FCC Regulations & Copy Guidelines
The policy of the Federal Communications Commission officially prohibits non-profit radio stations from airing paid advertisements. Over time, it was determined that airing underwriting credits was an acceptable option, as a way for public radio stations to thank their business sponsors. The technical definition of what they allowed was simply 1) The name of the business, 2) The location of the business, and 3) A brief description of products and services.
Over the years, the nature of these has developed. For instance, Location now provides for placement of phone numbers or websites, and official trade slogans have been approved on the basis that they serve to identify the underwriter.
- Name of Business
- City and State is typical, though more or less detail can be used if timing permits
- A brief summary of goods or services provided
- Official trade slogan, if desired
- In order to confirm that the slogan is sufficiently established for FCC standards, we ask for 3 pieces of marketing that feature the slogan- this could be the website, outdoor signage, business cards, etc.
- Web address or phone number
WAMC’s underwriting announcements are written in a 10-second format, so using a stopwatch to check the spot time is always encouraged! Below is an example that is FCC-compliant, meets timing requirements, and utilizes all of the above:
SUPPORT FOR WAMC COMES FROM GARRETT ELECTRICAL SERVICES, CHATHAM, NEW YORK – – – PROVIDING NEW WIRING, REPAIRS, AND EMERGENCY SERVICES FOR HOMES AND BUSINESSES FOR OVER 30 YEARS. “SERVICE MADE PERSONAL.” GARRETT ELECTRICAL DOT BIZ.
While we do have some freedom to create announcements, the FCC still heavily regulates sponsorships. Though the FCC itself has rarely provided any specific guidance on what should not be said, through court cases over the years, we’ve inferred a few things that the FCC seems to take issue with, and while this is by no means comprehensive, these are some of the most common problems:
o The FCC prohibits underwriters from describing their business with phrasing that makes a claim of quality. This could be as simple as “THE BEST SERVICE”, or “DELICIOUS FOOD”.
Endorsements fall under this umbrella, including both explicit endorsements, as well as more subtle endorsements such as awards or certifications.
This also applies to verbs, in which underwriting announcements must avoid any statements of success. Instead, all language must be aspirational, if mentioning a goal; “HELPING THOSE SEEKING EMPLOYMENT” is fine, “GETTING JOBS FOR SEEKERS” would not be.
- The FCC does not allow for businesses to compare themselves to others. “150% MORE” or “WORLD PREMIERE” are examples that wouldn’t be approved as they display one business has something before all others.
- The correct language of underwriting does not speak directly to the listener, and the FCC explicitly prohibits telling the listener what to do; for instance, “VISIT THE STORE” or “COME TO THE SHOW” would not be acceptable.
- Reference to price
- Any reference to pricing is not usable, per FCC regulations. This could be a statement of how much something costs, or it could be a statement of a discount or sale event; anything that implies any discussion about price won’t work. “FREE” is a common problem that won’t be acceptable.
- Similarly, underwriting announcements are not allowed to mention any reason for a listener to take action. Some common tripping points include rewards memberships or references to limited supply that encourage immediate action.WAMC Account Executives and their support staff are able and willing to help draft on air copy that meets the above standards while maintaining your message for our listeners.