FCC 2016

The long-planned expansion of online public files for radio stations has begun as new Federal Communications Commission requirements for a majority of stations in the top 50 markets kicks in today (Friday).

The FCC adopted an order in January that will begin shifting all radio stations to the online public file. It dictates that all commercial stations with five or more employees located in a top 50 Nielsen-rated market are now required to post their public inspection files at https://publicfiles.fcc.gov. Broadcasters will also be required to link to that URL from each station website.

The online postings will include political file information which will allow the public to use a searchable database to track candidate advertising buys rather than make in-person visits to page through stacks of paper documents at local radio stations.

The Washington-based Sunlight Foundation calls it “another victory for transparency” since political files contain information about how much the ads cost and when they ran. “Having the political ad files online is important—in some cases they provide the only public information available on groups that are thinly disguised as nonprofit ‘social welfare’ organizations but are, in fact, major campaign players,” it says.

The new rules also apply to satellite radio, cable TV and satellite television systems. The remainder of radio stations will be required to start posting public inspection files by March 1, 2018.

“This is in accordance with the government-wide effort to increase transparency, and the FCC’s broader efforts to modernize data and move its processes from paper to digital,” the agency said in a statement. The FCC adopted similar rules on big market broadcast television stations in 2012 and then expanded the requirement to all TV stations in 2014.

Texas Association of Broadcasters VP Michael Schneider told the Houston Chronicle that TV stations have adapted “okay” and believes radio operators will also adapt to the new regulations. “It’s a learning curve, but I think TV demonstrated that stations can rise to the occasion,” he said.