main studio staffing requirements

We’ve heard that some broadcasters are worried about staffing their main studios and allowing the public to visit the studios in this period where the government and health authorities have called for social distancing.  With the elimination of the main studio and studio staffing rules back in 2018 (see our articles here and here),

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?

At the FCC meeting yesterday, the FCC repealed, on a 3 to 2 vote, the main studio and studio staffing requirements for TV and radio broadcasters. The final order, here, was substantially unchanged from the draft we described when it was released last month. Broadcasters need no longer have a main studio or even locate employees in their service areas, but must continue to serve the needs of their community, reflect that service in quarterly issues programs lists, and maintain a toll-free number that will allow local residents to contact the station. Stations that have not completely converted to the online public file must also maintain a local paper file until the online conversion is complete. The changes for the most part become effective 30 days after they are published in the Federal Register.

The FCC, as part of its Media Modernization Initiative, also started a proceeding to abolish the requirement that TV stations with no ancillary and supplementary revenue (revenue from the digital transmission of non-broadcast services) file an FCC report on that revenue. As only about 15 stations had such revenue, to make the thousands of other TV stations to file reports to simply say that they have no such revenue made little sense. The Commission instructed its Media Bureau to consider suspending the requirement for stations with no revenue to file those reports on December 1. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is available here. We wrote about the draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking here, which also addresses a second issue which will also be considered by the Commission.
Continue Reading FCC Approves Repeal of Main Studio Rules and Starts Proceeding to Examine Broadcast Public Notices and Filing of TV Ancillary and Supplementary Revenue Reports

The FCC yesterday released the agenda for its October 24th Open Meeting, as well as draft orders of the matters to be considered at that meeting. For broadcasters, the single most significant proposal was a draft order (available here) to abolish the requirement that a broadcast station maintain a main studio in close proximity to its city of license that is open to the public and staffed during normal business hours. The FCC’s draft order determines that, in today’s modern world, where much communication with broadcasters is done by phone or electronically, and as stations either have or soon will have their public files available online, there was no longer any need to maintain the rule mandating the main studio. So, if the Commission adopts the draft order at its October 24th meeting, the requirement which has been on the books since 1939 will be eliminated.

Together with the main studio rule, the FCC order would also eliminate the requirement that the station have staff members available at that studio. Instead, the licensee, to maintain contact with their community, must maintain a toll-free number accessible to residents of the station’s city of license. That number must be answered during normal business hours of the station – but the person answering the phone line need not be in the city of license. The FCC urged, but did not require, that the phone line be monitored during other hours as well. The phone line can be shared with multiple stations – so an “800” number available nationwide would seem to meet the requirement.
Continue Reading FCC Releases Draft Order to Abolish Main Studio Rule – To Be Considered at its October 24 Meeting

As expected, at its monthly open meeting yesterday, the FCC started two proceedings of particular importance to broadcasters. The first looks at the abolition of the main studio rules. The second asks for comments on all of the other rules affecting broadcasters and other media companies to see which are ripe for appeal. For the most part, the proposals as adopted mirrored the draft orders released for public review back at the end of April, which we summarized here.

The proposal to review all media rules – referred to as the Modernization of Media Regulation – will look at all media-related FCC rules with the idea of eliminating or modifying those that no longer make sense in the modern media environment. Only the multiple ownership rules, already under review in separate proceedings (see our posts here, here and here) are excluded from this review. Comment dates for proposals to change specific rules are due by July 5, with replies due August 4. The two Republican commissioners supported this proposal. Commissioner Clyburn, the FCC’s lone Democrat, dissented from the adoption of the Public Notice launching the inquiry, not necessarily because she is opposed to review of existing rules, but because she felt that the notice presupposes that the public interest can only be achieved by abolishing rules that limit industry operations. She suggests that many FCC rules remain important – including EEO rules, Biennial Ownership Reports, and certain rules governing access to cable programming. The Republican commissioners, on the other hand, point to the efficiencies that can be gained by abolishing rules that no longer make sense, or which require filings that serve no particular purpose (see Commissioner O’Rielly’s statement here). No doubt, these differing perceptions of the rules will be reflected in comments filed by various parties in this proceeding.
Continue Reading FCC Officially Starts Proceedings to Abolish Main Studio Rule and Review All Other Broadcast Rules

In his speech at the NAB Convention (available here), Chairman Pai promised to pursue a broadcast regulatory regime that made sense in today’s competitive media environment. He promised to move quickly to eliminate a number of the unnecessary broadcast rules, and specifically to repeal the main studio rule (see our articles here and here about the current requirements for the operation and staffing of the main studio).  Yesterday, the FCC took its first steps to quickly fulfill those promises, releasing two draft orders to be considered at its May 18 meeting, one to repeal the main studio rule and the second announcing the opening of a proceeding to review all of the other rules that govern broadcasters except the ownership rules that are already under consideration in other proceedings (see our posts here and here about some of the ownership rules already under review).

The draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking to eliminate the main studio rules asks a number of questions seeking support for the FCC’s tentative conclusion that the elimination of the main studio rule is in the public interest.  The NPRM asks questions and seeks information including:

  • how much money the elimination of the main studio rule would save stations,
  • the public interest benefits that would result from any monetary savings (e.g. better programming),
  • information about how often the main studio is currently visited by community members and why they visit,
  • information about how community members communicate with broadcasters with complaints or suggestions about broadcast operations,
  • whether stations can still serve the issues faced by their communities without having a physical presence,
  • whether abolition of the main studio rules in any way abrogates the station’s obligation to serve its local community that would undermine the FCC’s obligations under Section 307(b) of the Communications Act to allocate stations to communities that need service,
  • how the elimination of the rule would work in connection with the requirement that radio stations move their public file online (e.g. should an online public file be a precondition of abolishing the studio or can the paper file be maintained somewhere else if the studio rule is abolished before next March when the online public file is mandatory for all stations),
  • whether to continue to require that stations have a local phone number accessible to residents of their community of license, and
  • specific inquiries as to how Class A TV stations would meet their obligations to air local programs if they have no main studio.

Assuming the FCC adopts the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking at the May 18 meeting, public comments on the proposal and the questions asked by the FCC will be 30 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register.  That would likely put comments in late June or early July, with reply comments 15 days later.
Continue Reading Making Good on Deregulation – FCC Proposes to Eliminate Main Studio Rules and Review All Other Broadcast Regulatory Requirements

The FCC issued a Forfeiture Order this week, fining a station $7000 for violations of the main studio rule. The facts of the case were set out in a Notice of Apparent Liability issued back in February, where the licensee had claimed that its studio was in a location that was shared with another broadcaster

The FCC’s main studio rules require that broadcast stations have a main studio open during normal business hours.  And, when the studio is open, it obviously needs to be manned so that someone is there to meet any visitors who my show up.  And, sometimes, those visitors are from the FCC.  When the FCC shows up, one would think that station employees would go out of their way to greet the inspectors and provide them what they want.  But in two cases decided this week, that simply didn’t seem to be the case, resulting in two notices of apparent liability proposing $10,000 fines.

One case involved a cable system (which also has a public file obligation and a duty to make the file available during normal business hours), whose employees allegedly asked FCC inspectors to return the next day when a supervisory employee would be present.  In a broadcast case, the FCC inspectors found an apparently unmanned building at what was supposed to be the station’s studio site and, when a woman arrived who was apparently the wife of the owner, rather than letting the inspectors in to the building, she told them they would have to call her husband – who did not answer his phone.  In responding to an FCC letter about the inspection that suggested that there was a violation, the licensee said that the inspectors erred by not ringing the door bell, and that employees come and go as they are needed, but are usually there during the day.  After getting that response, the FCC inspectors returned to the station to conduct another inspection, and found no doorbell, and an office that was again empty.  Obviously, these are preliminary findings of liability, and the facts and law, upon further examination, may prove to be different than what the FCC set out.  But broadcasters should take note of the FCC’s actions. 


Continue Reading When the FCC Comes Knocking, Answer the Door! – $10,000 Fines for Unattended Main Studios

The FCC has continued this week on its recent tear of fining broadcast stations and other regulated entities for violations of FCC rules – in the last week proposing fines or reaching consent decrees relating to issues including incomplete public filesEAS violations, unauthorized transfers of FM translators, and tower lighting issues, among others.  But a fine issued to a station a few weeks ago merits further review as it provides some more clarity as to what the FCC requires from a broadcast station’s "main studio."  In this recent case, the FCC proposed a $21,000 fine to this broadcaster who allegedly did not have an adequate main studio or public file, and for operating its AM station after sunset with its daytime facilities.

What do the FCC main studio rules require?  Currently, all full-power broadcasters (including Class A TV stations, with the limited exception of satellite television stations and some noncommercial radio satellite stations who may operate with main studio waivers) must maintain a studio either within its city of license, or at another site either within 25 miles of its city of license or within the city-grade contour of any station licensed to the same city of license as the station.  As set out in Section 73.1125 of the FCC rules, no matter where the studio is located, local residents must be able to reach the station by a toll-free telephone call.  The rule, however, does not specifically state what must be at the main studio – those rules are either found elsewhere in the FCC rules or have been developed by caselaw.


Continue Reading What Do The FCC Main Studio Rules Require? – Recent $21,000 Fine Offers Some Clarification