Preparing for Radio Station FCC License Renewals

by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
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2011 marks the start of the license renewal cycle for broadcast radio stations and it is time for broadcasters to prepare. Beginning with radio stations licensed to communities in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, DC, and West Virginia, stations will once again prepare and file applications with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeking a renewal of their authorization to operate a broadcast station. This first group of radio stations will file their license renewal applications on June 1, 2011, with the remaining states following at two month intervals according to the Commission’s staggered deadlines. A full schedule of the radio renewal filing deadlines is available here (sorted by date) and here (sorted by state). Television stations will follow one year behind radio, with the first TV stations filing their applications on June 1, 2012.

Apart from the license renewal application itself, the FCC’s rules contain a number of related requirements. This includes the airing of pre- and post-filing announcements on the station telling their listeners about the filing of the renewals. Stations also will be filing an EEO Program Report in conjunction with the license renewal application to demonstrate compliance with the EEO rules. With these deadlines almost upon us, this advisory seeks to help stations prepare for the renewal process.

Before getting into the specific steps that stations should be taking in order to prepare for the upcoming renewal, however, a few words about the importance of the license renewal process itself are in order. It should go without saying, but in order to continue broadcasting legally, stations must timely prepare and file a license renewal application with the FCC. In the last renewal cycle, a surprising number of stations simply missed the filing deadline altogether. Furthermore, broadcasters with station groups that straddle state lines may have stations or FM translators licensed to communities in an adjacent state with a different license renewal deadline. Broadcasters should review their licenses in advance to confirm the renewal deadline for each and every station. Given that licensees will face forfeitures and the possible cancellation of their license if they miss the renewal filing deadline, the importance of timely filing a license renewal application cannot be overstated.

At its simplest, the license renewal application allows the FCC and the public to review the station’s conduct in the previous license term and to assess the licensee’s continuing qualifications to remain an FCC licensee. The crux of the license renewal inquiry is whether the station has complied with the Commission’s laws and served the public interest during the previous license term. Accordingly, the renewal process invites the public, competitors, public interest groups, and the government to sift through all aspects of the station’s operations during the past eight years. Based on the Form 303-S and related documents filed by the licensee, as well as any comments, petitions, or objections raised by interested parties, the FCC will then decide whether or not an extension of the license is warranted. Broadcasters need to review all aspects of their operations and prepare for the license renewal process in advance, approaching it with the seriousness it demands.

At various times in the past, particular public interest groups have been active in challenging broadcast renewal applications. With the numerous issues facing the broadcast industry at the current time, and controversies over issues like the performance royalty, spectrum reallocation, retransmission consent, and low power FM, there may well be parties at odds with the broadcast industry in general who take out their dispute on specific broadcasters’ renewal applications. This provides yet one more reason to prepare carefully for the upcoming renewal cycle.

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Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
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