Federal law and the FCC’s rules require broadcast stations to maintain minimum operating schedules and to inform the FCC if they do not. A station must tell the FCC within 10 days if it has discontinued service or is maintaining limited operations. If a station will be off the air for more than 30 days, it must request Special Temporary Authorization (STA) to remain silent. Even with STA, stations that are silent for 12 consecutive months will automatically forfeit their licenses.
The FCC recently addressed these issues in the context of license renewal applications filed by the licensee of six radio stations that were off the air for substantial periods of time without STA. The FCC entered a consent decree with the licensee.
While the stations were never silent for 12 consecutive months, they failed to operate for as much as one quarter of their license terms. Because of this significant record of silence, the FCC concluded that after it finishes reviewing the stations’ license renewal applications, any grant of the renewals would be for a very short period of one year instead of the usual eight years.
The licensee must also pay a civil penalty of $7,000. Upon receipt of payment, the FCC will act on the pending renewal applications and decide if there are any remaining issues. If all the terms of the consent decree are met, the license renewals will be granted, but only for a one-year term. Although the issuance of a short-term renewal is one of the enforcement tools available to the FCC, it is used relatively rarely.
For more information about the minimum operating and STA requirements for broadcast stations, please contact any attorney in our office.