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A Radio Broadcaster’s Guide to License Renewal
The FCC’s radio license renewal cycle is now underway, with the first batch of applications due by June 3, 2019. Given that their most recent license renewal filing may have been eight years ago, radio licensees must reacquaint themselves with the license renewal process, including pre-filing and post-filing announcements, and be prepared to certify their stations’ compliance with the FCC’s Rules over those past eight years.
on April 1, 2019. That was when the first batch of radio broadcasters (DC, MD, VA, and WV) began airing their
pre-filing announcements ahead of the June 1, 20191 filing date for their license renewal applications. The cycle then
repeats, with a license renewal application deadline (based on state) occurring on the first day of every other month
until 2022, by which time all full power, FM translator, and LPFM stations should have filed applications seeking a new eight-year license term. Stations can determine their license renewal date by reviewing the FCC’s state-by-state license renewal timeline.
consisting mostly of yes/no questions. However, appearances can be deceiving, as evidenced by the countless fines,
consent decrees, and other enforcement actions levied against stations that either failed to verify the accuracy of their certifications before filing, failed to timely file their license renewal application, or whose failure to comply with the FCC’s rules over their eight-year license term became apparent at license renewal time.
placed all required documents in its Public Inspection File. The base fine for a Public Inspection File violation is $10,000, and the FCC can adjust that amount upward if it finds multiple or egregious violations have occurred.
certifying compliance in the license renewal application creates the risk of additional fines, and in extreme cases, may persuade the FCC that license renewal is simply not in the public interest.
The first point to note is that a license renewal application is just that—an application—and not a guarantee of a new
license term. The Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the “Act”) requires all radio broadcasters to obtain from the FCC an authorization to operate. By filing Schedule 303-S, an applicant requests its authorization be extended for another eight years. The Act requires the FCC to grant such an application only if it finds that during the preceding license term: (1) the station has served the public interest, convenience, and necessity; (2) the licensee has not committed any serious violations; and (3) there have been no other violations by the licensee of the FCC’s rules and regulations which, taken together, would constitute a pattern of abuse. To this end, the FCC invites petitions to deny, informal objections, and comments from the public for every license renewal application, and will review the application and these other submissions to make a determination as to whether the station at issue is deserving of license renewal.
Full power commercial and noncommercial radio stations and LPFM stations must air pre-filing license renewal
announcements once a day on the 1st and 16th days of the two months leading up to the license renewal application
deadline. For example, a station that has a license renewal application due on August 1 must air pre-filing
announcements on June 1, June 16, July 1, and July 16, for a total of four announcements. At least two of the four
announcements must air between 7:00 am and 9:00 am and/or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.
announcements would otherwise be due to air, as well as to stations that are silent at that time for other reasons.
licensed to communities in the same state, they are not required to broadcast pre-filing or post-filing announcements. Instead, upon filing a license renewal application for an FM translator, the licensee must publish a public notice of the filing at least once in a daily, weekly or biweekly newspaper published or having circulation in the community served by the translator. If there is no such newspaper, the licensee must determine an appropriate means of providing the required notice to the general public, such as posting it in the local post office or other public place. Broadcasters can find sample FM translator notices and other information specific to FM translator license renewals in our recent Advisory on meeting these obligations.
Schedule 303-S: Application for Renewal of Broadcast Station License
The license renewal application is Schedule 303-S of Form 2100 (instructions and sample form available here).
Broadcasters should not make the mistake of rushing through the application or guessing when filling it out. While the application form itself is only about 8 printed pages, it comes with 18 pages of instructions and 11 additional pages of worksheets intended to assist applicants in correctly filling out the form.
The FCC advises that applicants should not certify a statement in the application as being correct unless they are
absolutely certain the statement is indeed accurate. A station licensee seeking a waiver of a particular rule or policy,
or that is uncertain whether it has fully complied with the rule or policy for which the form seeks a certification of
compliance, should answer “No” to that certification. Schedule 303-S includes spaces for explanations and exhibits, and according to the FCC, a “No” response to any of the questions “will not cause the immediate dismissal of the application provided that an appropriate exhibit is submitted.” An applicant should review any such exhibits or explanations with counsel prior to filing.
