The Broadcasters' Desktop Resource

FCC Enforcement Watch Archives: 2015

Some NALs (Notices of Apparent Liability), Forfeiture Orders, Notices of Violation (NOVs), and Consent Decrees issued by the MB (Media Bureau) or the EB (Enforcement Bureau) are worth taking a look.

Note: Clicking on the NAL amount takes you to the FCC Notice.
Clicking on the cited rule number will take you to the text of the rule.

12/17/15 – 73.2080 – Some of the most difficult rules to read, understand, and comply with relate to the FCC’s EEO rules – and for some stations represent a major part of their legal expenses whether or not there is ultimately a fine.

Davidson Media in Richmond VA was cited (see 12/19/14, below) for violating recruitment and “self assessment” rules at four of their stations in 2009-2011 by hiring a walk-in and two “client/employee referrals, and three others with insufficient public recruitment. The Commission rejected station explanations, requesting reduction or cancellation of the fine, issuing a Forfeiture Order for $5k and a reporting requirement.

12/15/15 – 73.3540 – It took a sale 23 years after an early LMA was set up for it to come to the Commission’s attention and the MB to issue an ORDER, which included an $8k payment to the Treasury. A proposed sale of KRDO-FM Colorado Springs was therefore allowed to proceed.

11/25/15 – 73.49 – “When the fence fails, so do you.” WDJZ, a three-tower directional in Bridgeport, CT, received a Forfeiture Order for $10k, relating to an inspector finding the fences falling apart in July 2012. Excuses that People’s Broadcast Network fixed the fences after the inspection and inability to pay were tuirned down, leaving the fine to stand.

11/23/15 – The FCC this week admitted it takes too long and they collect too few fines levied – especially the heart-stopping, large fines – as many companies try to run out the clock on the Statute of Limitations. A Memorandum Opinion and Order in a case that goes back to 2011, has five stations (Pacific Empire) fighting Public File fines ever since. The FCC says they have to pay up. The amount, $25k, is small compared to the ones mentioned below (11/4/15). And the FCC does have more leverage than with the hotels: they can “red-flag” the licenses at the next renewal.

11/16/15 – 73.352773.3539 – The FCC issued an Order for $6.7k to American International College and its WAIC(FM), Springfield, MA. $1200 was for filing their renewal late, and $12k for Public File violations over several years (32 quarters), which was reduced to $5.5k, partially in consideration of the station’s past as a student run station. A Compliance Plan will also be implemented.

11/11/15 – Not just the AM and FM transmitters need to be properly signed and fenced to keep the public from high rf exposure. Rooftop transmitters (two-way, RPU, STL, for example) must also prevent the public from getting too close. A couple of NALFs issued to companies in Phoenix, AZ are instructive – and worth consideration by broadcasters.

Wirelessco, L.P., owner of station KNLF254 in Phoenix, and and T-Mobile, operator of WQGB378, WQGA745, and WQQQ249, were sent NALFs for $25k and $60k, respectively.

11/4/15 – Section 333 – The FCC still does not like signal jammers – and are doing more and more crackdowns on hotels playing the game to charge huge fees for WiFi access. About a year ago, Marriott Hotels agreed to a $600k Consent Decree. Smart City paid $750k earlier this year. And now M.C. Dean has an NALF for $718k – adjusted up from $182k – for jamming WiFi signals at the Baltimore Convention Center, so they could charge up to $1095 for access to their WiFi signals. The FCC noted that this went on even after the previous cases and Public Notice was made explaining the FCC’s decision and position.

And, enforcement on this issue is still not over. Hilton Hotels is getting an NALF for $25k – increased from $4k – for its actions in Anaheim California, where it apparently “obstructed the FCC’s investigation” into how it charged $500 to get on the Hilton WiFi system. Additionally, the FCC promises more and higher fines should Hilton not get the message and stop the practice in its hotels.

