There seems to be a little confusion about what the FCC wants when it comes to manning your studio. So, we took your questions right to our legal blogger, John Garziglia. What are the official requirements for stations to have their studio covered? It’s obvious with automation an entire station can be empty. So, what are the rules if you are an automation and an FCC inspector knocks on the station door? And, what are the fines is you fail?
John Garziglia says: Radio Ink, a publication that recognizes that the 21st Century has arrived, correctly notes in asking about the FCC’s requirement for warm bodies at a radio station’s main studio location that “[i]t’s obvious with automation an entire station can be empty”. Unfortunately, the FCC continues to regulate like it’s 1999.
The essence of the FCC’s “warm bodies at the main studio rule” requires that at least two radio station employees, one a managerial employee, report daily to the main studio as their principal place of business, spend a substantial amount of their time at the main studio, and at least one of them be physically present during normal business hours. In the most simplistic terms, if an FCC inspector or a member of the public knocks on the radio station’s door during the local community’s normal business hours, there must be someone employed by the radio station licensee to greet that FCC inspector or member of the public.
The base forfeiture for a violation of the FCC’s main studio rules is $7,000. If an FCC inspector visits more than once and continues to find no one at the main studio, the FCC may raise the fine to $10,000 or more. Main studio staffing issues arise in a variety of situations. The most prevalent is that the station is fully automated during most day-parts and simply has no need for full-time on-site personnel. Today’s technology allows for station personnel to be readily reached by cell phones, email and social media yet the FCC requires that a person be physically present at a specific location.
Another main studio personnel situation ripe for an FCC fine is when a station is being operated under a time brokerage agreement or LMA. The FCC requires that there be two people, one managerial, at the main studio actually employed by the licensee of the radio station, presumably to insure that, among other things, the transmitter does not walk away. The FCC has never cogently explained exactly what these two licensee employees are expected to do on a full-time basis in a time-brokered or LMA’d station.
The FCC continues to believe that the public will choose an unannounced personal visit to a radio station’s main studio as a primary means of communication with the radio station’s licensee. That personal visit concept is as ridiculous as a member of the public making an unannounced visit to the office of the FCC Chairman as a primary means of communication with the FCC. Just try to walk into the FCC unannounced sometime without an appointment and attempt to make your way to the 8th floor!
The main studio staffing rule is an anachronism from an earlier time when there were no cell telephones, email, and social media allowing for near ubiquitous communication with station personnel. Entire radio stations with the most local of local programming can now be run remotely.
For a large market radio station that has millions of dollars in revenue, having at least two people based at the radio station’s main studio is not a significant issue. But, for many radio stations in smaller communities, having a consistent warm body presence at the main studio during the business day is an expensive regulatory monkey wrench in the running of a 21st Century radio station.