Some of the certifications an applicant is asked to make in Schedule 303-S relate solely to the station, and some—such as character certifications—relate to any “party to the application.” A party to the application is any individual or entity that has an attributable interest in a station. This includes all parties whose ownership interest, positional interest (i.e., an officer or director), or other relation to the applicant confers on that party a sufficient degree of influence or control over the licensee to merit FCC attention.
Character Issues, Adverse Findings and FCC Violations
Pursuant to the FCC’s statutory obligation to consider any serious rule violations or patterns of abuse, each licensee must certify that neither it nor any party to the application has had “any interest in or connection with an application that was or is the subject of unresolved character issues.” Where the applicant is unable to make this certification, it must include an exhibit identifying the party involved, the call letters and location of the station (or file number of the FCC application or docket), and describe the party’s connection to the matter, including all relevant dates. The applicant must also explain why the unresolved character issue “is not an impediment” to grant of the license renewal application.
finding in any civil or criminal proceeding involving a felony, a mass-media related antitrust or unfair competition charge, a false statement to another governmental entity, or discrimination. The applicant must report adverse findings from the past ten years and include an exhibit explaining the matter in detail and why it should not be an impediment to a grant of the license renewal application. Note, however, that a station does not need to report an adverse finding that was disclosed to the FCC in the context of an earlier station application where it was subsequently found by the FCC to be not disqualifying.
The application form also asks the applicant to certify that the FCC has not brought any formal actions against the station during the current license term, such as a Notice of Apparent Liability, Notice of Violation, or similar finding of a rule violation. Applicants should not use this section to self-disclose any violations not previously identified by the FCC.
Foreign Ownership and Control
The applicant must also certify that the licensee has complied with Section 310 of the Act regarding foreign influence
over the station. Section 310 generally prohibits the FCC from issuing a license to an alien, a representative of an alien, a foreign government or the representative thereof, or a corporation organized under the laws of a foreign government. It also prohibits, absent a special ruling from the FCC, a license being issued to an entity of which more than 20% of the capital stock is owned or voted by aliens, their representatives, or a foreign government or its representative, or where 25% of the capital stock of the licensee’s parent company is owned or voted by aliens, their representatives, a foreign government or its representative, or an entity organized under the laws of a foreign country.
The license renewal application also requires stations to certify that they are currently operational, as the FCC will not renew the license of a station that is not broadcasting.
In a similar vein, Section 73.1740 of the FCC’s Rules sets forth the minimum operating hours for commercial broadcast stations, and Section 73.561 of the Rules establishes minimum operating hours for noncommercial educational FM stations. In the license renewal application, stations must certify that they were not silent or operated less than the required minimum number of hours for a period of more than 30 days during the previous term. If they cannot, they must include an exhibit disclosing the relevant details and explaining why it should not adversely affect the station’s license renewal.
public and workers at the transmitter site. Stations that were previously renewed and which have had no changes at
their transmitter site since their last renewal application will generally be able to certify compliance with this statement. Stations that have had a material change in the RF environment at their transmitter site must assess the impact of that change before certifying RF compliance and may need to submit an exhibit demonstrating the station’s compliance with RF requirements.
Related Filings and Materials
Successfully navigating the license renewal application also requires stations to certify that the rest of their regulatory house is in order. For example, applicants must also certify that they have timely made other regulatory filings, such as the Biennial Ownership Report on FCC Form 2100, Schedule 323 or 323-E, and confirm that their advertising agreements do not discriminate on the basis of race or gender and contain non-discrimination clauses. As with all other certifications in the application form, stations must accurately respond and be prepared to provide documentation supporting their certifications if later requested by the FCC.
Depending on staff size, one of the items stations must certify is that they have timely placed in their Public Inspection File, as well as on their website, the annual Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) report. Certain stations must also certify that they filed their EEO Mid-Term Report with the FCC (while the FCC recently eliminated the requirement that certain stations file an EEO Mid-Term Report, that change will have no impact until the next license renewal cycle).
This Advisory discusses some of the more important elements of the license renewal process. The full process is complex, and because of that, the best way to approach it is to start as early as possible. In that regard, we encourage stations to prepare a sample application and to reach out to their counsel in completing the application. If handled poorly, the license renewal process can be an expensive, painful, and drawn-out affair. However, a station faces it only once every eight years, so it is well worth putting forth the effort to make the process as smooth as possible for your stations.
A Radio Broadcaster’s Guide to License Renewal