Starting June 1, 2019, just over a year from now, the next broadcast license renewal cycle will begin. By that date, radio stations in DC, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia must file their renewal applications. Every other month for the next 3 years will bring the filing of radio license renewals in another set of states. And television stations will begin their renewal cycle a year later (June 1, 2020). The FCC’s schedule for radio license renewals can be found here and here. For TV stations, the schedule of renewal filings by state is in the same – just one year later than for radio. Every eight years, broadcast stations have to seek the renewal of their licenses by the FCC by demonstrating their continuing qualifications to be a licensee, including showing that they have not had a history of FCC violations and that they have otherwise served the public interest.
We have already written several times about how, with all broadcasters – both radio and TV – now required to have an online public file, it is important for stations to make sure that those files are complete and are kept up to date on a regular basis (see our articles here, here and here). Given that the contents of the online public file can be viewed by anyone, anywhere, just by launching an Internet browser, we would expect more complaints about incomplete files, and more scrutiny by the FCC of the contents of files that rarely were subject to FCC review in the past. FCC staffers can review public file compliance from their offices or homes, and do not have to rely on the rare field inspection to discover a violation. Thus, stations should be reviewing the contents of their files now to be sure that they are ready for the scrutiny that they will receive in the upcoming renewal cycle. But that is not the only issue about which stations need to be concerned, as illustrated by a decision released by the FCC yesterday, deciding to hold an evidentiary hearing as to whether the license renewal of a broadcast station that had been silent much of the last license renewal term should be granted.
In the Hearing Designation Order released yesterday, the FCC went through the history of a Wyoming radio station that had operated for only days during its last license term, and since then had each year operated for only a few days each year to avoid forfeiting its license under Section 312(g) of the Communications Act (which says that the license of a station that is off the air for more than a year is forfeited unless the FCC finds that the public interest calls for an exception – see our articles here and here). Only since last August, well past the end of the license renewal term under review, did the station come back on the air on a full-time basis. The FCC asks the station’s licensee to produce all records of how it served the public interest during the renewal term (including all logs and records of EAS tests) and otherwise provide evidence as to why its renewal should be granted.
We wrote here about the FCC launching a similar hearing proceeding for another station last year, and about a number of other cases where the FCC has imposed short-term renewals or other penalties on stations that had a history of long periods of silence during the license term (see our articles here and here). While the FCC’s dividing line between stations that get a short-term renewal and those that get designated for hearing and possible loss of license is not entirely clear, yesterday’s decision reinforces the warning to broadcasters who currently have silent stations that they need to get those stations operational as soon as possible so as to be able to demonstrate a record of public service during the current license term so as to justify a renewal when their applications are filed during this upcoming renewal cycle.
The renewal cycle starts next year. The time for getting into compliance is now, as last minute fixes may not solve all problems – and that last minute may already be upon or be imminent for many stations.
The FCC yesterday issued a Declaratory Ruling approving the acquisition by a company owned by two Mexican citizens of 100% of the ownership interest of a company that owns two radio stations in California and Arizona. Currently, the company owned by the Mexican citizens had only a 25% interest in the parent company of the licensee which, until a few years ago, would have been the limit imposed on foreign ownership of a US broadcast station. But, several years ago, as we wrote here, the FCC decided to permit, on a case by case basis, greater foreign ownership of US broadcast station owners. The FCC has also issued guidance on how public US companies can track their foreign ownership. See our articles here and here. Through yesterday’s decision approving the 100% ownership of the radio company, together with a case last year approving 100% ownership of broadcast stations in Alaska and Texas by Australian citizens (see our summary here), the Commission has demonstrated that it is serious about, in the right circumstances, approving foreign ownership of US broadcast stations.
Foreign ownership does not come without limits, however. Any foreign owner seeking to acquire a substantial stake in a US broadcast station must be reviewed by various Executive Branch agencies to insure that there are no perceived security risks raised by the proposed acquisition. The FCC has to do its own review as well. And, once approved, the foreign owner must report on any changes in its ownership so that new interest holders can go through the same approval process. Nevertheless, this series of decisions make clear that the FCC is open to non-US investors acquiring broadcast properties. It may take longer to sell a station than when a property is acquired by a US buyer, and certain foreign buyers may not be allowed if security issues come up, but otherwise the market is open to many new buyers of broadcast stations.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Nevada Broadcasters Association – News Release
April 30, 2018
NEVADA BROADCASTERS ASSOCIATION TO HONOR BROADCAST VETERAN HANK THORNLEY AT THE 23RD ANNUAL HALL OF FAME GALA.
