FCC denies stations’ bid for looser underwriting language

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A public radio licensee’s bid to boost underwriting revenue by skirting restrictions on credit language met with a flat rebuttal from the FCC May 15.

The licensee of Phoenix’s KBAQ and KJZZ asked the Commission in March to approve a three-year “limited and controlled demonstration project” to relax limits on language in the stations’ underwriting credits. Maricopa County Community College District proposed allowing qualitative terms, such as “award-winning” and “experienced,” and information about sales, discounts and interest rates. Such wording is currently barred under FCC rules.

Maricopa argued that the relaxed restrictions would help the stations increase underwriting income amid a challenging climate for public broadcasting funding. It suggested that stations would monitor listener response to the new language and that, if the experiment went well, other stations in public radio could also adopt looser rules.

Those arguments failed to sway the FCC. The Commission responded in a three-page letter that “[p]ermitting Maricopa to enhance their underwriting announcements would undermine the statutory and regulatory purposes in authorizing NCE stations — that is, to encourage the development of a public broadcasting system that is free from extraneous influence and control.”

“We believe that the public interest is better served by requiring strict adherence to the underwriting Rules and policies,” wrote Peter Doyle, audio division chief within the FCC’s Media Bureau.

Furthermore, Doyle replied, the stations’ financial situation is “not so unique and unusual in itself as to warrant a waiver of the underwriting Rules and policies.” To effect a change in underwriting restrictions, “the appropriate vehicle would be a petition for rulemaking,” Doyle wrote.

Maricopa is mulling its options for responding to the FCC, according to Ernest Sanchez, the attorney representing the school district.

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