(By John Garziglia) September 3, 2019 was the deadline date for the public to file petitions to deny, and state other oppositions, to DC, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia radio license renewal applications. Radio stations in these states were in the first group of the new cycle of eight-year radio license renewals which had been on hiatus since 2014.
As reported by Radio Ink in “Saga Targets Five Virginia LPFMs,” Consolidated Petitions to Deny were filed against the license renewal applications of WXRK-LP, WVAI-LP, WPVC-LP, WREN-LP, all Charlottesville, and WKMZ-LP, Ruckersville, Virginia, alleging that the LPFMs were operating as a consolidated group of radio stations selling commercial time, engaging in program duplication, and were part of an operating agreement among the stations in violation of the FCC’s LPFM rules.
The FCC’s rules prohibit LPFM stations from broadcasting paid “calls to action” in the same way as is prohibited for all non-commercial stations. Section 73.860(e) of the FCC’s rules prohibits LPFMs from entering into an operating agreement of any type, including time brokerage or management agreements, with any other full-power or LPFM station.
There are several hundred DC, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia radio stations up for license renewal with license renewal applications having been filed on or prior to June 3, 2019. There are, however, surprisingly few adverse filings against these license renewal applications. In total, there are eight adverse filings. There are the consolidated petitions to deny against the five LPFMs noted above, and petitions to deny against two FM translators and one full-service NCE station.
In addition to the filing against the five LPFMs, a Petition to Deny was filed against FM translator W241AL, Marion, Virginia, alleging real property trespass based upon the location of its transmitter site. A Petition to Deny was filed against FM translator W232DE, Potomac, Maryland, alleging interference to an LPFM station and being dark in excess of one year. Finally, a Petition to Deny was filed against NCE WETA, Washington, DC, alleging gender discrimination for failing to include female composers in the Classical Music station’s repertoire. Those appear to be all of the adverse filings to date against DC, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia radio license renewal applications.
Within our industry, there was a concern prior to the commencement of this new round of radio license renewals that petitions to deny would be levied against numerous radio stations based upon materials now widely available in the FCC’s new Online Public File. As of March 2018, no longer does the public need visit a radio station’s main studio to view its public file materials.
Based upon these first several hundred radio license renewal applications, however, the worry of increased adverse filings appears to have been exaggerated. Even though each radio station now up for license renewal had to run both pre-filing and post-filing announcements, members of the public do not appear animated enough about any radio station issues, at least in DC, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, to file against their license renewal applications.
It is, of course, unknown whether this pattern will continue with upcoming radio license renewals. Next up for adverse filings are currently pending North and South Carolina radio license renewal applications with a November 1, 2019 Petition to Deny deadline. And, even in the absence of a petition to deny, the FCC staff might itself go behind the certifications made by the stations in their license renewal applications to confirm that, for instance, claimed timely uploads of materials to the FCC’s online public file were actually done, and to take punitive action against radio stations that falsely certified.
None of the now-pending DC, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia radio license renewal applications are yet granted. FCC action on most of them is expected in the latter part of this month. It is likely, however, that at least for five Charlottesville, Virginia LPFMs, and indeed for any other stations suffering adverse filings, FCC license renewal action will be delayed.
John Garziglia is a communications attorney at Womble Bond Dickinson and can be reached at (202) 857-4455 or John.Garziglia@wbd-us.com