Last week, the FCC issued a hearing designation order, sending to an Administrative Law Judge the question of whether an AM station’s license renewal application should be granted.  The hearing seeks to gather evidence as to whether the renewal should be granted despite the station’s record, under its current licensee, where it was operating for only 36% of the time that the licensee owned the station prior to the renewal being filed, and for only 2 days in the 9 months in 2020 after the renewal was filed.  During much of the period that the station was operating, it operated at less than full power (according to the FCC, often without receiving an STA for that low power operation).

Because of these prolonged periods of silence, the FCC asks whether the licensee was really serving the public interest.  For example, if a station is not operating, it cannot cover local issues or broadcast EAS warnings.  Over the last several years, there have been several cases where the FCC has designated for hearing or revoked licenses of stations with records of non-operation for extended periods during a license renewal term, finding that broadcasters cannot warehouse spectrum.  See our articles here and here about some recent examples.  If a broadcast channel is not used by a licensee, these hearings are held to determine if the public interest might not be better served by taking the channel from its current licensee and awarding it to some other party who will make use of it.
Continue Reading FCC Hearing Designation Order Reminds Broadcasters that Long Periods Where They are Not Operating May Lead to License Renewal Problems

The FCC yesterday issued a Hearing Designation Order for two AM stations in Virginia as these stations were silent for most of their license renewal terms. One of the two stations was on the air for only 54 days out of the 3.4 years that the licensee held the station during the license term, and

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.


Continue Reading Steps to Take When A Broadcast Station Goes Silent