(Las Vegas, Nevada) The Nevada Broadcasters Association will present the Lifetime Achievement Award to broadcast veteran Hank Thornley during the Association’s Annual Hall of Fame Gala on Saturday, August 18, at 7pm at The Four Seasons Las Vegas.
Thornley turns 101 this year and is credited for creating the first television news operation in Las Vegas as news director and anchorman at KLAS-TV Channel 8.
In 1962 Thornley was lured to Las Vegas and its premier TV station, KLAS TV, which at the time didn’t have a news department. Thornley built a news operation from scratch, one employee and piece of equipment at a time. As the first anchorman and news director in Las Vegas, Thornley had a ringside seat to the explosive growth of the city. His fledgling news operation covered politicians including powerful Sheriff Ralph Lamb, President John Kennedy, assorted dignitaries and stars and even The Beatles. Under Thornley, Channel 8 became the pre-eminent news operation in the city.
In addition, the Nevada Broadcasters Association and Foundation (NVBA and NVBF) are pleased to announce that 35 Nevada broadcasters have been selected, to be inducted into the 2018 Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame. Each inductee has served in broadcasting a minimum of 20 years, with 5 of those years in Nevada.
This year marks the 23nd Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame Gala and will take place on Saturday, August 18, 2018, at The Four Seasons Las Vegas. All money raised at the Hall of Fame Silent and Live Auctions goes directly to support the Nevada Broadcasters Foundation’s Tony and Linda Bonnici Broadcasting Scholarship Fund which provides tuition scholarships to students attending Nevada’s Colleges and Universities. One hundred thirteen (113) scholarships have been awarded over the past seven (7) years to talented and dedicated students of broadcasting in Nevada.
To purchase a sponsorship, reserve a table or place an ad in the program, please call (702) 794-4994.
About Nevada Broadcasters Association
The mission of the NVBA is to promote and advocate for the Broadcasters of Nevada while serving the public. We help improve and preserve, on a national and statewide basis, an economic, legal and regulatory environment that best enhances the ability of each Station to be financially strong, to remain free from governmental control of programming, and to excel in the public service roles that each Station plays in Nevada. The NVBA offers a robust Public Education Partnership program providing government agencies and non-profits, the ultimate in public outreach and awareness. We seek to educate Nevada’s local, state and federal officials along with other community leaders about important broadcasting issues, concerns and challenges, in an effort to create increasingly strong and healthy communities.
About Nevada Broadcasters Foundation Scholarship Program
The Nevada Broadcasters Foundation (NVBF) and the Tony & Linda Bonnici Scholarship Fund finds the very best broadcasting and journalism students in Nevada and empowers them to pursue their dream by awarding scholarships. The Foundation awards full tuition scholarships to the next generation of Nevada’s broadcasters. This scholarship is unique in that it is a scholarship by broadcasters for broadcasters.
For more information about NVBA and NVBF, please call 702-794-4994, or visit http://nevadabroadcasters.org.
Media Contacts: NVBA Office: 702-794-4994
May is one of those months where there are neither deadlines for EEO Public File Reports nor for any of the quarterly filings of issues/programs lists and children’s television reports. But the lack of these routine filing deadlines does not mean that there are no dates of interest in the coming month to broadcasters and other media companies. As seemingly is the case every month, there are never times when Washington is ignoring legal issues potentially affecting the industry.
May 10 brings an FCC meeting where two items of interest to broadcasters will be considered. One is a proposal to abolish the requirement for posting licenses and other operating authorizations at a broadcaster’s control point and to eliminate the requirement that FM translators post information about the station’s licensee and a contact phone number at their transmitter sites (see our post here for more details). The second is a proposal to modify the processing of complaints about new or modified FM translators causing interference to existing stations. See our summary of that proposal here. If adopted at the May 10 meeting, these proposals will be available for public comment after they are published in the Federal Register.
The process that will lead to the issuance of construction permits to some of those new FM translators is still underway, as the window runs from May 24 through June 14 for filing settlements or engineering resolutions for mutually exclusive applications filed in the second window for AM stations to obtain authorizations for new FM translators (see our article here). Translator applications that cannot resolve their mutual exclusivity during this window will end up in an auction. Applications that were not mutually exclusive with any other application filed in this second window have until May 9 to file their “long-form” applications detailing the technical facilities that they plan to build out once their construction permit is granted (see our article here).
TV translators and Low Power TV stations also are in the middle of their own window for submitting displacement applications by those stations that either operate on TV channels above Channel 37 (which will no longer be part of the TV band after the repacking following last year’s incentive auction) or on channels subject to new interference from full-power and Class A TV stations that were repacked onto new channels. That window is now open, and TV translators and LPTV stations have until June 1 to find new channels and submit applications for those channels to the FCC. See our articles here, here, and here for more information.
