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FCC Comments on the Licensing of Radio Stations

Licensing of Radio Stations:
The FCC licenses low power (100W) FM radio noncommercial educational (NCE). NCE stations generally meet their operating expenses with contributions received from listeners and viewers.

NCE stations may receive contributions from for-profit entities and are permitted to acknowledge these contributions or underwriting donations with announcements naming and generally describing the contributing party or donor.

NCE stations cannot broadcast commercials or other promotional announcements on behalf of for-profit entities.

New Stations:
Before a party can build a new TV or radio station, it first must apply to the FCC for a construction permit. A construction permit authorizes it to build the station within a specified period of time.

After the “permittee”) builds the station, it must file a license application in which it certifies that it has constructed the station consistent with the technical and other terms specified in its construction permit.

Once the FCC grants the application, the permittee becomes a “licensee,” which authorizes the new licensee to operate for a stated period of time, up to eight years. Stations must renew their licenses before they expire.

Broadcast Programming: Basic Law and Policy:
The Constitution’s protection of free speech includes programming that may be objectionable to many viewers or listeners. The FCC cannot prevent the broadcast of any particular point of view.

There are some restrictions on the material that a licensee can broadcast. These restrictions are discussed below.

Licensee Discretion:
The radio licensee generally has discretion to select what its station broadcasts and to otherwise determine how it can best serve its community of license.

Broadcast licensees must periodically make available detailed information about the programming they air to meet the needs and problems of their communities, which can be found in each station’s public file.

Criticism, Ridicule, and Humor Concerning Individuals, Groups, and Institutions:
Freedom of speech protects programming that stereotypes or may otherwise offend people with regard to their religion, race, national background, gender, or other characteristics

It also protects broadcasts that criticize or ridicule established customs and institutions, including the government and its officials. People must be free to say things that the majority may abhor, not only what most people may find tolerable or congenial.

If you are offended by a station’s programming, make your concerns known in writing to the station licensee.

Station licensees are not required to broadcast everything that is offered or otherwise suggested to them. Licensees have no obligation to allow any particular person or group to participate in a broadcast or to present that person or group’s remarks.

Broadcast Programming: Law and Policy on Specific Kinds of Programming:
Hoaxes and news distortion are subject to Commission regulation.

Hoaxes.
A “crime” is an act or omission that makes the offender subject to criminal punishment by law,.

A “catastrophe” is a disaster or an imminent disaster involving violent or sudden events affecting the public.

The broadcast by a station of false information concerning a crime or catastrophe if:
▪ The station licensee knew that the information was false;

▪ Broadcasting the false information directly causes substantial public harm; and

▪ It was foreseeable that broadcasting the false information would cause such harm.

The broadcast must cause direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public, or diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties, and the public harm must begin immediately.

If a station airs a disclaimer before the broadcast that clearly characterizes the program as fiction and the disclaimer is presented in a reasonable manner under the circumstances, the program is presumed not to pose foreseeable public harm.

News Distortion:
Broadcast licensees may not intentionally distort the news. “Rigging or slanting the news is a most heinous act against the public interest.”

Objectionable Programming:
Inciting “Imminent Lawless Action
 "Inciting “Imminent Lawless Action” is:
(1) intended to incite or produce “imminent lawless action;”

and

(2) likely to “incite or produce such action.”

Indecent Programming:
Indecent Programming is defined as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.”

Obscene Material.
Obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment and cannot be broadcast at any time.

Obscene material must have all of the following three characteristics:
▪ An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a
whole, appeals to the prurient interest;

▪ The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law;

and

▪ The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Indecent Material.
Indecent material is protected by the First Amendment, so its broadcast cannot constitutionally be prohibited at all times.

Profane Material is defined as program matter that includes language that is both “so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance” and is sexual or excretory in nature or derived from such terms.

The broadcast of indecent material or profane material is prohibited during times of the day when there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience, which the Commission has determined to be between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

How to File an Obscenity, Indecency, or Profanity Complaint.
Complainants must provide certain information, including:
(1) the date and time of the alleged broadcast;

(2) the call sign, channel or frequency of the station involved;

and

(3) the details of what was actually said (or depicted) during the alleged indecent, profane, or obscene broadcast. Submission of an audio or video tape, CD, DVD or other recording or transcript of the complained-of material is not required but is helpful, as is the specific name of the program, the on-air personality, song, or film, and the city and state in which the complainant saw or heard the broadcast.

The fastest and easiest way to file a complaint on this or any other broadcast issue is to go to the FCC’s complaint page at https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/hc/en-us.

Station Identification.
Stations must air identification announcements when they sign on and off for the day.

They must broadcast these announcements every hour, as close to the start of the hour as possible.

Between the call letters and its community, the station may insert the name of the licensee, the station’s channel number, and/or its frequency.

It may also include any additional community or communities, as long as it first names the community to which it is licensed by the FCC.

Station-Conducted Contests.

A station that broadcasts or advertises information about a contest that it conducts must fully and accurately disclose the material terms of the contest and must conduct the contest substantially as announced or advertised over-the-air or on the Internet.

Contest descriptions may not be false, misleading, or deceptive with respect to any material term.

The station conducting the contest must disclose material terms either through periodic disclosures broadcast on the station, or written disclosures on the station’s Internet website.

Soliciting Funds.
No federal law prohibits the broadcast by stations of requests for funds for legal purposes (including appeals by stations for contributions to meet their operating expenses), if the money or other contributions are used for the announced purposes.

Broadcast of Telephone Conversations.
Before broadcasting a telephone conversation live or recording a telephone conversation for later broadcast, a station must inform any party to the call of its intention to broadcast the conversation.

