underwriting announcement

Stations that are licensed as "noncommercial educational" stations are prohibited by the FCC from running commercials – seemingly a pretty straightforward prohibition.  Yet drawing the line between a prohibited commercial and a permissible sponsorship acknowledgment is sometimes difficult in these days of "enhanced underwriting."   In a recent case, the FCC fined a noncommercial radio station $12,500 for repeatedly airing 4 announcements from sponsors that the Commission found to have crossed the line by being overly promotional.  These announcements, which appear to have been recordings of unscripted sponsor acknowledgments, demonstrate how carefully noncommercial stations must police their sponsorship announcements to avoid risking an FCC sanction.

The announcements in these cases are worth reviewing. Some have subtle promotional messages, while the areas of concern are more clear in others.  But in reaching its decision, the Commission goes through a close analysis of the wording of each announcement to see if the announcement contains "comparative or qualitative descriptions, price information, calls to action, or inducements to buy, sell, rent or lease", all prohibited language in a noncommercial sponsorship identification.  So, when one of the announcement referred to "beautiful Harley Davidson light trucks" sold by a local auto dealer who sponsored the station, the FCC found that this was a qualitative claim that went over the line.  Similarly, statements that "we have it here" or "where we are proud to be Mexicans" (these announcements having been run on a Spanish-language station in California) were found to be attempts to qualitatively distinguish this dealer from others, or to be inducements to buy – a prohibited call to action.  And a specific statement that "no downpayment" would be required on a purchase constituted the kind of price information that should not be contained in a sponsorship acknowledgment.  Another announcement for a local tire store had similar problems in the content of the ads, using phrases such as stating that the company "knows about tires" and that the company’s product "reduces [the] loss [of tire] pressure" and "has less risk of suffering damages . . . last longer and [is] not too expensive cause you to save more . . . [and] save more in gas per mileage."


Continue Reading Noncommercial FM Station Fined $12,500 for Sponsorship Acknowledgments That Were Too Commercial

On September 10, 2009, David Oxenford addressed the Christian Music Broadcasters’ Momentum ’09 Conference in Orlando, Florida.  Dave’ s presentation was titled 18 Issues in 18 Minutes: What a Broadcaster Should Worry About From Washington DC.  In 18 minutes, Dave discussed topics including the FCC’s proposed localism rules, sponsorship identification and noncommercial underwriting issues, contest fines, FCC technical

In a decision released late on Friday, the FCC upheld a $9,000 fine on a noncommercial television operator who broadcast underwriting announcements which, in the opinion of the Commission, were too much like commercials and thus were impermissible on a noncommercial station.  Under the Commission’s policies governing the noncommercial nature of noncommercial stations, it is permissible to air an underwriting announcement acknowledging a commercial entity that makes a financial contribution to the station.  And it is permissible to state the nature of the business, where it is located, and to air the slogan of the company.  What is not permissible is when the underwriting announcement contains "calls to action," qualitative or comparative claims, price information, or other inducements to do business with this particular company.  In this case, the Commission felt that the announcements crossed some or all of these lines.

In the initial Notice of Apparent Liability in this case, released in late 2004, the text of the announcements at issue are set out.  In last week’s order, phrases such as "planning a special occasion?" as the intro line to an announcement about an Ice cream store were deemed to be calls to action, and the description of the ice cream cakes that the store made as "tastefully decorated" were deemed to be qualitative.  Similarly, statements about a real estate company that "we’re all about family" and "we love selling real estate" were deemed to be comparative in nature, trying to distinguish this particular agent from other competitors.  In only one of ten ads, one for a school supply store, did the Commission overturn its previous determination, finding that an announcement for "creative learning materials" was arguably descriptive and not qualitative.


Continue Reading FCC Fines Noncommercial Station for Enhanced Underwriting Announcments that Were too Commercial