Noncom advertising case involves cigarettes, payola


FCCA former executive with a noncom FM in the Cincinnati area turned in his former station for a number of alleged violations, including underwriting announcements that slid into the advertising realm. The FCC found areas of agreement and disagreement, and in one instance, referred a complaint to the DOJ.

The station is WOBO-FM Batavia OH, which covers part of Cincinnati from a signal oriented to the east of the city. It’s licensed to Educational Community Radio Inc.

Here are the charges from Donald Littman, who filed an informal objection to the station’s application for a license renewal.

* The station aired commercials for Chesterfield cigarettes by failing to edit them out of a rebroadcast of an old-time radio program aired when such ads were legal.

* The station aired underwriting announcements that included lists of products and services or that made qualitative statements, taking them into the commercial zone.

* The station aired music by a band in which new exec Gary Strong is a member, a form of self-promotion, and the band underwrites the station, which Littman thought might constitute payola.

* The station’s recent local service has been limited to PSAs run in the early morning hours.

The FCC said that there was no payola, because for that to occur the exchange of underwriting and the playing of music would have to be secret – in this case, everything was done right out in the open.

It also said that it does not generally issue fines for local programming content, but admonished the station for not making a stronger effort to provide local issues programming.

It did agree that some of the underwriting announcements went over the line. The base forfeiture for this is $2K. The FCC said there were enough instances that an upward adjustment to $3K was warranted.

Finally, the FCC said the cigarette matter was one for DOJ – it said it was making that agency aware of the conversation being held by the parties noted here, and will leave any enforcement decisions to DOJ’s discretion.



  1. So, who gets the blame when a national talk show runs spots for CIGARS, and we hear them on the local broadcast? Sounds like 2 companies should be sharing the fines…

  2. Hi, Mark — the answer to your question is that the blame falls 100% on the licensee, which alone is responsible for its air space. There was a question in this particular case about allowing the cigarette ads air as a look back at history, which the FCC punted to the DOJ. But the show’s producers cannot be held responsible for something they did quite legally at the time. Nor can a producer be blamed for airing under any circumstance, unless the producer is also the licensee. George Carlin wrote the Words You Can’t Say on TV monologue, but he didn’t broadcast it.

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