Media Bureau formally announces revised renewal form, procedures for upcoming license renewal cycle

The Media Bureau has released a Public Notice announcing revisions to the Form 303-S license renewal application and providing a few more details regarding the upcoming renewal process. (You knew this was going to happen because we told you it was going to.) The notice largely tracks the information we have previously reported, but it does include a couple of interesting surprises worthy of mention and a couple of non-surprises worthy of attention. 

First, the revised renewal form requires commercial applicants to certify that: (a) their advertising contracts do not discriminate based on race or ethnicity; and (b) those contracts in fact contain nondiscrimination clauses. We knew that was coming; what we didn’t know for sure was the precise time frame that the certification would cover. Now we do: while the language of the certification is still in the present tense (“Licensee certifies that its advertising sales agreements do not discriminate…and that all such agreements…contain nondiscrimination clauses” [emphasis added]), the Notice indicates that the certification will refer retrospectively back to March 14, 2011 (i.e., the date of the Notice). 

Since the FCC first generally alerted broadcasters in 2008 that some certification would be required, licensees have had plenty of opportunity to get their nondiscriminatory houses in order. Those who haven’t done so can still correct the problem by notifying all advertisers on the books as of March 14 that all advertising sales agreements effective on or after that date are deemed to include the necessary nondiscriminatory provisions. (We have previously posted some sample language that might do the trick here.)

The second surprise – actually, it turns out to have been more like a head fake, we think – involves certifications of compliance with the RF exposure guidelines.

When the Bureau’s anticipated changes in the renewal form first emerged last Fall, one of the highlights was the fact that radio licensees would be relieved of the burden of submitting any exhibits to their RF certifications. But the Notice now could be read to say otherwise:

For stations that have had a material change in their RF environment since they last received a grant of a license application or license renewal application, either an exhibit or a worksheet demonstrating compliance with the RF exposure limits is required.

That seems to say that, at least in some limited cases, it may be necessary to submit something – like an exhibit or worksheet. But that would be flatly inconsistent with what the Commission said last Fall when it spoke, repeatedly and unequivocally, of the “elimination of the exhibit requirement for radio broadcasters”. What’s up with that?

After reading this over several times and chatting informally with the Commission’s staff, we think that the key to understanding the Notice is as follows: while the Notice does say that an exhibit or worksheet demonstrating compliance is, in some instances, “required”, it does not say that that exhibit/worksheet is “required to be submitted with the application”. That is, where there has been a material change in the RF environment of your transmitter site since grant of your last renewal or license application, you will have to work through the worksheets to confirm that the site is still in compliance. (And if the worksheets don’t confirm that, you’ll need to enlist the help of a consulting engineer to study the situation.) But once you get to the point that you can confirm compliance, you would simply so certify and that would be that. No separate supporting documentation would need to be submitted with the renewal application (although it would be a good idea to hold onto your worksheets or engineering study, in case somewhere down the line the FCC asks you to explain your certification).

We’re reasonably confident that this is what the Bureau has in mind – but we’ll keep our eyes out, and if we get any contrary information, we’ll post it here. In any event, though, if you are a radio licensee and there have been material changes at your site since your last renewal/license grant, you probably want to begin looking at the worksheets and, if necessary, lining up engineering services soon.

The Notice also included a couple of useful reminders. 

For one, this renewal cycle the Media Bureau will not be mailing postcards to licensees reminding them of their upcoming renewal applications. In other words, each licensee is on its own to remind itself when its renewal is due. (Where the Bureau has an e-mail address, it will attempt to remind the licensee by e-mail – but if no such reminder arrives, that will not excuse a failure to file on time.) As a reminder, the first license renewal applications are due for radio stations in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia on June 1.

Second, the Notice advises that the earliest date on which renewals may be filed is May 2. Form 303-S may be available on CDBS prior to May 2, but it can’t be submitted until then – no matter how many eager beaver licensees may prefer to get it over with before then. While there is currently (i.e., as of March 15) a version of Form 303-S listed on CDBS, don’t be fooled: that’s probably NOT the new version. Check under the official OMB number at the top right side of the first page – if it doesn’t say “March 2011”, it’s not the new version. If it’s not the new version,  don’t spend any time looking at it (or the instructions, which are also outdated). If you want to see a PDF version of the new form and instructions, you can find that on the FCC’s forms page. But that version is just for reading – you can’t complete and submit it on line. You’ll have to wait for May 2 for that.

As always, check back here for updates.