FCC continues active enforcement of radio rules


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In a recent case, the FCC fined an AM station for operating from an unauthorized location even though the broadcaster had filed an STA extension application and paid all required fees.

The station had experienced technical problems and sought authority from the FCC to move its facilities. The FCC issued a special temporary authorization (STA) for the station to operate from the roof of the owner's residence. When the STA was due to expire, the station filed an application to extend it, but there was a mix-up with the fee payment. While the FCC cashed the check associated with the application, the agency somehow misplaced the application, so it was never processed.

A few years later, an FCC agent inspected the owner's home and proposed fining the station $4,000 for operating from an unauthorized location. The station owner produced a copy of the application and the canceled check for the associated filing fee. The FCC admitted it had taken the station's money, but had no idea what it had done with the application itself. Sustaining its fine, the FCC blamed the station for making no effort to notify the FCC that it did not receive the requested extension. The moral of the story: follow-up.

Temporary fence removal

A California AM station faces a fine for having posts in the ground for its chain link fence, but no fence. The station was inspected by local fire authorities and was ordered, for fire prevention purposes, to remove weeds at the base of its towers. The station obeyed the local authorities and removed the panels of the fence and began applying herbicide to kill the weeds. Shortly thereafter, an FCC inspector showed up at the towers. Noticing that there were posts but no fencing, the inspector proposed a $7,000 fine.

The station appealed, arguing financial hardship and that the $7,000 fine was unwarranted, particularly because the fence had been removed at the direction of local governmental officials. Unfazed, the FCC asserted that even when the fence was down for repairs, the station still had an obligation to maintain some type of enclosure around the towers. The Commission did, however, reduce the fine to $5600 in recognition of the special circumstances.

Lock those gates

A Mississippi AM station was not as lucky in its efforts to reduce its own $7,000 failure-to-fence fine. Although the fine involved an unlocked gate, the FCC still fined the station the full $7,000. Agents from the FCC's New Orleans office arrived at the AM tower array and discovered a gate with a broken hasp that prevented the gate from being locked. The station insisted that the gate had been inspected only a few days earlier and there had been no problem. The station also pointed out that within two hours of the inspection, the hasp had been repaired and the gate was securely locked. These arguments did not work; the FCC upheld the full $7,000 fine.

EAS violations

The FCC has continued to issue fines at the rate of $6,400 per station for failure to have operating EAS equipment. A Las Vegas station was fined for not maintaining proper EAS logs despite various excuses. The former owner of an Arizona AM station faces an EAS-related fine despite the fact that the station had been sold nine months before the citation. The FCC inspection occurred prior to the sale, but the notice of apparent liability was not completed and issued until after. Given the chronology, it is not entirely clear the FCC has jurisdiction over the former licensee. In any event, EAS is one of the FCC Enforcement Bureau's tried-and-true revenue producers. All stations should check regularly to ensure they have functioning EAS equipment, conduct regular testing and maintain EAS logs.


Dateline

On or before Dec. 3, radio stations in the following states must file their 2007 biennial ownership reports with the FCC: Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island.

Also by Dec. 3, Radio stations in the following states must place their annual EEO reports in their public files and place them on their websites: Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Rhode Island.

Also by Dec. 3, Radio stations in Georgia and Alabama with 11 or more full-time employees must file a Broadcast Mid-Term EEO Report with the FCC using FCC Form 397 and attach their two most recent annual EEO public file reports.


Martin is a past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, Arlington, VA. E-mail martin@fhhlaw.com.




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