11/3/15 – 303(q), 17.4717.4817.51 – Another about two years ago, an Alaskan tower owner, Johnson Towers, fell afoul of the FCC rules regarding lighting and painting requirements on towers. Now it is an Order for $3k, -but the consolidator will have to pay another $231k if they continue to violate the FCC Rules.

10/28/15 – Have you noticed a distinct fall-off in the NALs since June? There are rumors that the FCC’s cutbacks in the Field Offices has been rocky, and the offices are not as productive as before. Congress is even asking if the FCC has an Enforcement Strategy.

10/13/15 – Three late renewals were all addressed today with Memorandum and Order and NALFs for $1.5k. The three stations, WIMG, Ewing NJ, WLIH, Whitneyvilla PA, and WSPQ, Springville NY all turned in renewals late but before the license expired, so they were not tagged for broadcasting “without authorization.”

10/10/15 – A late renewal by a student-run station was granted by the FCC, surviving challenges by two stations seeking to improve their signals. However, the Order included a total of $6250 in civil penalties, including operation without a license and at variance with the previous authorization. Some leniency was granted due to the station being student-run.

9/22/15 – Holders of a Construction Permit are expected to, well, actually construct the facility permitted. In past, some stations have tried to put up temporary facilities, often short tower and a transmitter mounted on a pickup truck, and then file, vertifying they had fulfulled the conditions of the Construction Permit. The FCC is no longer amused.

In June, the FCC accepted the withdrawl of an application for license for the 80-mile move of KWCX into the Tucson market when the Chief Engineer of Journal Broadcast submitted documentation that nothing was at the designated coordinates. Despite several excuses, including lease issues, the end result was dismissial of the CP to move.

This week, the FCC dropped five stations in Texas and New Mexico for the same reason – failure to construct as permitted – deleting all five stations involved. Tango Radio, LLC and South Texas FM Investments, LLC lost DKNOS(FM), Albany Texas; DKANM(FM), Skyline-Ganipa, New Mexico; DKKUL-FM, Trinity, Texas, DKAHA(FM), Olney, Texas, and DKXME(FM), Wellington, Texas.

The wording of the Memorandum Opinion and Order is meant to be a warning to others to construct as authorized. Period.

8/21/15 – 73.3527 – A Consent Decree including a payment of $2.2k closes a matter involving Bucknell University’s WVBU(FM), Lewisburg, PA, and the station’s failure to place the Issues & Programs lists in the Public Information File and moved the PIF itself to a location other than the Main Studio without a wavier. Under Comission Policy, a negotiated fine for $2.2k included a wavier to permit relocating the station’s PIF.

8/18/15 – 301 – Smart City Holdings found itself on the wrong side of the FCC’s policy against jamming WiFi of individuals in hotels and conference centers, so as to drive the sales of their provided “access” at rates of $80/day. The Order and Consent Decree levies a $750k fine, along with a compliance plan and follows the similar $600k Consent Decree with Marriott International last October (see 10/3/14, below). Jamming was said to occur by Smart City in a number of convention centers, including Cincinnati, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Orlando, Florida, and Phoenix, AZ.

8/5/15 – As we discussed in March (3/23/15, below), the FCC took a rather jaundiced view of a Texas station carefully matching tower members and antenna to develop a hyper-directional antenna with an ERP of nearly 275 kW toward another market. Today an Order was issued, as expected, instructing the station to turn the transmitter down from 25 kW to 9.1 kW. The FCC said it had reasons to deny this KFWR from using the antenna regardless of the somewhat loose understanding that side-mount FM antennas are no longer perfectly circular. Whether this will lead to further specifications in the Rules, remains to be seen.

7/28/15 – 97.119(a), 97.101(d) – The Egyptian Radio Club, an Amateur group based in Granite City, IL, notes that the FCC EB has dropped the hammer on a pair of Amateurs who ignored some basic rules. One was a $1k fine for not properly identifying the station. The other was $22k for intentionally causing interference to other stations, including “using animal noises.”

