Translator Knocked for Broadcasting Original Programming

Complaint alleges listeners heard music when the broadcast should have been a Packers game

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a fine for an FM translator that it says broke a major rule of translator operation — originating and broadcasting original programming.

Yet the FCC did not go so far as to fail to renew the translator’s license, which another broadcaster had called on the FCC to do.

Among the complaints lodged by Heartland Communications Group are that TEA-VISZ violated multiple commission rules regarding ownership and operation of translator W272AY in Park Falls, Wis.

Among Heartland’s complaints are that the translator originated its own programming. As proof, Heartland submitted more than a dozen listener declarations stating that each listener heard W272AY broadcasting its own music while the station’s primary station, WIMI(FM), broadcast a Green Bay Packers game.

Heartland also claimed the translator was off the air for 30 days in 2008 without notifying the commission. Heartland lodged other complaints as well: that the translator owner failed to tell the FCC that it had changed its primary station to WIMI; that at one date in August 2012, it outright identified itself as an affiliated J&J Broadcasting station on the air (J&J is licensee of WIMI); and that the translator station receives support from J&J through a business affiliation with WIMI’s owner.

Heartland told the FCC that TEA “knowingly and willingly violates the FCC Rules on a regular basis,” and thus is not qualified to be a commission licensee.

In response to the FCC’s inquiries, TEA did not deny that its translator broadcast music separately from the primary station’s programming. However, TEA told the FCC that this “isolated transgression” was due to its engineer’s “error in connecting the remote control switch.” According to the FCC, TEA said the station is unable to rebroadcast WIMI when Green Bay Packers games are on the air because of territorial restrictions. TEA told the FCC that its engineer wanted the station to be capable of airing emergency announcements during this time and the engineer “without the prior knowledge of TEA-VISZ, improperly wired [the station] to air music rather than be silent.”

The engineer told the FCC that “once I realized my error, I immediately disconnected this hookup, and the translator remains silent until the football game is over and it is again able to rebroadcast WIMI(FM).”

When it came to the other issues — including being off the air, failing to tell the FCC that it changed its primary station, and its business affiliation with the FM station — TEA had answers as well. The licensee said it should have informed the commission that the station was off the air for more than 10 days, but that it did submit a letter to the FCC stating that the station was rebroadcasting WIMI, and that the translator has no business connection with WIMI or J&J Broadcasting other than permission to rebroadcast its programs.

Upon review, the FCC said that Heartland failed to provide sufficient evidence of violation in several areas. It could not prove that an improper business relationship existed, and it turns out that TEA did notify the FCC that it was rebroadcasting WIMI (TEA has proof of an actual letter, the FCC said).

But the FCC did say that that TEA broke several other FCC rules, including transmitting original programming. The fact that a licensee is unaware of programming originating on the station, “does not absolve it of this transgression or nullify the rule violation,” the FCC said. “A licensee is fully responsible for all programming broadcast over a station.”

As a result, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability to TEA in the form of $4,000. The licensee has 30 days to pay full amount or clarify why the amount should be reduced or cancelled.

 



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