FCC rejects AFA complaint over criteria for noncommercial FM applications

The FCC has affirmed its criteria for awarding broadcast licenses to noncommercial applicants, rejecting a complaint by a religious broadcaster that the rules unfairly favor secular broadcasters. In a July 11 decision, the FCC denied the complaint by the Tupelo, Miss.–based American Family Association over competitive applications to establish new stations in Perry, Iowa, and Spokane, Wash. Iowa State University had sought the Perry station, while Spokane Public Radio pursued the Washington signal. The FCC will award construction permits to the two applicants. AFA argued that the FCC should change the way it assesses what are called “attributable” broadcast interests.

Arizona radio stations ask FCC for looser underwriting rules

The licensee of KJZZ and KBAQ in Phoenix has asked the FCC for temporary permission to sidestep the agency’s rules governing language in underwriting announcements in a test of whether “enhanced” sponsor messages could boost income. In a March 18 letter to the FCC, the Maricopa County Community College District proposed a three-year trial window “to conduct a limited and controlled demonstration project to test a modified loosening of the Commission’s enhanced underwriting policies.” Under the looser rules, KBAQ and KJZZ would air announcements that include:

“factually accurate information concerning interest rates available at underwriter banks, credit unions, automobile dealerships, and other local businesses”;
notification of sales and special events such as discounts and promotions; and
qualitative adjectives based on factual data, such as “certified,” “accredited,” “award-winning,” “experienced” or “long-established.”

During this experimental phase, the stations would monitor listener satisfaction and revenue resulting from the enhanced announcements. If sales rose and listeners accepted the new language without complaint, other public radio stations could adopt the looser rules as well, the college district suggested. In the letter, submitted by communications attorney Ernie Sanchez, the college district cited the need to experiment as stations grapple with cuts in state funding, declines in underwriting revenue and the possible elimination of federal support for public broadcasting. “Could public radio stations remain financially viable, even with diminished federal funding, if the guidelines were simply relaxed or — expressed another way — enhanced somewhat more than previous levels?” the letter asked.

Two Native tribes are first to benefit from FCC rules favoring tribal applicants

Native tribes in New Mexico and Arizona are the first to benefit from the FCC’s Tribal Radio Priority, a provision created by the commission to help tribal entities start new radio stations. The FCC announced March 1 that it set aside FM allotments for Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint, N.M., and for the Hualapai Tribe in Peach Springs, Ariz. Allotments serve as placeholders for future FM stations; the tribes must now wait until the FCC opens a filing window and accepts their applications for construction permits. The commission created the Tribal Radio Priority provision in 2010, establishing standards by which Native tribes could be given priority in securing licenses for AM and FM stations. “The need for Tribal radio stations is clear,” wrote Geoffrey Blackwell, chief of the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy, in a blog post announcing the allotments.

Speculators betting big on FCC TV spectrum auctions

For the last few years, three well-funded buyout firms have been quietly picking up licenses to commercial and noncommercial TV stations in a gamble on big payouts from next year’s FCC incentive auction of television spectrum. Current’s research of FCC license applications filed since 2010 found at least 25 separate deals involving three firms: OTA Broadcasting, NRJ TV and LocusPoint Networks. The stations they’ve acquired to date are on the peripheries of major markets, primarily ranging from Boston to Washington, D.C., in the eastern U.S. and from Seattle down to Los Angeles along the West Coast. The three firms are all owned or funded by private equity firms that command billions in assets. Due to vagaries in the FCC’s reporting requirements, it’s likely that the commission’s records provide an incomplete picture of the companies’ purchases.