However, that notification is not necessary when the other party knows that the conversation will be broadcast or this knowledge can be reasonably presumed, such as when the party is associated with the station (for example, as an employee or part-time reporter) or originates the call during a program during which the station customarily broadcasts the calls.

Tobacco and Alcohol Advertising.
Federal law prohibits the airing of advertising for cigarettes, little cigars, smokeless tobacco, and chewing tobacco on radio.

Congress has not enacted any law prohibiting broadcast advertising of any kind of alcoholic beverage.

The Local Public Inspection File
Requirement to Maintain a Public Inspection File.

Virtually all licensees and permittees of TV and radio stations and applicants for new broadcast stations are required to maintain records that must be made available for public inspection.

LPFM stations do not have a public inspection file but are required to maintain a political file.

Viewing the Public Inspection File.
The public can access a station’s public inspection file at https://publicfiles.fcc.gov.

Contents of the File.
The items required to be in a station’s public file, the rule section requiring the filing, and the retention period for each item are listed below. Also included is a brief description of each item, but the description should not be relied upon in place of the underlying rules’ description of that item. 

▪ FCC Authorizations (73.3526(e)(1), 73.3527(e)(1)) (retain until replaced). These are the instruments issued by the Commission to individuals or companies that authorize broadcasting or other use of radio transmissions in connection with broadcasting and include licenses and permits to construct or modify broadcast facilities.

▪ Applications and Related Materials (73.3526(e)(2), 73.3527(e)(2)) (retain until final action taken on the application). These are applications and supporting documents or exhibits submitted to the Commission seeking such things as broadcast licenses, construction permits, special operating authority, or consent to the sale of an existing broadcast facility.

▪ Contour Maps (73.3526(e)(4), 73.3527(e)(3)) (retain as long as they reflect current, accurate information regarding the station). These are graphical representations or "maps” of the area in which a broadcast station provides a particular level of signal strength over-the-air. These maps can be a useful indication of where service might be expected to be received from the station. However, they do not account for the availability of a station’s signal carried by cable or satellite service providers, nor do they suggest that every point inside the contour will receive over-the-air service.

▪ Ownership Reports and Related Materials (73.3526(e)(5), 73.3527(e)(4)) (retain until a new, complete ownership report is filed with the FCC).

These reports are filed every other year, as well as in connection with the sale of a broadcast station.

They reflect the entities and individuals that hold "attributable” interests in the broadcast station (that is, interests the Commission deems convey some influence over the station).

▪ Equal Employment Opportunity File (73.3526(e)(7), 73.3527(e)(6)) (retain until final action taken on the station's next license renewal application).

The Commission requires stations employing five or more full-time employees to maintain in their public inspection file the following reports regarding their EEO activities: an EEO public file report that is prepared annually; FCC Form 396 – an EEO Program Report that is filed with the FCC as part of the station’s license renewal application; and, for buyers of a station or new licensees, FCC Form 396-A – a Model EEO Program Report that is filed with the FCC.

▪ The Public and Broadcasting Manual (73.3526(e)(8), 73.3527(e)(7)) (retain most recent version indefinitely).

▪ Political File (73.3526(e)(6), 73.3527(e)(5)) (retain for two years).
This file must contain all requests for specific schedules of advertising time by candidates and certain issue advertisers, as well as the final dispositions or "deals" agreed to by the broadcaster and the advertiser in response to any requests

▪ Material Relating to FCC Investigations and Complaints (73.3526(e)(10), 73.3527(e)(11)) (retain until notified in writing that the material may be discarded).

This is material that has a substantial bearing on an FCC investigation or complaint to the FCC involving the station and of which the station is aware.

Some or all of the material in this category may be excluded from the public file at the Commission’s direction (for example, Letters of Inquiry from the Enforcement Bureau should be excluded in order to protect the investigation process).

▪ Issues/Programs Lists (73.3526(e)(11)(i), 73.3526(e)(12), 73.3527(e)(8)) (retain until final action taken on the station’s next license renewal application).

These are quarterly lists prepared by stations describing the programs they aired during the preceding quarter that provided the stations’ most significant treatment of community issues.

▪ Donor Lists for Non-Commercial Educational Channels ("NCEs") (as required by 73.3527(e)(9))(retain for two years from the date of the broadcast of the specific program reported).

These are lists of donors that have supported specific programs aired by the stations.

▪ Local Public Notice Announcements (as required by 73.3526(e)(13), 73.3527(e)(10)) (retain for as long as the application to which it refers).

These are certifications that the broadcast station has made the necessary public on-air announcements when it files an application with the FCC for renewal of its broadcast license.

▪ Information on Third-Party Fundraising by NCE stations (73.3527(e)(14)) (retain for two years).

NCE stations that interrupt regular programming to conduct fundraising on behalf of a third-party non-profit organization pursuant to 73.503(e) (FM stations) or 73.621(f) (TV stations) must place in the public inspection file information regarding the fundraiser, including the date, time and duration of the fundraiser and name of the non-profit organization that benefited.

Complaints or Comments About a Station
Write directly to station management to comment on their broadcast service.

If your concerns are not resolved, provide all the information the FCC needs to process your complaint about other broadcast matters is to fully complete an on-line complaint at https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/hc/en-us. You can also call in, e- mail or file your complaint in hard copy with the FCC’s Consumer Center in the following manner:

Federal Communications Commission Fax: (202) 418-0232
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau Telephone: (888) 225-5322 (voice)
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division (888) 835-5322 (TTY)
45 L Street NE Email address: fccinfo@fcc.gov
Washington, D.C. 20554


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Let's Talk!:
Call-In Talk Line: (To be determined.)
Office: 307-710-0979
POB 684
Rawlins, Wyoming 82301


(Last Revision 03 June, 2024)