An Arizona licensee has agreed to a $1,500 consent decree with the Federal Communications Commission after a series of underwriting, procedural and construction transgressions.
San Tan Educational Media, licensee of low-power FM station KFXY(LP) in Mesa, Ariz., admitted to violating several sections of FCC Rules and the Communications Act including failing to file an application for commission consent to change its entire governing board; constructing and operating a tower and antenna that were at a lower height than approved by the commission; and false certification of certain permits — though the commission found the last charge was a result of carelessness by former employees rather than an outright intention to deceive the commission.
As a result, the Media Bureau and Enforcement Bureau entered into a consent decree with San Tan to resolve those matters. Part of that consent decree also resolved issues as part of a secondary investigation into whether San Tan violated commission underwriting laws by broadcasting announcements that promoted the products, services or businesses of its financial contributors.
When it came to that underwriting investigation, the FCC stressed that although LPFM radio broadcasters, due to their noncommercial and nonprofit nature, benefit from being exempt from regulatory fees and from having fewer requirements than those imposed on commercial entities, that flexibility is not unlimited. That means that restrictions prohibiting the airing of commercial advertising applicable to noncommercial educational FM broadcast licensees is in effect to protect the public’s use and enjoyment of commercial-free broadcasts.
Although the FCC has said that an LPFM licensee may broadcast underwriting announcements identifying entities that donate to the station, such announcements cannot promote an entity’s businesses, products or services. And even though there are no hard and fast rules on underwriting announcements, the commission said that the longer the announcement, the more likely it is to contain material that is inconsistent with the identification-only rules. In the case of KFXY(LP), the commission investigated a complaint that alleged that the station broadcast a series of announcements that violated those underwriting laws.
As part of its consent decree, San Tan admitted that those broadcasts violated the commission’s underwriting laws. In addition to the $1,500 civil penalty, San Tan will implement a five-year compliance plan to avoid future violations of the underwriting laws.
The commission also concluded that none of the violations affects San Tan’s basic qualifications to be a commission licensee.