Advertising on the Radio? Know These FCC Rules

Advertising on the Radio? Know These FCC Rules

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Digital radio stations are a prime avenue for advertising. According to a 2017 Nielsen report on media, “radio reaches more Americans each week than any other platform.” In fact, more than 90 percent of the population listens to the radio on a weekly basis, which beats out television, smartphones, personal computers, television-connected devices and tablets.

If you plan to advertise on a successful HD radio program or otherwise enter the digital audio broadcasting space, you should be familiar with the FCC’s rules and guidelines on advertising. While there are also standards that govern the non-advertising content that is produced, this guide is exclusively about the unique standards that apply to paid advertisements, since compliance in that area is often highly scrutinized.

  1. Any station that broadcasts sponsored slots must disclose to listeners that the spot is sponsored and who it is sponsored by. The only exception to this rule is in a case where it is, as the FCC says, “clear that the mention of a product or service constitutes sponsorship identification.” In other words, a radio personality can work your advertisement into their show without switching to a commercial break, but they need to make it obvious to listeners that the product or service they’re plugging is a paid advertiser.
  2. Stations must be notified about new partnerships and planned sponsored content prior to the airing of such content. While this area of compliance falls primarily on the shoulders of the broadcaster and not the advertiser, it’s important to know. If you’re negotiating an advertising or sponsorship deal, ask about workflows and timelines for notifying up the chain of production and distribution, and when in doubt, start negotiations early (especially for seasonal or time-sensitive promotions).  
  3. The content laws for digital audio broadcasting are the same as those for television, and they extend to advertisements. Broadcast channels are prohibited from airing adverts for certain lotteries, cigarettes, cigarillos and other tobacco products, as well as for any fraudulent product or service. Advertisements that are deemed obscene, indecent or profane are not allowed during certain hours, and some types of content may not be allowed at all. This guide explains what constitutes obscene, indecent and profane. Note that satellite radio is exempt from these restraints, as it is a subscription service.
  4. All advertisements aired on an HD radio channel must maintain compliance not only with the FCC but also with the FTC and the FDA. General FTC guidelines, like being truthful (and not deceptive) in advertising, apply to all industries, while others, like those pertaining to health claims and testimonials, are more product-specific. It is best practice for advertising firms to employ a compliance specialist, either in-house or on a contract basis, to ensure that money isn’t wasted on noncompliant advertisements or sponsorships.

If you believe a broadcaster is acting unfairly or violating FCC protocol for advertising and sponsorship, you may report it here. Before you advertise on any broadcast channel, you should do your homework. Find out what other types of sponsorship and advertising relationships the broadcaster already has and what its process is for staying compliant with the FCC.


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