In a Notice of Apparent Liability, the FCC proposed a $14,000 fine on a broadcaster for a series of violations with respect to its tower. The FCC found that the station failed to have the required lights on the tower operating after sunset on at least two days, failed to notify the FAA of the outage (so that the FAA could send out a NOTAM – a notice to "airmen" notifying them to beware of the unlit tower), and failed to properly register the tower when the current owner acquired the station from its previous owner. As the tower had been sold over 3 years prior to the inspection that discovered the tower lights being out, the FCC determined that the violations were particularly egregious, and upped the fine – which would have been $10,000 for a failure to have the lights operating, and $3000 for failing to update the Antenna Structure Registration ("ASR") by an additional $1000. As noted below, updating tower registrations is considered very important by the FCC as, in another recent decision, the FCC proposed a $6000 fine merely for the failure of a licensee to update a tower registration. 

The case also showed the importance of keeping accurate records of the observation of tower lights. While the FCC did not specifically fine the station owner for not logging the tower light inspections, it did note that there was confusion between the station owner and engineer as to who was inspecting the tower lights and how often they were being inspected, when first asked by the FCC inspector. While records were later provided by the licensee that supposedly showed that the tower lights were inspected on a daily basis, the records were inconsistent and seemed to contradict the observations of the FCC inspectors. What do the rules require?

The FCC rules require either a daily visual inspection of the tower lights, or of an automatic monitoring system for the lights (which was not present here).  As we recently wrote in connection with the monitoring of EAS tests, the station’s chief operator is supposed to note tower light monitoring in the station log.  A licensee won’t get a pass for their claimed lack of knowledge if their tower lights are out and the FCC observes that fact. In another case released recently, a failure to keep lights operational led to an $8000 fine. Failing to notify the FAA of tower light failures, as required by the rules, can lead not only to FCC fines but also to huge liability issues if the worst case happens and an aircraft should hit the unlit tower. These safety issues are high priority for the FCC, so be careful to make sure that the lights on the tower are kept fully operational, or that the FAA is warned when a problem arises.

And, as we’ve written before, remember to change the tower registration (ASR) after the sale of a station. In a second recent decision, a $6000 fine was imposed for the failure to update a tower registration after the sale of a station – for 8 years. The FCC application for the sale of a station license does not transfer the tower registration – that must be done independently. Don’t forget to take that extra step (and the extra step required for other nonbroadcast licenses, see our article here) and update the tower registration when you buy a station.

Update, 3/19/2013, 3:25 PM EDT – The FCC just issued another release proposing a $15,000 fine to a station that allegedly had non-functioning tower lights for about 9 months.