The New York Times recently published an article about NBC’s owned and operated station in New York City acceptance of advertising for liquor. While ads for beer and wine have been a staple on broadcast stations (though see our discussion of the limits on that advertising, here), ads for other alcoholic beverages ads have been less frequent. Many broadcasters have for years believed that such ads were prohibited by the FCC or some other government agency. In fact, alcohol ads have not been prohibited by law, but instead by voluntary actions of trade associations representing broadcasters and the alcoholic beverage industry .
Until the early 1980s, the National Association of Broadcasters had a voluntary code of conduct for broadcasters, suggesting good standards and practices for broadcasters: limiting some broadcast content while encouraging broadcasters to air other programming perceived to be in the public interest. Among the conduct that the Code prohibited was the advertising of hard liquor. While the NAB Code was not mandatory for broadcasters, in filing many routine applications for new stations and for the acquisition of existing stations, the FCC in the past had requirements that the potential broadcasters explain how their programming would serve the public interest. Most applicants would shorthand their compliance plans by simply promising to abide by the NAB code, in effect binding themselves to the code through those representations made to the FCC. The Code was in place until the early 1980s, when the Department of Justice became concerned that code provisions suggesting maximum commercial loads and similar matters functioned as a restraint of trade in violation of the antitrust laws, and the NAB Code was abandoned.