An apparent FCC crackdown on silent radio stations is the focus of a commentary by veteran broadcast attorney David Oxenford.
He writes on his blog that the Audio Division, perhaps concerned about operators “warehousing” spectrum, seems to be taking an increasingly aggressive position with stations that have been silent for extended periods. He cites recent commission rulings; Radio World has reported on the cases.
Oxenford said the FCC notes that silent stations cannot serve the public interest, even if their silences were authorized under STAs. The commission, he writes, has been issuing only short-term renewals so as to keep a closer eye on such stations rather than having to wait until the end of a normal eight-year term.
He said the FCC is renewing for as little as 20% of a license term. “So, when commencing any voluntary period of silence for any station, a licensee should be aware that, if the station stays silent for a long period of time, its expectancy of a normal license renewal term may be jeopardized.”
Oxenford went on to note that typically it’s underperforming stations that opt to go silent for long periods while their operators try to determine what to do with them. He wonders what the impact of shorter-term renewals might be. “Will operators of troubled stations, especially of troubled AM stations, risk taking those stations silent while trying to find other ways to operate them or potential buyers for those stations, or will they just abandon the licenses, resulting in even less service to the public?”
Maybe, he concluded, leaving a station with its existing operator, even if it is not operating consistently, may be a quicker way to find a way for a station to return service to the public than will the cancellation of a license.