Last week, the FCC issued several fines to broadcasters for failure to observe some basic FCC rules. As there many FCC rules to observe, broadcasters should use the misfortune of others who have suffered from these fines as a way to check their own operations to make sure that they meet all of the required Commission standards. In the recent cases, fines were issued for a variety of violations, including the failure to have a manned main studio, the failure to have a working EAS system, incomplete public files, operations of an AM station at night with daytime power, and the failure to have a locked fence around an AM tower. This post deals with the issues discovered at the studios of stations – a separate post will deal with the issues at the transmitter sites.
The main studio rule violation was a case that, while seemingly obvious, also should remind broadcasters of their obligations under the requirement that a station have a manned main studio. In this case, when the FCC inspectors arrived at the station’s main studio, they found it locked and abandoned. Once they were able to locate a station representative to let them into the studio, they found that there was some equipment in the facility, but it was not hooked up, nor was there any telephone or data line that would permit the station to be controlled from the site. The Commission’s main studio rules require that there be at least two station employees for whom the studio is their principal place of business (I like to think of it as the place where these employees have their desks with the pictures of their kids or their dog, as the case may be, and where they show up in the morning to drink their morning cup of coffee before heading out to do sales, news or whatever their job may be). At least one of the two employees who report to the studio as their principal place of business must be a management level employee, and at least one of those employees must be present during all normal business hours. Thus, the studio should never be devoid of human life. The studio must be able to originate programming, and the station must be able to be controlled from that location so that the employees there could originate programming in the event of a local emergency. In light of these violations and others, the station in this case was fined $8000.
Another problem identified identified in another case was the lack of a functioning EAS receiver. The FCC has this week been emphasizing the importance of emergency communications, and one of the principal means of that communication (and, as we wrote here, of demonstrating service to the public in the context of all sorts of FCC proceedings) is the EAS system by which state, local or national officials can communicate with the public in the event of an emergency. In most states, the EAS system currently works as a daisy chain, with a series of stations monitoring other stations to pass the emergency message down the chain. All stations are supposed to monitor both a primary and secondary station, so that if they don’t get the message from one station, they will get it from the other. In one of the recent FCC cases, FCC inspectors found that the station had not logged the receipt of any emergency alert system test from either of the stations that the inspected station was supposed to be monitoring and, after being told of the problem, the station still could not receive a test when one was conducted several days later. I have heard from some FCC inspectors, that this is not an infrequent problem, as the EAS units can be installed improperly, can be damaged by power surges or other problems, or can simply have their receive antennas knocked off the back of the unit when inadvertently jarred. As a station’s Chief Operator is supposed to be signing off on a station’s "Station Log" weekly, and the principal thing that is supposed to be recorded in the log is EAS tests (as well as any other technical issue at the station), if the Chief Operator does not notice that the regular EAS test has not been logged, someone is not doing their job. The log should make someone notice, and problems should be rectified at once.
Another issue turned up by these inspections was with the FCC public file. In the same case where the EAS issues were discovered, the FCC inspectors discovered that there were missing Quarterly Programs Issues lists in the station’s public file. We’ve written before about how the failure to have these lists in a public file can lead to fines at license renewal time (probably the most frequent source of license renewal fines), but it can also lead to a fine if the FCC inspector comes knocking. Our Davis Wright Tremaine Advisory on the Quarterly Programs Issues List (the most recent edition is here, though a new one for October reports should be out very soon), talks about how important these lists are, and provides information on how to complete them. Check it out, and make sure that your station is in compliance.
Given the variety of issues that can arise during an FCC inspection, and the potential for fines in connection with any violation, stations should review their operations now to avoid issues later.