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John Garziglia

The Lowest Unit Rate Dilemna

12-2-2011

It may already be happening at your station. If not, for sure it will be, at many stations, in 2012. The dreaded lowest unit rate deal that politicians, who probably have and make more money than most people, are allowed to get on your station. It's important that you are well versed on the rules regarding lowest unit rate, of course, but what if you suddenly realize you did not give the local Mayor the lowest unit rate last month. What are you obligated to do, if anything? We put that question to the legal mind of broadcast attorney John Garziglia.

Garziglia says:

Yes, the radio station does need to do something.  The radio broadcast station that overcharges a political candidate for political time must immediately rebate the overcharge.  There is no penalty or other adverse issue for a station that issues such a rebate or refund.

Political candidates can be charged in excess of the lowest unit charge for a variety of reasons.  Of course, no station should knowingly overcharge a candidate for political time.  But, a political candidate may buy time early on and, before the spots run, the station may offer a discount on a sale of time to a commercial advertiser that brings down the lowest unit charge.  A station may hold a fire sale on commercial time during the time period in which the political time is running which brings down the lowest unit charges.  Or, a station, upon inspection of its records could discover that an overcharge occurred.  In any of these situations, the response of the radio station should be to rebate to the political advertiser the overcharge as quickly as possible.

As we go into the 2012 Federal primary election season, hopefully radio stations will reap financial benefits from robust political campaigns.  Keep in mind that the FCC requires that a radio station fully disclose its selling practices to political advertisers in advance of selling political time.  Remember that only legally qualified candidates making a use of a broadcast facility are entitled to lowest unit charge (with a use being defined for radio stations as the candidates voice on a spot).  The FCCs political broadcasting rules are easy to forget, hard to understand and are generally subject to varying interpretations.  Thus, remember that when questions arise, help is available from your communications counsel, your state and national broadcasters associations, and from the FCC itself. 

John F. Garziglia is a Communications Law Attorney with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Washington, DC and can be reached at (202) 857-4455 or jgarziglia@wcsr.com. Have a question for our "Ask The Attorney" feature? Send to edryan@radioink.com.




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