7/23/15 – 73.3526 – 73.1740 – The lengthy illness and death of the owner (and only fulltime employee) of Larko Communications WMYQ (FM) in South Whitley, IN, led to a Memorandum Opinion and Order and NALF for $15k. After Christopher Larko died in 2010, Public File items were not kept up to date, and the station subsequently suspended operations for more than 30 days without an STA. These issues also caused a holdup in the station renewal. The EB decided $15k was appropriate and agreed to allow the renewal when the fines were paid, so the station could be sold.

7/6/15 – 301, 73.3539 – Filing a renewal application after your license expires puts you in the dog house on at least two points – and excuses generally will get a deaf ear. First, you get the D (for dog house – or actually Deleted), and then comes the fine for late renewal and for operating without authority – in addition to the legal costs. For DWKYY, Lancaster, KY, the NALF for $7k comes with a Memorandum Order and Order, reinstating the call letters, but demanding payment in 30 days. Complicating matters was the death of the owner, but the FCC held the Trustee should have sought an STA earlier.

6/30/15 – 73.3526 – Failure to maintain the Public Information File as required was the basis for three separate Forfeiture Orders for a total of $12.72k. In each case, one of the excuses offered was “we corrected matters after the FCC told us.” Simply put, this excuse does not fly. At the same time, the EB is showing leniency to poor stations.

  • J & J Broadcastings’ WJSM (AM) and WTMI (FM) Ironwood, MI were fined $10.3K for missing Issues & Programs, and the failure to update their Antenna Structure Registration (ASR). While the FCC dismissed excuses that “someone took the files” and “we fixed the ASR as soon as you told us,” the fine does represent a reduction from $13k, due to “inability to pay.”
  • Gerald Park’s WEKC, Williamsburg, KY, took a $1.5k fine for having no Issues & Programs in the files. Various excuses were rejected, but the fine reduced from $15k due to inability to pay.
  • Curran Communications WPAM, Pottsville, PA is to pay $720 for missing “numberous” Issues & Program reports from the files. The original Fine of $10k was again reduced based on inability to pay.

6/17/15 – 73.49 – Lock the gate! The engineer for WENY in Southport, NY left the gate open for a tower crew (See 6/3/14, below), and a week days later FCC field agents found it. The station called it an inadvertent error that the tower crew did not relock the gate; the FCC disagreed. The definition of “willful” came into play, with the FCC saying it was not necessary that one intended to violate the rules. “All that is necessary is that the licensee knew it was doing the act in question.” The bottom line: $7k fine stands.

6/11/15 – 73.1745 – Although Catholic Radio may say they answer to a Higher Power, the FCC does not accept that as an excuse for running higher power than authorized. This four-year old violation and repeated excuses and appeals (see 2/12/15, below) comes to a close with a Memorandum Opinion and Order for $3.2k.

6/10/15 – 303(q), 17.4717.51 – Forfeiture Order for $10k was issued to Global Tower LLC, for violations regarding failure to monitor lights at their Oak Park, MI site. Global did not respond to the NAL, so the EB made it permanent.

6/9/15 – 73.3527 – A Consent Decree closes a matter involving WIUV(FM), Castleton, VT, a university station that did not properly maintain the Issues & Programs lists. The station apparently suffered a flood and as a student run facility, it qualified under the FCC’s current policy of a one-time reduction of fines for student run stations. That left a civil penalty of $1k and an agreement for a required compliance program.

6/5/15 – 73.1350 – Fellowshipworld’s WFWO, Medina NY, station was denied a reduction or wavier of the $8k fine issued 7/18/13 (below). The FCC found none of the excuses were acceptable, and reaffirmed the fine with a Forfeiture Order (which was already doubled for the disregard of the FCC’s orders).

5/28/15 – 73.1740 – Another Consent Order and another unusual violation is settled. KPSO-FM in Falfurrias, TX was signing off early each day, in violation of the minimum operating standards for full time station. The fine was reduced due to financial hardship.

