In these challenging economic times, it seems like almost every day we see a notice that a broadcast station has gone silent while the owner evaluates what to do with the facility. This seems particularly common among AM stations – many of which have significant operating costs and, in recent times, often minimal revenues. The DTV transition deadline (whenever that may be) may also result in a number of TV stations that don’t finish their DTV buildout in time being forced to go dark. While these times may call for these economic measures to cut costs to preserve the operations of other stations that are bringing in revenue, broadcasters must remember that there are specific steps that must be taken at the FCC to avoid fines or other problems down the road.
One of the first issues to be addressed is the requirement that the FCC be informed of the fact that a station has gone silent. Once a station has ceased operations for 10 days, a notice must be filed with the the FCC providing notification that the station is not operational. If the station remains silent for 30 days, specific permission, in the form of a request for Special Temporary Authority to remain silent, must be sought from the FCC. The rules refer to reasons beyond the control of the licensee as providing justification for the station being off the air. Traditionally, the FCC has wanted a licensee to demonstrate that there has been a technical issue that has kept the station off the air. The Commission was reluctant to accept financial concerns as providing justification for the station being silent – especially if there was no clear plan to sell the station or to promptly return it to the air. Perhaps the current economic climate may cause the FCC to be more understanding – at least for some period of time.