Radio License Renewals Addressed at FCC session

NRB | April 1, 2019 | Advocacy

ANAHEIM, Calif. (NRB) – License renewal is the issue that will be foremost on radio broadcasters’ minds for the next four years, an attorney said during an FCC session March 27 at Proclaim 19, the NRB International Christian Media Convention in Anaheim, California.

The session covered recent rule changes and compliance tips and focused heavily on helping broadcasters navigate the license renewal process. Speakers were attorneys Karyn Ablin of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth in Washington, D.C.; Joseph Chautin of Hardy, Carey, Chautin & Balkin in Mandeville, Louisiana; and David Oxenford of Wilkinson Barker Knauer in Washington, D.C.

“Your license is only good for eight years, and every eight years you must file and ask for it to be renewed and be judged, so to speak, before the FCC,” Chautin said.

Oxenford said broadcasters tend to forget about license renewal because “there’s a three-year cycle where stations in certain states file every other month, and it makes its way across the country in a three-year cycle, and then you’ve got five years off before the next set of license renewals are due.”

Radio stations in Maryland, Virginia, D.C., and West Virginia need to file license renewal applications before June 1, the attorneys said. Applications contain a series of certifications, Oxenford said, such as whether a station has operated in the public interest, whether it has placed documents in its public inspection file on time and whether it has filed its biennial ownership reports.

“There is a new wrinkle this year in that the online public inspection file is there for anybody to see anywhere in the country,” Oxenford said. “Five years ago when the last license renewals were filed by stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania, it was a paper public inspection file.

“… Nobody knew unless they physically tromped out to your main studio, went to that dusty filing cabinet in the corner, opened it up, and looked through it to see whether the documents were there. Even then they had no idea when those documents were put in those files, so they could have been put in the day before that person happened to tromp to that dusty filing cabinet in the corner of your main studio.

“Now everything is in the online public inspection file, date stamped as to the day that it was put in that online public inspection file, available by anybody anywhere to look at, available by the FCC folks who will be reviewing your license renewal application, available by anybody from some of the public interest groups in Washington, D.C., whose job it is to … stand up for the public interest by showing when you have not properly done certain things,” Oxenford said.

Chautin warned against waiting too long to start the renewal process.

“Someone calls up and goes, ‘Wait, wait. My license expires on this date, so I’ve been waiting to file my license renewal application when it gets close to that date.’ Well, I’m here to tell you that’s bad, very bad,” Chautin said.

For broadcasters who are in Maryland, for example, that are coming up on June 1, Chautin said, their first steps are to run pre-filing announcements on air April 1 and April 16, May 1, and May 16 so the public can file comments about the station with the FCC. The stations then would file the license renewal application by June 1 – or June 3 this year because it falls on a weekend.

Another tip Chautin offered was for stations to clean up their online public inspection files as the FCC review draws near so that the files are not cluttered with documents that are no longer relevant to the renewal process.

If a station did not place required documents in its public inspection file on time, Oxenford advised being honest with the FCC about why the deadline was missed. The station could face a fine, but that’s better than lying and potentially losing the broadcast license.

The FCC is in a “deregulatory mood,” Chautin said, but it is serious about enforcing the rules that are still in place.

Among the latest FCC rule changes mentioned by the panel was that radio stations no longer are required to maintain a main broadcast studio. The only stipulation is that stations must offer a local phone number or a toll free number that will be answered by a person during business hours.

Ablin addressed the audience regarding developments in music licensing, including the four performing rights organizations and how they interact with commercial and non-commercial radio stations.

At the end of the session, a new broadcaster asked a question about how to get started in the industry, and Oxenford advised her to visit the Broadcast Law Blog he maintains as well as to get involved with her state broadcast association and to take advantage of resources NRB provides.

By Erin Roach

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