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FCC, Townsquare Media Settle Cigarette Ad Dispute

Commission alleged El Paso station cluster only aired part of sponsor name

Townsquare Media is paying the equivalent of a $15,000 fine to settle a dispute with the FCC over cigarette advertising. The licensee of KLAQ(FM) and sister station KROD(AM), El Paso, Texas inherited the problem from previous station owner Regent Broadcasting.

The FCC alleged that the stations dropped the word “cigarette” in 2010 from a sponsor called “The Cigarette Outlet” to get around the federal ban on cigarette advertising on radio and TV.

Regent had argued it wasn’t necessary to include the full advertiser’s name in the spots; it felt the sponsor was obvious because the ads included Outlet’s address, directions and phone number.

The Enforcement Bureau disagreed.

To settle the three-year dispute that got started with complaints to the commission, both sides have now signed a consent decree. Townsquare Media will pay a “voluntary contribution” to the U.S. Treasury within 30 days, admit no wrongdoing and create a process at the El Paso cluster to ensure all future spots meet the sponsorship identification rules.

All ad scripts will be reviewed by “at least” two employees in that cluster before they air, according to the agreement. One of those employees must be a manager. The licensee will also file compliance reports with the FCC for the next three years. In exchange, the FCC stops the investigation.