In yet another example of the importance that the FCC places on emergency communications and safety issues, an FCC Enforcement Bureau District Field Office issued a Notice of Apparent Liability, proposing to fine a radio station $25,000 for violations including an EAS system that was not operational, as well as a tower that needed repainting and with lights that were not functioning properly.  Together with various other issues – including missing quarterly issues programs lists – the FCC found that a $25,000 fine was appropriate.  This is another in a series of recent notices of apparent liability from FCC District Offices, demonstrating the high cost of noncompliance with technical and operational issues at broadcast stations.

On the tower issues, the FCC found that the tower lights, which were required to be flashing, were in either not operational at all or not flashing, and that the licensee admitted that no visual inspection of the lights had occurred in at least a week.  Citing Section 17.47 of the FCC rules, which require a visual inspection of tower lights every 24 hours unless there is an automatic inspection system (which was not present at this tower), the FCC found that there was a violation here.  In addition, the inspection revealed that the tower paint was faded and, in some places, had peeled to reveal bare steel, as the tower had not been painted since 1996.  Towers must be cleaned and painted "as often as necessary to maintain good visibility" under Section 17.50 of the FCC Rules.  The failure of the tower owner to monitor the tower lights resulted in a $2000 fine, and a $10,000 fine was imposed for the failure to repaint the tower.

In connection with the EAS equipment, the station had a disconnected receiver, which had apparently been disconnected for at least 4 years, and perhaps as many as 10 years.  The licensee blamed the failure on the inability to find an engineer who could repair the malfunctioning equipment.  The failure to have an operational system, and the failure to log the required weekly and monthly EAS tests, resulted in an $8000 fine, which was adjusted upward to $9000, as the licensee had a similar violation when inspected in 1997.

To add to these technical fines, the FCC found that the station had no quarterly issues programs lists for 2009 and 2010, adding $4000 to the total fine.  In addition to the fines, the FCC required that the licensee provide a sworn statement within 30 days stating how he had resolved the issues identified in the Notice.  While these violations are unlikely to be ones that are found at most stations, the amount of the fines imposed here reinforces the need for all stations to monitor compliance with the rules to avoid potentially very significant financial penalties.  A licensee cannot sit on a known problem and hope that it will resolve itself.  It must affirmatively take all steps necessary to fix the problem, request temporary authority from the FCC to operate with facilities that are noncompliant if they cannot be promptly resolved, note technical issues (like malfunctioning tower lights and EAS receivers) in the station’s log, and notify the FAA if the tower lights are not functioning as required.  Moreover, a pattern of violations could have a more serious impact in the upcoming license renewal cycle.  A history of violations can result in penalties at license renewal time – and perhaps even a loss of license.  So be prepared.