Comments in another FCC rulemaking, the one looking to do away with the requirement for the filing with the FCC of the Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Report are due today, April 30, with replies due on May 15. The FCC suggested that this is no longer necessary, as all the information required by the Commission is already in station’s online public file. See our article here summarizing that proposal.
In May, there will also be activity at other government agencies that broadcasters and other media companies should be watching. On Friday, we summarized the Music Modernization Act passed by the House of Representatives last week. That bill is supposed to get a hearing in the Senate on or about May 16 looking toward the possible passage of that legislation by the Senate.
The Federal Election Commission, in a rulemaking that it is conducting, is looking at requiring sponsorship identification on online audio and video political ads in the same format as those found on radio and TV ads (including the “I’m John Smith and I approved this message”). Comments on proposals made in that rulemaking are due May 26. We’ll have more on that proceeding later this week. Speaking of political broadcasting, stations in many states will soon be in lowest unit rate windows, if they are not already, for primary elections occurring this summer (see our article here on your LUC obligations). Watch for those windows as they come up in your state, and remember all of the political obligations that arise not only during the window, but as soon as you have legally qualified candidates (see our article here). For more information on the FCC’s rules on political broadcasting, you can check out our Political Broadcasting Guide here.
For a month without any of the “standard” FCC obligations, there are still lots of issues for broadcasters to consider. Make sure you pay attention to any of these issues that may affect you, and to any that are unique to your own station.
The FCC yesterday issued an order granting 39 radio stations (almost all stations with very small staffs or those affected by recent hurricanes or otherwise non-operational) 60 days to comply with the requirement that all full-power radio stations complete the transition to the online public file by this past March 1. We wrote about this obligation for the March 1 transition to the online public file here and here. This decision highlights the requirement for stations to have complied with the requirement to transition to the online file by March 1.
We are still hearing reports that there are stations not on this waiver list that have not activated the public file. In a footnote in yesterday decision, the FCC notes that it orally denied an extension request filed a year ago, and that its staff had discussed concerns that other stations about meeting the deadline, noting that the FCC has “encouraged all of these stations to continue to work to complete the transition to the online file as expeditiously as possible.” Whether that suggests that the Commission might not strictly enforce the March 1 deadline is open to interpretation, but it is clear that, even if it has not reached that point already, at some point (likely soon) any station not in compliance with the requirements is looking at potential FCC penalties. Note that the license renewal cycle for radio stations begins next year. That 3-year cycle in which all radio licensees will file their renewal applications will present the FCC with the opportunity to monitor compliance with the public file rules, and to impose penalties on those who have not complied. So don’t get caught being noncompliant!
We wrote last week about one broadcast issue to be considered at the FCC’s May 10 meeting, amending the procedures for resolving complaints about interference by new FM translators to other existing FM stations. At that same meeting, the FCC is planning to adopt another item in its Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative – a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (see a draft of that item here) to eliminate the FCC rules that require broadcast stations to post physical copies of their license (and other instruments of authorization such as STAs or renewals), or to keep physical copies of these documents in a binder, at their control point.
The FCC also asks whether translator operators should continue to have to post information at their transmitter sites as to the name, address and telephone number of the licensee and where station records are maintained. Given that all of this information is in the FCC’s database and accessible to anyone with Internet access (and as the licenses posted at the control point are not even accessible to the public), the draft NPRM, if adopted at the May 10 meeting, would propose to eliminate these rules. Watch for the adoption of this proposal at the May 10 meeting, and the comments dates on the proposal that will be set after the meeting.
The FCC yesterday released a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, to be considered at its open meeting on May 10, seeking to add more specificity to its rules for the resolution of interference by new FM translators. The FCC attempts to set out new procedures that it would use to decide if applications for new translators can be granted, and if new translators already granted and constructed can continue to operate, when there are complaints that the new translator will cause interference to existing FM stations and to pre-existing translators and LPFMs. Under current rules, the FCC will deny the application of a new translator if there are regular listeners of another station within the 1 mv/m of the proposed new translator, and a newly constructed translator will be required to cease operations if it cannot resolve complaints of interference to the regularly used signal of any other operating station – even outside of that station’s protected contour. Even a single listener complaint of interference that cannot be resolved from a listener who is not affiliated with the station can cause the FCC to order that a new translator be shut down.
