Former LPFM operator Elaine Rougeau feels that an FCC enforcement
action and Radio World’s reporting of the fine have been unfair. In
February 2011 Radio World reported that Rougeau had not been able to
convince the FCC to forgive a $20,000 penalty. The station was WHYR(FM) in
Baton Rouge. The Audio Division of the Media Bureau said the licensee, Ethics
Inc., violated the rules with an unauthorized transfer of control starting in
late 2005. (Read that text here.)
Rougeau challenges the
FCC’s account as reported by RW. She responds here in a commentary that also sheds
light on challenges facing small radio operators; she
said her goal is simply to “set the record straight.”
Baton Rouge is a big, small town. The information on your
website has damaged my reputation in this community and I’ve lived here since
1973. I’ve had job offers withdrawn because of the untruths in the article.
Just as importantly it leaves out all of the hard work, expenses and community
support and resources that were donated by some amazing people in order to get
the station up and running. An amazing amount of sweat equity was required to
gain approval of the license, and to keep it on the air after disaster struck
in the aftermath of my son’s catastrophic injury, and two months later my
home’s destruction during Tropical Storm Allison in late 2001.
I didn’t go looking for this license. I received a late-night
call from an FCC consultant and was recruited after being told that the license
had been abandoned. I had a very small time window to complete everything to
get approval. The community support was nothing short of miraculous. At that
time the effort was faith-based.
Just to name a few of the biggest challenges that were
overcome: Of course an entire set of radio station equipment had to be
purchased. I had to locate a site and get someone to agree to let me set up the
antenna. A donor agreed to let us use his property. He moved a small portable
building on it. The building had to be completely wired to set up the
transmitter and other equipment. A local radio station donated their staff and
expertise to set all frequencies and connections to bring the equipment online.
A greater challenge was conducting the frequency test prior
to approval. The test required that the antenna had to be in place 40–50 feet
up in the air to run the frequency test. The results from this test had to be
submitted before the approval deadline. I had a 60-day deadline. With the help
of a community grant I purchased a 40-foot telephone pole on which to mount the
antenna. I arranged for local police to stop traffic while the pole was
transported on a flatbed truck to the site during work hours. The crew had to
dig a 10-foot hole before it could even begin to install the pole. The antenna
and wiring had to be installed on the pole by a technician prior to lifting the
pole with the crane. A local construction company donated a crane and crew.
Lifting a pole of that size was not easy, and we ran into problems. A
cantilever had to be built. What was supposed to be two hours of donated time by
the crew ended up being over eight hours of donated time before we could
conduct the test.
I was forced to move the entire station into my home one
month after the approval. The guy that rented me the small building returned
after that time and said that he was raising the rent from $150 monthly to $800
monthly unless I agreed to sign one-half ownership of the station to him. This
type of behavior was to become the norm over the entire time that I had the
license. The new owners were simply the successful ones who managed to actually
obtain the station.
I moved the entire station into my home (again with community
support and technicians returned to bring the entire setup online within my
house). This included purchasing and installing a sufficiently tall antenna on
my home property in order to broadcast. The technicians set the station up for
automated broadcasting and I monitored it to ensure that we ran automated music
24/7, and broadcast an emergency alert at the top of each hour in order to
remain in FCC compliance while I dealt with tragedies that were happening to me
on a personal level. Music and the rights to play that music had to be paid
for. Community volunteers recorded programs at no cost that could be added to
the automated programming.
We stayed on the air. During that time I lost count of the
number of people who offered to buy the station from me, or who tried to gain
control in other ways. We were faith-based and the offers were not, so I never
transferred the station because of that. In retrospect perhaps I should have. I
took my faith-based stewardship responsibility very seriously during my
ownership … perhaps too seriously.
But the most important point is this. A huge number of
amazing people donated time, sweat, resources and prayers to WHYR(LP), and I
don’t want that be forgotten. Originally WHYR branding was this: The HYR part
was for a “higher” power, God.