Short-Term License Renewal Results from Lengthy Station Silence

By refusing to grant a full-term license renewal to one station, the Audio Division of the FCC’s Media Bureau has issued a strong warning to broadcasters that allow their stations to remain silent for long periods of time.

In a case involving a Texas FM station that had been licensed for four years, the Audio Division found that the station’s extended periods of silence – 364 days, followed by another 358 days after a brief period of operation – called into question whether the station was serving the public interest, even though the station had requested and received FCC authority to remain silent during those periods. The Audio Division stated that “[s]ilence instead of licensed operation is a fundamental failure to serve [a] station’s community of license,” and that “brief periods of station operation sandwiched between prolonged periods of silence are of little value.” The station’s license was renewed for only two years, rather than a standard eight-year term. The Audio Division warned that stations that are silent for most or all of their license terms will likely have their license renewal applications designated for hearing before an administrative law judge.

This new policy seems designed to combat the practice that some licensees of silent stations have adopted in which they briefly resume station operation just prior to the end of a consecutive 12-month period of silence, and then take the station silent again. While this practice may be sufficient to keep a station’s license from automatically expiring under Section 312(g) of the Communications Act, the recent Audio Division decision indicates that it may not prevent a licensee from facing serious sanctions when trying to renew the station’s license.

If you have any questions about the FCC’s new policy, please contact any attorney in our office.

Categories: Media