Arizona radio stations ask FCC for looser underwriting rules

By Mike Janssen

The licensee of KJZZ and KBAQ in Phoenix has asked the FCC for temporary permission to sidestep the agency’s rules governing language in underwriting announcements in a test of whether “enhanced” sponsor messages could boost income.

In a March 18 letter to the FCC, the Maricopa County Community College District proposed a three-year trial window “to conduct a limited and controlled demonstration project to test a modified loosening of the Commission’s enhanced underwriting policies.” Under the looser rules, KBAQ and KJZZ would air announcements that include:

  • “factually accurate information concerning interest rates available at underwriter banks, credit unions, automobile dealerships, and other local businesses”;
  • notification of sales and special events such as discounts and promotions; and
  • qualitative adjectives based on factual data, such as “certified,” “accredited,” “award-winning,” “experienced” or “long-established.”

During this experimental phase, the stations would monitor listener satisfaction and revenue resulting from the enhanced announcements. If sales rose and listeners accepted the new language without complaint, other public radio stations could adopt the looser rules as well, the college district suggested.

In the letter, submitted by communications attorney Ernie Sanchez, the college district cited the need to experiment as stations grapple with cuts in state funding, declines in underwriting revenue and the possible elimination of federal support for public broadcasting.

“Could public radio stations remain financially viable, even with diminished federal funding, if the guidelines were simply relaxed or — expressed another way — enhanced somewhat more than previous levels?” the letter asked. “And — suppose this option could be tested empirically?”

Read the full letter to the FCC.

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