Last month, I did a seminar at the College Media Association about the FCC legal issues that college broadcasters need to think about – talking about required FCC filings, pubic file obligations, underwriting issues, and programming that can get the broadcaster into trouble. Slides from that presentation, which present only an outline of the more detailed discussion that we had during the session, are available here.

I mentioned during the session that the FCC decided two years ago that they would be somewhat lenient with student-run radio stations who are first-time violators of certain FCC rules. In a case that we wrote about here, the FCC said that the fines that are imposed on commercial broadcasters for rule violations like the failure to include quarterly issues programs lists in the public inspection file (fines which can exceed $10,000 when numerous such lists are missing from the public file), would be greatly reduced – to something on the order of $1000 – for student-run stations that are facing their first violation, and provided that the fine dealt principally with paperwork matters and was not one that affected public health or safety. In a decision released by the FCC last week, the limits of that leniency were made clear.

In that case, the Commission was processing the renewal application of a noncommercial radio station that admitted violations of the public inspection file rule, but also admitted that the station had not complied with the requirement that broadcasters update their EAS equipment to be “CAP compliant,” a method of receiving emergency alerts not only over-the-air from monitoring other radio stations, but also through IP technology (we wrote about the requirements for CAP compliance here and here). In addition, the station did not meet the FCC rules setting minimum operating requirements for broadcast stations (which require noncommercial stations to be on the air for at least 36 hours per week, with at least 5 hours per day on 6 different days, except for stations licensed to schools and colleges which do not need to operate on Saturday or Sunday or days that are official school vacations or recess periods).

In reviewing these admitted violations, the Commission noted that the leniency offered by the policy statement applied only to violations involving paperwork matters – e.g. failing to submit routine FCC reports or to put documents into the public file at the appropriate time. It concluded that the leniency did not apply to either the minimum operating requirement, or to the EAS CAP compliance problem. Thus, the Commission imposed through a consent decree a fine on the station $1200 for the public file issues and $11,000 for the violations of the minimum operating requirement and the EAS CAP compliance – for a total fine of $12,200.

So what is the lesson for noncommercial stations? Pay attention to all of the FCC – and especially the technical rules – as violations will result in significant fines – fines that school administrations are certainly not going to be happy about paying.