In response to petitions filed by the NAB and a Philadelphia-area translator operator (see our summary of those filings here), the FCC has drafted this NPRM that, if adopted at its May 10 meeting, will put forward for public comment a series of proposals to make the interference complaint resolution process quicker and more objective. There is a general perception, both among full-power broadcasters who have complaints about translator interference, and among translator operators whose operations may be in limbo if subjected to interference complaints, that the current FCC process simply takes too long and is subject to manipulation and unforeseeable outcomes. With over 1500 new translators for AM stations likely to start operations shortly, with many potentially subject to interference complaints, many broadcasters have suggested that the FCC needs to act quickly to make the current system more objective – and to allow it to resolve complaints more quickly.
The FCC has proposed to revise its policies in several ways. First, it suggests that, if a new translator is subject to interference complaints, it can seek to move to any available FM channel to resolve the interference – not just to the three adjacent channels and those channels on which IF interference would be caused. The current rules restricting the choice of new channels provides a very limited selection of alternative channels that could be used to resolve interference complaints. Allowing such moves would be consistent with the practice for LPFM stations and TV translators for resolving similar interference issues and with informal FCC policy when an existing translator suffers interference from a new FM station. Thus, the FCC will seek comment as to whether this is a good idea.
Perhaps more controversial is a proposal to require that there be at least 6 complaints from listeners unaffiliated with any complaining station (e.g. not employees, owners, or contractors of the complaining station or their family members) before a complaint will be processed. The idea is to make sure that there is a real widespread interference issue – so that a unique listener with some unusual affinity for a distant station can’t block the service from a new translator. But the FCC asks if 6 complaints is the right number, or if that number should vary depending on market size or population covered. Questions about affiliation of listeners with the station are also addressed, as are details of the information that complaining listeners need to supply for their complaint to be considered. The FCC tentatively finds that a listener will need to state that they have listened to the complaining station at least twice in the month before the complaint to be considered a regular listener. The FCC also tentatively finds that stations can reach out to its listeners to see if they are getting complaints from new translators – it does not need to sit back and wait for complaints to roll in.
The FCC also is ready to propose that, instead of interference being determined subjectively by the ears of a listener, interference would be measured by objective criteria. Interference that occurs outside a station’s 54 dbu contour would not be protected at all. Other complaints would be resolved through the application of formulas that the FCC uses in other contexts to determine interference based on the ratio between “desired” and “undesired” signals (the desired signal being the station that the listener wants to hear and the undesired one being the translator) based on standard coverage prediction methodology, with perhaps “on/off” tests (where the translator is periodically shut off to see the signal level it produces at a given location) to assess real-world interference. The FCC asks if such objective criteria accomplish its goals of protecting full-power stations and determining where real interference is created.
There is significantly more detail with many more questions asked in the draft NPRM. It should be required reading for both translator operators and licensees of full-power stations, as it raises many issues that this proceeding will attempt to resolve in the near term. Watch to see if this proposal is adopted at the May meeting, and when comments are due after its publication in the Federal Register.
At this week’s NAB Convention, issues about FM translators and pirate radio dominated the radio news from the sessions that featured FCC speakers. On the translator front, FCC Chairman Pai, in his speech to the convention, announced that there is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that has been drafted and is being considered by the FCC Commissioners, looking to make changes in how complaints about interference to full-power stations from translators would be handled. Currently, a single complaint from a regular listener to a full-power FM station, even if that listener listens outside of the full-power station’s protected contour, is enough to shut down the new translator if the translator licensee cannot resolve that complaint. This policy has prompted a number of battles between translators and full-power stations over whether complaints have come from bona fide listeners (as opposed to employees or others with close connection to the complaining station) who are receiving real interference, and whether or not that interference truly exists (e.g., whether it has been caused by the new translator) and whether or not such interference has been remediated by actions taken by the translator licensee. Last year, the NAB proposed a number of fixes to the policy – suggesting that more than one complaint should be required to prove true interference and that, if interference is found, that the translator be allowed to relocate to any available channel on the FM band to remediate that interference, not just to adjacent channels as a “minor change” as currently required (see our summary of the NAB proposal here). It is anticipated that the FCC’s proposed rulemaking will contain some of the NAB’s suggestions.
Pirate radio was also on the Chairman’s agenda, and was discussed in a panel of other FCC officials at the convention. The Chairman highlighted the recent seizure of a pirate radio operator’s equipment in the Boston area, mentioning that two other such actions had also been taken. The discussion in other panels highlighted the FCC’s willingness to pursue not only pirate operators themselves, but also their landlords where the landlord appeared to be actively involved with the pirate’s operation (see our article here). The FCC is also looking for legislative assistance to broaden that authority to undertake enforcement actions against those who make possible pirate radio operations through providing space, services, or other assistance (see our article here). Watch for further actions on both issues in the near future.