii by being the last to have to use the bathroom – led to the death of contestant Jennifer Strange by water intoxication.  The station had argued that water intoxication was not a readily known risk of the contest that could have reasonably been anticipated.  The plaintiff’s case, to refute this argument, included testimony of warnings from on-air station callers of the risks, and health complaints from contestants themselves, which were apparently ignored or minimized by the station employees who were involved in supervising the contest.  This Blog does not purport to address negligence and personal liability questions, which we will leave to others.  Instead, we’ll talk about the lesson to broadcasters and the FCC impact of this case.

First, the decision itself serves as a warning to broadcasters of the need to make employees aware of the ramifications of what goes on at a station.  In a Radio Ink Column today, Publisher Eric Rhoads suggests that broadcasters must be careful in what they do, but also submits that owners and managers cannot take the fun out of radio.  And while I wholeheartedly agree with the last sentiment, the fact that radio can be a fun business is all the more reason that owners and managers need to be careful about what goes on at a station.  While we hate to be the lawyers who ruin all the fun, management does need to make employees aware of the nature of the broadcast medium, and the fact that real people are impacted by whatever is done on the station – whether it be a "joke" on the air which some people find offensive, a dangerous contest, or simply putting off compliance with some FCC rule.  We are in a litigious time, and we have an FCC and a Congress with lots of pending matters that could determine the future of the industry.  While it may seem amazing, a single contest gone wrong or wardrobe malfunction can set the tone for the regulation of an entire industry.  So, while broadcast managers need to avoid being the heavies and playing it so safe that they take the fun out of broadcasting, they do need to impress on employees that they must be aware of the ramifications that their actions can have.  Broadcasting is still a powerful medium, and because of that fact, actions taken by broadcasters can have an impact that is magnified far beyond what might be the case in other media or other industries.  And because it is such a regulated industry, that impact can have huge consequences.


Continue Reading $16.57 Million Verdict in Hold Your Wee for Wii Case – What are the FCC Implications and What Should Broadcasters Learn?

On Friday, the Commission formally began a rule making proceeding regarding children and electronic media.  Aware of the vast opportunities, but also the potential risks inherent in today’s (and tomorrow’s) electronic media, the Commission is seeking to gather information about the extent to which children are using media today, the benefits and risks of the various

Last Friday we posted about the FCC’s announcement that it would open a filing window in December for noncommercial applicants interested in seeking authority for 67 existing vacant FM allotments.  Today, the FCC revised the timing of that window and postponed the opening until February 2010.  Accordingly, rather than accepting applications for these vacant noncommercial