As we reported a few days ago, most large market radio stations are required to have their complete (but for a few exceptions) local public inspection files posted online by no later than Christmas Eve.  Perhaps moved by the spirit of the holidays, the Commission has now granted a narrow exception to that requirement for a small number of broadcasters.  Specifically, in response to a request filed by Cox Radio, the Commission has released an Order providing that licensees will, in certain circumstances, not be required to upload issues and programs lists and EEO reports from prior license terms, even if the license renewal applications covering those terms remain pending at the Commission.

No NCE radio stations have to comply with any of the online public file rules until March 1, 2018 – irrespective of their market.

In the normal course, broadcasters are required to retain issues and programs lists, and EEO reports, until the license renewal application for the period covered by those reports is granted by final order. With the imposition of the online public file requirements, licensees would therefore be required to upload a potentially very large universe of such documents; if their last license renewal applications remained pending, that would include the eight years covered by those applications as well as documents for the current license term (more than five years old for some stations).  Under the Commission’s Order, licensees will now be required to upload issues and programs lists and EEO reports only for the current license term, provided that 1) the pending renewal application was not opposed, 2) the reason the renewal remains pending is not due to any issues related to the issues and program lists or EEO reports, and 3) the required documents remain available in the station’s hard copy public file.

As readers may recall, the Commission issued a similar waiver to television broadcasters in 2013.  As such, it would have been somewhat difficult to deny the same treatment to radio broadcasters now.  The impact of the current waiver is likely to be far more limited, however.  When the online public file requirements became effective, a very large number of television renewals had remained pending for many years due to complaints regarding allegedly indecent programming.  A much smaller percentage of radio stations have had renewal applications pending for extended periods of time, so the relief granted in the Commission recent Order will not be enjoyed as widely.  For those stations it does impact, however, it is still likely a welcome relief in advance of the holidays.