The FCC last week did an about face on a fine for a violation of the EAS rules, canceling a fine issued to a broadcaster who had violated the rules and instead issuing only an admonition. This case resulted when a local primary EAS station, KWVE, one monitored by other stations and cable systems for test
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.
As we’re approaching the anniversary of September 11, it may be appropriate that the FCC issued an order on Friday upholding a fine imposed on a radio station that did not have an operating EAS system. The station, while it had a system in place that was capable of transmitting the required EAS tones, had not received any EAS alerts for about a year, and had not entered any reasons for that failure in its station log at any time during the period. The FCC initially issued an $8000 fine, but reduced the fine to $6400 based on a showing that the station did not have any history of past violations. However, even though the station was operating at reduced power for a significant period of time due to towers damaged by a storm, the FCC refused to reduce the fine further based on financial hardship as the fine did not exceed 2% of the station’s average gross revenue during the previous three years.
The FCC will reduce fines for a variety of reasons – the most common being the past good record of the station. In most cases, as here, a showing that the station has not previously been fined will be sufficient to demonstrate the past compliance of the station and justify some reduction in the amount of the fine. Stations also often plead that they cannot afford to pay a fine. The 2% of gross revenue standard announced by the Commission in this case seems to set the threshold at which the Commission will consider that plea. To prove that a reduction of a fine is in order, according to this case, a station needs to submit financial statements showing the past three years performance, and demonstrating that the proposed fine will exceed 2% of the station’s average gross revenues.