Underwriting Compliance Guide: 6. Station policy
6. Station policy
a. Longer is not better
As stated, an acknowledgement is mainly the business name, address, phone number, website and some very basic information about the nature of the business for non-promotional purpose. Such an announcement would be shorter than the standard lengths used in the broadcast industry for commercial announcements. Messages that are longer are more likely to include prohibited promotional content. The FCC has in the past, taken notice of longer messages when taking enforcement actions against broadcast stations.
b. Live copy vs. prerecorded copy
Your underwriting acknowledgements are your most sensitive speech that goes over your station. The wrong words can lead to forfeitures (fines), potential license renewal issues as well as tarnishes the nature of the noncommercial educational broadcast service. Underwriting messages should be carefully written and screened by station management and/or a compliance officer before being recorded for air.
By allowing your DJs/announcers to read acknowledgements live over the air, you no longer have the controls of assuring that the message going over the air is compliant. This is why all underwriting messages are pre-recorded with the approved script.
In addition, there should be a complete separation in program continuity where it comes to playing the announcements. DJs/announcers should never be allowed to add comments about the underwriter either before or after an acknowledgement as that runs the risk that prohibited messaging would occur.
c. Other things to avoid
In addition to live copy, here are some other things to avoid:
- Context of the message: It is important to remember that this message is an acknowledgement of a donation and not a “purchase of time”. The script of the acknowledgement message should be spoken as if it is coming from the station and not the underwriter. The voice talent on the announcement should be a staff announcer or a neutral third party and the script should never suggest that the message is coming from the underwriter.
- Underwriter submitted recordings: Again, this is an acknowledgement, not a time purchase and needs to come from the station to thank the business.
- Rate cards that include “spot lengths”: Again, these are “thank yous” by the station to show appreciation to a donor. While you can discuss with the underwriter what will go in the message, you should not promise a “spot length” that is normally used in commercial advertising. The average acknowledgement would be about 15 seconds.
- Use of the term “sales”: You are not “selling” anything per se. Instead, you are encouraging a business to underwrite the operations of a radio station and in return, the station offers acknowledgement messages that publicizes their business name and location in a non-promotional manner.
- Sound effects, music and jingles: The use of production elements such as sound-effects (such as the whirring of air socket wrench for a tire store), certain types of music and slogan jingles may result in your content crossing the line into a promotion. These elements should be avoided. The use of neutral production music behind underwriting announcements may be acceptable as long as the music does not correspond with the business and if it is consistent with the music used behind other underwriting messages. Copyrighted music (i.e. your CD collection) should never be used behind messages as that could violate the mechanical rights and be outside the scope of your existing ASCAP, BMI and SESCAC licenses.
d. Live remotes
Extreme caution must be practiced where it comes to live (or call-in) remotes from the locations of underwriters. If the business is paying the station to have the remote at their location, then all underwriting policies apply. While this is a viable situation for commercial stations, it is a bit sticky for noncommercial stations as you can’t tell someone to come down to see the business nor can you interview the owner to describe their business.
Stations should avoid doing these types of live remotes. If your station does one, you can acknowledge the business name and address, but you can’t outright encourage them to go there.
“Tom Slick and the WXYY Roadster are currently at Jim’s Pizza Spectacular located at 341 Main Street between 4th and 5th in Holyville. Thank you to Jim’s Pizza for supporting community programming on WXYY. Their phone number is 445-0044 and their website is Jim’s Pizza dot com.”
e. Review and approval process
Noncommercial stations should put in place a review process where one or more people in management of the station would review proposed copy for underwriting acknowledgements prior to it being recorded and going on the air. No DJ, volunteer or other person should be permitted to circumvent this process even if the funds go to the station.
DISCLAIMER: THIS MANUAL WAS NOT WRITTEN BY AN ATTORNEY AND THEREFORE SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE. REC NETWORKS IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES THAT MAY ARISE FROM THE USE OF THIS MANUAL. THIS GUIDE IS BASED ON 20 YEARS OF KNOWLEDGE OF THE NON-COMMERCIAL (INCLUDING LPFM) BROADCAST SERVICE.