The FCC has commenced a hearing proceeding into whether it should renew the license of a radio station that has been silent or operating at unauthorized power levels except for brief periods of time since 2018.
NIA Broadcasting Inc. has been licensee of WSYL(AM) in Sylvania, Ga., since Jan. 22, 2018. Its renewal of license application was flagged by the commission after the Media Bureau raised concerns about the broadcaster’s service to its community of license due to its lack of operation.
The FCC in a Hearing Designation Order and Notice of Opportunity for Hearing released on Tuesday details its findings and defines the upcoming hearing process.
During NIA Broadcasting’s tenure as licensee of WSYL from January 2018, for the balance of the license term ending in 2020, according to the FCC, the station was silent or operated at unauthorized power levels except for brief periods of operations.
“In 2018, WSYL operated for 16 days, presumably at its licensed power level. In 2019, WSYL operated for 270 days, in whole or in part at an unauthorized power level of 500 Watts. In 2020, WSYL operated for two days at an authorized power level of 20 watts,” the FCC concluded.
WSYL is a Class C AM station licensed to operate at 1 kW of power from a site in Sylvania, Ga., according to the FCC’s document. Sylvania is located approximately 200 miles southeast of Atlanta.
NIA Broadcasting filed the station’s renewal application in late 2019, according to the FCC. However, the commission pointed to the station’s extended periods of silence during the proceeding term, which “left [the FCC] unable to find that grant of the renewal application is in the public interest.”
It is not clear from the public record why NIA Broadcasting has operated only sporadically since it assumed the license of WSYL in 2018, but its inactivity nonetheless drew the interest of the FCC at the time of the license renewal request.
According to the FCC’s order: “A broadcast licensee’s authorization to use radio spectrum in the public interest carries with it the obligation that the station must serve its community, providing programming responsive to local needs and interests.”
FCC requirements also include an obligation for radio stations to transmit national level EAS message during times of emergency.
The licensee’s renewal application “has now been designated for hearing before the FCC administrative law judge at a time and place to be specified in a subsequent order,” according to the FCC.
NIA Broadcasting will be provided the opportunity to explain its behavior and convince the FCC it is acting in the public interest. However, it faces some hurdles put in place by the FCC for such cases.
In 2001, the commission cautioned “all licensees that … a licensee will face a very heavy burden in demonstrating that it has served the public interest where it has remained silent for most or all of the prior license term.”
The FCC’s notice of hearing document concludes: “If NIA Broadcasting Inc. fails to file a written appearance within the time specified, or has not filed prior to the expiration of that time a petition to dismiss without prejudice, or a petition to accept, for good cause shown, such written appearance beyond expiration of said 20 days, the captioned application shall be dismissed with prejudice for failure to prosecute.”
The FCC’s hearing notice is available online (MB Docket No. 21-82).