Most radio stations provide free public service announcements as a manner of fulfilling their Federal Communications Commission requirement to serve the public interest. Generally, about one-third of the time allotted for commercial advertisements is donated to public service announcements.
Radio stations are not required to provide a set amount of free air time each day for public service announcements. However, they are required to state how much airtime they intend to donate for public service in their licensing and renewal applications.
The FCC defines public service announcements as community-interest advertisements for which no charge is made. This definition leaves the individual radio station significant latitude in deciding which organizations are in the community interest. Recipients of free advertising are generally non-profit organizations or public health initiatives producing ad campaigns through the Ad Council.
The competition for free air time is stiff, with many organizations vying for a limited amount of space. This can make it difficult to procure the time slot, dates or number of spots desired. It is even possible that, due to an abundance of paid advertising, the radio station may air the free spots late at night or in otherwise undesirable time slots. It is not uncommon for public service groups to pay for better positioning of their free advertising.