It’s generally advisable to exercise caution when broadcasting old-time radio programs that include historical commercials. The context of these commercials and their impact on your station’s compliance with regulations should be carefully considered. Some commercials might be harmless from a regulatory standpoint, especially if they promote products that no longer exist. However, it’s always a good idea to review the content of the commercials and ensure that they do not violate any current advertising regulations or guidelines set by the FCC for LPFM/NCE stations. If in doubt, consulting with a legal professional experienced in broadcast regulations would be a prudent step to take.
In essence, you are generally allowed to retain the historical commercials in old-time radio programs, unless they promote specific products such as cigarettes, little cigars, or smokeless tobacco. The definition of a commercial, according to Section 399b(a) of the Communications Act, encompasses messages or content broadcast in exchange for remuneration, intended to promote products, express views on public matters, or support political candidates.
Consider an example where you air a vintage episode of Fibber McGee & Molly featuring an advertisement for Johnson Wax’s GLOCOAT. If Johnson Wax did not compensate your LPFM/NCE station for airing the ad, then there was no exchange of remuneration involved. Thus, the prohibition on vintage tobacco product advertising remains a key interpretation of the law. Specifically, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969, the Little Cigar Act of 1973, and the Comprehensive Smokeless Tobacco Health Education Act of 1986 collectively enforce restrictions on advertising tobacco products via electronic communication mediums under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission.