In an unusual move, the FCC’s Media Bureau today granted the renewal of a Texas FM radio station, but with a catch – the bureau shortened the renewal period to two years due to the station’s silence for “slightly less than half of the Station’s license term.”

Under Section 312(g) of the Communications Act, a station’s license will expire if the station “fails to transmit broadcast signals for any consecutive 12-month period.”  As the Bureau recognized in today’s Memorandum Opinion and Order and Notice of Apparent Liability, “in response to Section 312(g), some licensees of silent stations have adopted a practice of resuming operation for a short period of time, in some cases as little as a day, before the 12-month limit in Section 312(g) applies.”  Facing such a situation in 2001, the Commission in Birach Broadcasting Corporation granted a full term renewal to a station that had endured prolonged periods of silence, but used the occasion to warn licensees that they “will face a very heavy burden in demonstrating that [they have] served the public interest where [they have] remained silent for most or all of the prior license term.”

In the instant case, the station was silent for less than half of its license term (the license term ran from August 9, 2009 to July 31, 2013 and the station was silent pursuant to Special Temporary Authority from March 1, 2011 to February 27, 2012 and again from March 27, 2012 to March 20, 2013).  While recognizing that “the Station’s periods of silence under Licensee’s supervision do not quite involve ‘most or all of the prior license term the silent period,’” the Bureau nevertheless determined that “the Licensee’s conduct has fallen far short of that which would warrant license renewal.”  The Bureau found that periods of prolonged silence constitute “a fundamental failure to serve station’s community of license, because a silent station offers that community no public service programming such as news, public affairs, weather information, and Emergency Alert System notifications.”

Notably, the Commission acknowledged that the licensee obtained authorization for each silent period and had since resumed full time operation.  Still, it concluded that “additional measures are necessary in order to ensure that Licensee endeavors in the future to provide the broadcast service it is licensed to provide.”

With this precedent now established, we expect the Bureau to continue cracking down on stations that are silent for prolonged periods.

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