5/18/15 – 325, 11.45 – The Enforcement shoe has dropped on iHeart Media for the false EAS tones (a repeat of the National EAS Test) run on the Bobby Bones Show on October 24, 2014. The Order for $1 Million in civil penalties (plus a compliance plan) was agreed to by iHeart Media to conclude the matter. It is worth noting that part of the reason for the large settlement was that the program was more than just on locally in Nashville (WSIX) – it was on satellite and carried in a number of markets.

This fine is part of the EB’s continuing policy to get more and more aggressive and firm with stations that casually violate the Rules. The last such fine, for three seconds of pornography on a Virginia TV station (WDBJ), was for $325 k.

However – it is also worth noting that none of the other radio/TV/cable stations that ran the EAN were – or will be fined. Officially, under the current – non-new-rewritten Part 11 that the FCC has been promising for years – Rules, an EAN must be relayed regardless of the timestamp. That would have prevented the fake EAN from running. But, in typical bureaucratic manner, in reaction to a slight delay at some stations in the 2011 National Test caused by a programming error at the FEMA, a more recent Policy statement and part of the NPRM for Part 11 now says stations are to run an EAN immediately, regardless of the timestamp.

This will need to be sorted out in the – eventual – new Part 11.

5/4/15 – 73.3526 – An NALF for $9k – and an admonishment – issued to KBFD-DT may validate some of the concerns many stations have about the FCC push to put all Public Information Files online on the FCC servers. While the forms were filed locally, the station failed to upload 20 quarters of Children’s Programming Reports to the FCC site. The station did self-report this on their renewal, and the FCC tripled the “normal” fine of $3k due to the number of missing reports.

4/21/15 – Perhaps you have noticed a lack of activity over the past month. Perhaps it is because there is a new “Enforcer in Chief.” The Enforcement Bureau’s new Chief, Travis LeBlanc, has set some ambitious goals. During last week’s NAB Show, LeBlanc indicated he is as interested in “prevention, not just enforcement.” He also said he does not intend to have the same “license hold ups” that were common under his predecessor.

Some have speculated the intent of the rather stiff penalty proposed for WDBJ (next item), whether it was “a shot acroos the bow” or a desire to announce his arrival. Either way, it will be interesting to see how the EB carries on from here.

3/23/15 – 73.3999 – A small box triggered the top FCC fine – an NALF for $325k – for a single vioation at WDBJ(DT) Roanoke, VA. The violation – showing a video image of a hand stroking an erect penis – came during a news story about a porn star becoming a community volunteer. Unfortunately for the station, while grabbing a picture from a web site, the station included an inset box with the video. To put it mildly, the FCC was not amused.

3/23/15 – How much is too much? In other words, how far can you push FCC policy before it hits back. The story above is fairly cut and dry, given the content. A station in Texas received a CP to move and upgrade but, according to the FCC, went a bit too far in trying to rim-shot a station into a larger market. KFWR, Jacksboro TX, was granted 100 kW @ 425m HAAT. The Order to Show Cause issued after a complaint by KCKL would reduce TPO from 25 kW to 9.1 kW.

Why? KFWR appears to have planned to make their non-directional antenna even more directional than would be permitted by the Rules, using the tower structure and mounting to send an ERP of 262 to 274 kW toward the larger market: Dallas. While it a pretty open “secret” in FM that a non-directional antenna can be side-mounted in such a manner as to result in an augmented signal in a particular direction, this one with its 4.386 gain got the FCC’s attention.

3/19/15 – 73.352773.361573.561, and 11.56 – KTJO, Ottawa University, in Ottawa KS, discovered the limits of the FCC leniency for documentation matters at first time NCEFM (student-run) offenders. While the Commission issued an Order for $12.2k, only $1.2k of that was for missing Public File and Ownership Reports, an additional $11k was assessed for EAS CAP Compliance and Minimum Operating Schedule rules. One more thing: the renewal was granted – for four years. In other words: a short leash.

