Non-Commercial Radio – what is a “Commerical”?

FM stations below 92 Mhz and LPFM stations are not allowed to sell advertising. 

At least one LPFM station I’ve visited recently appears to be blatantly ignoring this rule. 
[For the record, I oppose limiting the free speech rights of radio just because it is “commercial”], but I don’t make the laws.  This is 80 year old arugment about the role of radio and the FCC.

How can you tell if a non-profit station has crossed the line that could get you a big fine from the FCC?  What are the rules?   When does a “sponsorship” cross that line and become an Ad?  

Let’s say your local McDonad’s is a sponsor.  You could safely say:

“This hour is sponsored by McDonald’s.  McDonald’s Restaurant is located on North Main street across the street from Wal*Mart.  We would like to thank McDonald’s for helping to make this show possible”.

Sponsorship can mention the business, its location (including web site addresses) and a neutral description of what the business does without promoting it or its products.  The last sentence implies that you might want to go there to support the business, but does not overtly suggest it.

How you can get in trouble very fast:  (I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice)

* Calls to action “Stop by today for a cup of fresh brewed coffee”
* Pricing: “McDonald’s now offers a variety of items on the $.99 value menu”
* Comparisons: “McDonald’s has the friendliest employees in town”, “Recent surveys say consumers prefer the Big Mac to Burger King’s Whopper 2 to 1″
* Specials: ‘McDonald’s now has 3 new flavors of milk shakes”

Another really fast lane to an FCC fine is saying “If you are a company in the area and would like to be an advertiser on our show, give us a call”.  The FCC relies heavily on “good faith” of the station about where the line is between a sponsorship and an ad.  Calling it an advertisement on the air is a clear demostration that the station is not acting in “good faith”.

The more interesting question to me:  If a non-Commercial station keeps advertisements off their over-to-air broadcasts, but injects ads into their internet streams, or accepts advertisements on their web site – does that break the rules?    What if the host says “Visit our web site to see information from our sponsors”, and the web site has blatant advertisements?

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