FCC Thaws Station Sales Freeze

But chance to clear backlog of radio deals may be short lived

FCC Media Bureau staffers are working to clear a backlog of roughly 300 requests to sell radio stations and another 30 for TV stations, after removing a freeze on license transfers last week.

They also will have to tackle the hundreds of additional transfer requests that owners put on hold since the FCC declared a moratorium on applications June 2.

The agency suspended sales of commercial broadcast stations more than two months ago because it needed to draw up new application forms reflecting revamped local and national ownership limits. It also had to obtain approval of the new documents from the Office of Management and Budget.

Several Washington regulatory attorneys complained the moratorium needlessly stalled many deals when the FCC broke with tradition and refused to approve transfers that complied with the new rules.

And they may not be out of the woods yet. Complicating the picture are the court challenges to the FCC's new ownership rues. Public advocates have asked the courts to stay the new rules. If the court complies, the FCC could again put the just thawed deals into the deep freeze.

The freeze policy affected radio in particular, because the industry typically has a steady stream of deals—about 2,500 a year. Also, many of the pending radio deals will require amended applications because new rules altered the way local market size; is measured, a change that will reduce the number of stations one company may own in many small markets

"This really hurt radio," said Gary Smithwick, a Washington regulatory attorney. "Many, many, many deals were ready to go but could not be filed." Lauren Colby, another attorney representing radio clients, predicted that more than 200 transfer applications would be filed in the next few weeks.

Television was affected less because the deal flow is much smaller and because the limits were generally relaxed, eliminating any need for pending deals to be reworked to comply with new restrictions.

The Paperwork Reduction Act requires that OMB approve federal government applications and other documents that individuals and business must file to prevent undue paperwork burdens. The mandate sometimes can stop normal government business during the lag between re-creating forms, winning OMB approval, and publishing them in the Federal Register.

The application forms affected were FCC Forms 314 and 315, which cover radio and TV transfers of control, and Form 301, which covers license modifications such as changes to power levels and coverage areas. The freeze did not apply to noncommercial stations.