3/11/15 – 73.3527 – WPPB, Southampton NY, admitted on their renewal form that they failed to put materials in the Public Information File in the format as required by the Rules. Although the station has since corrected the problem, the FCC issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order and NALF for $10k. The violations were considered “extensive” but not “serious violations” which could have triggered more actions.

2/25/15 – 73.3539 – Filing their renewal applications last year cost two stations $1.5k each. KLLB in West Jordan, UT, and KFBR in Gerlach, NV, both failed to file their renewals as required – one a month late, one nearly four months late. In both cases, the FCC relented from the “normal” $3k fine and issued the Memorandum and Order and NALF for $1.5k

2/12/15 – 73.1745 – There is a path for many violations. First the NOV, then the NAL, then the Forfeiture Order, and finally a Memorandum Opinion and Order. Naturally, each step usually requires lawyers, appeals, Petition for Reconsideration, and more. Catholic Radio Networks’ KPIO, Loveland, CO went through the whole process, and sill are ordered to pay a $3.2k fine (1/9/14, below), reduced from $4k. Somehow, one suspects the lawyer’s fee is more than $800 … probably more than $4k. At least they got 4 years to pay from the violation!

2/8/15 – 11.3573.169073.3527 – A slow-moving process has reaffirmed the NAL issued (10/24/11, below) to a 12-Watt Non-Comm station for not having a Public File, no operating EAS receiver – and having moved the transmitter a half-mile without authorization. RJ’s Late Night Entertainment now has a Memorandum Opinion and Order to pay $22k (about $1833 a Watt!).

1/28/15 – Have you attended a conference or meeting and found that your mobile hot-spot did not work? An FCC investigation into this situation stemming from a complaint at a Marriott hotel in Nashville has concluded that the hotel – and anyone else doing the same “jamming” – is wrong. In fact, Marriott paid $600,000 to close the case. Nevertheless, the FCC has issued a Public Notice that you can refer to … or carry a copy with you to show hotel employees and help them back down.

1/27/15 – 73.1740 – If you have a license, you are supposed to broadacst. WTRI in Brunswick, MD received a Forfeiture Order for $5k for going “dark” a number of times since 2005,for as long as 359 days, without timely filing for STA permission within 30 days. The station has had financial issues, and went into trusteeship, but the FCC does expect to be apprised of the operation – or lack thereof – of stations.

1/26/15 – 325, 11.45 – OK, show of hands: how many think it is illegal to use EAS tones for so-called comedic or other purposes? Oh .. look, the “talent” at Univision’s Spanish language WXNY-FM, New York, have their hands up, too. Yes, those brainiacs that used the tones repeatedly in a skit on the air – telling the audience it was illegal – and doing it again. As has been noted, the FCC is becoming less and less amused. Do not expect the Commission to set aside the Adopted Order for a $20k fine and a three years compliance program nor reduce the fine. In fact, this event may play into another issue. And there is another lesson here.

1/20/15 – 11.45 – The FCC has issued yet another warning not to play with the EAS tones. Perhaps you remember early last year when the FCC fined NBCUniversal, Disney/ESPN, and Viacom about $2 million for violations, primarly in regards to a commercial run for the movie Olympus Has Fallen, with unauthorized tones in them. NBCUniversal paid their half million, but the others wanted to have the fines reduced or waived. Instead, the FCC has stood fast, and issued an NAL for $1.4 million against Viacom and ESPN, as well as a Public Notice on the matter.

1/8/15 – 301, 333 – We do not take a lot of time dealing with the pirates that get cited and fined. Usually they often ignore the FCC and have no money anyway. However, the case of Drew Buckley in Bay Shore, NY it is worth noting because not only was he operating a pirate station, he was interfering with the public safety transmissions of the Melville Fire Department. The well-deserved Forfeiture Order (usually $10k) is for $25k. Whether Buckley will pay up or not, the interference needs to stop.

1/8/15 – 303(q), 17.4717.4817.51 – We start the new year with a series of Forfeiture Orders for failure to monitor and exhibit the tower lighting as required by the FCC. Interestingly, in each case the FCC reduced the fine somewhat.