FCC Fines FM Station That Decided Nighttime Operation Unnecessary

Posted on March 31st, 2014 by

Claiming that it thought a reduction in service at night “was permissible without prior authorization” an FM station that could not certify to operating for the FCC’s minimum daily required hours will now get to pay $5,000 to the US treasury.  The certification is required in connection with a station’s license renewal application.  This licensee answered the question “no” with an explanation that for a period of about 3 years, it ceased daily programming at 7 pm each day.  Oops.

Since it is not an easy question to answer, we thought it would be appropriate to ask just what the minimum operating schedule is for an FM station.  The answer is:  Two-thirds of the total hours they are authorized to operate between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. local time and two-thirds of the total hours they are authorized to operate between 6 p.m. and midnight, local time, each day of the week except Sunday.  By the way, it’s the same for AM stations, except for day-timers (who only have to meet the first part)

Ok, that’s pretty confusing by itself, so let’s recap.  An FM station is typically authorized for 24 hour operation.  So under the rule, a station would have to transmit at least 8 of the 12 hours between 6 am and 6 pm Monday through Saturday (that’s 48 hours).  And the station would also have to operate at least 4 of the 6 hours between 6 pm and midnight, Monday through Saturday (that’s another 24 hours).  The FCC wouldn’t care if the station were off the air between midnight and 6 am, or all day on Sunday.  In total, that translates to a total of 72 hours of on-air operation per week, or 3 days out of every week.

So in the end, the station that shut down at 7 pm every night for 3 years received a fine of $5,000 for missing the daily minimum by 3 hours each Monday-Saturday night between 6 pm and midnight.  That’s 15 hours a week for 3 years, or 2,340 hours – which equates to about $2 of penalty for every hour of missed airtime.

Just in case you’re wondering, the required minimum operating hours for a full power TV station is 28 hours per week, with at least 2 hours in each day.  And TV stations don’t have to certify to the minimum hours in their license renewal.  But for a Class A television station, a minimum of 18 hours of daily operation is required, and they must certify to that minimum by not only placing proof in their public file showing that the minimum is met, but also certifying to the minimum at license renewal time.  Now that’s wacky.