FCC Door

Radio One has agreed to implement a comprehensive compliance plan to settle an investigation into its failure to comply with the FCC’s political file rules. Under a consent decree adopted March 1, the African American media specialist will implement compliance plans at each of its radio stations, develop and distribute a compliance manual to all employees and step up employee training efforts.

In an Order released Monday, the Audio Division of the FCC Media Bureau says it suspended processing a license renewal for “Hot 104” WHHL St. Louis (104.1) because Radio One failed to certify the hip-hop/R&B station was in compliance with the Commission’s political file rules.

To resolve what the Commission calls Radio One’s “public file derelictions,” the broadcaster has agreed to implement a compliance plan and submit periodic compliance reports to the Media Bureau.

“It is crucial that stations maintain political files that are complete and up to date because the information in them directly affects, among other things, the statutory rights of opposing candidates to request equal opportunities pursuant to section 315(a) of the Act and present their positions to the public prior to an election,” Media Bureau Chief Michelle Carey says in the Order.

Media Bureau Investigation

The noncompliance came to light when Radio One filed to renew the license for WHHL and wasn’t able to certify its compliance with the public file rules during the license term. That sparked a Media Bureau investigation into the matter and put the license renewal application in limbo. The investigation concluded that Radio One didn’t comply with the political file rules.

Under federal law, stations are required to place information about each request for the purchase of broadcast time for all candidate-sponsored advertisements and certain issue advertisements in their political files for public inspection “as soon as possible.” The FCC rules also require that information to be made available for public inspection “as soon as possible,” barring any unusual circumstances, to ensure that the public has timely access to important information about political advertisements, such as the identity of the sponsoring organization.

In its Order, the Commission says it took into account the “dramatic reduction in advertising revenues” caused by the pandemic, which put Radio One and the rest of the industry “under significant, ongoing financial stress.” Similar to earlier political file investigation settlements reached with other broadcasters, no monetary fine has been imposed on Radio One.

The Order requires the broadcaster to designate a senior manager to serve as a Compliance Officer and to implement compliance plans at each of its radio stations, develop and distribute a compliance manual to all employees and step up employee training efforts. It will also be required to submit detailed compliance reports to the Media Bureau confirming all information was timely uploaded to each station’s online political file. If there is a problem discovered going forward, Radio One has also agreed to alert the FCC within ten days.

The Order closes the FCC investigation and Radio One admits it failed to place records of all requests for the purchase of political broadcast time in its political file in a timely manner, in repeated violation of FCC rules.

The agreement follow a similar consent decree the FCC signed with Hubbard Radio in September 2020 to close investigations into whether its stations violated political file rules. The Media Bureau in July 2020 announced it had reached similar settlements with Alpha Media, Beasley Media Group, Cumulus Media, Entercom, iHeartMedia and Salem Media Group.

The issue tripping up broadcasters has been how quickly documents related to qualified political ads are placed in a station’s political file. The documents must be placed in the political file “as soon as possible” under FCC rules, which means “immediately, absent unusual circumstances.” When that does not happen, it is easier than ever for the FCC to find out, ever since radio completed a two-year transition to an online public file in March 2018.

Bobby Baker, Assistant Chief in the FCC’s Policy Bureau, told a state broadcaster association webinar last year that, unlike the paper files which allowed stations to “fudge” on timing, the online political file puts an automatic time stamp on everything uploaded.