Are you ready to file your next license renewal application? It seems like the last license renewal cycle just ended (in fact, the last cycle is not over, as evidenced by the fact that the FCC in the last week has released several decisions dealing with late-filed renewals from the last cycle, and many TV stations still have license renewals that have not been granted due to pending indecency issues). Nevertheless, a whole new cycle of Form 303 license renewal applications will soon be upon us - beginning in less than a year. The cycle begins with radio stations in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, who are due to file their license renewal applications on June 1, 2011. Then, every two months thereafter, stations in another group of states files applications, until April 1, 2014 when radio stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware bring the radio renewal cycle to a close. Television station renewal applications will be due on a state-by-state basis beginning one year later - starting with TVs in DC and the same three states in 2012. A schedule for the radio renewal filings is available here. With these deadlines almost upon us, what should stations be doing now to get ready?
In the last renewal cycle, the biggest source of problems dealt with public file issues. Remember, stations need to certify in their renewal applications that their public file is complete and accurate and, if it is not, to specify areas where there are deficiencies. In the last cycle, many stations in particular had issues with Quarterly Programs Issues Lists that were missing from the files, in many cases incurring fines of $10,000 or more where there were many such reports missing from the files. These reports are also very important, as they are the only required official records to demonstrate the programming that a station broadcast to serve the public interest needs of its service area. If that service is ever challenged, you will need the reports to demonstrate how your station's programming met the needs and interests of your city of license and the surrounding area. Check out our last advisory on the Quarterly Programs Issues Lists, here.
Mandatory EEO filings are another source of documentation that can cause issues for stations. Stations should have their EEO Annual Public File Reports in their public inspection file for every year of this renewal term, and should have their most recent Annual Report posted on their website (if they have a site). For television stations with 5 or more employees, and for radio employment units with more than 10 employees, you should have also filed a Form 397 Mid-Term EEO Report with the FCC at the mid-point of your license term (all but TV stations in the last few renewal windows should have already filed that report). Details of your EEO obligations (including the slides from a recent presentation summarizing the EEO rules), and links to various EEO advisories that our firm has published, are available here.
Recent FCC Form 323 ownership reports should also be in the public file. Our reminder on the ownership reports that all commercial stations should have filed at the beginning of July can be found here. Noncommercial stations need to remain alert to their mandatory biennial reports, which are due every two years, computed from the date on which your state's license renewal application should have been filed.
There are other issues that come up in connection with the broadcast public inspection file. For our Davis Wright Tremaine advisory on the Basics of the Public Inspection file for Commercial Broadcasters, setting out all of the documents that are required for inclusion in the public file, you can go here.
Now is the time for stations to review other compliance issues. RF radiation issues are considered at renewal time so, especially if there have been changes at your transmitter site since the last renewal, check to be sure that you are in compliance with all limits there.
Check your licenses to make sure that all of your operating facilities are authorized. Make sure that stations have licenses for all STLs, remote pick-ups and other auxiliary facilities, and that (especially if there has been a recent sale of your station) all such licenses are now listed in the current licensee's name. Make sure that the FCC has the correct mailing address for your station on file, so that any notices go to the correct place.
Also remember that, for the first time this year, the license renewal application is supposed to have a certification that stations are not discriminating in the sale of advertising time. We have written about this requirement before (see our posts here and here). This requirement is one on which the FCC has never provided much guidance. The Commission has said that station advertising contracts should have certifications that state that advertisers are not making their buying decisions for discriminatory purposes, an example of such a certification we provided here. But consult with your attorneys to make sure that you are ready for this new license renewal question.
This is a good time for stations to make sure that their operations are in good order in all respects. Correct issues that might exist, so that you don't need to scramble to do so when the license renewal is due. And make sure that your stations are serving their communities, and doing their best to address any criticisms that may be coming their way from their listeners. At renewal time, you want friends who will verify how well your station serves your community, not enemies who may be ready to complain to the FCC about your performance. Stations should obviously be doing this at all times but, with the renewal season soon to be upon us, be sure that these efforts are not put in the "to do" pile, but are instead action items for immediate attention. Your license renewal application will be due sooner than you think, no matter whether your station is in Virginia and filing next year, or in Pennsylvania where that four year delay can pass very quickly. Be ready.