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California Applicant Secures New NCE FM Construction Permit

Stonewall Alliance selected in part because of its established local applicant status

A construction permit for a new noncommercial educational (NCE) FM station has been granted in Willows, Calif., despite an objection from a competing applicant.

The applications were filed within the November 2021 NCE FM filing window for construction permits for NCE FM stations. The Media Bureau identified three mutually exclusive applications from Vida Vale Vivir, Adventist Compassion Care and Stonewall Alliance of Chico as NCE MX Group 33. As part of its comparative consideration efforts, the commission conducted a fair distribution analysis during which the Adventis application was eliminated because it did not claim a fair distribution preference.

In turn, the Media Bureau determined that the Vida and the Stonewall applications were each eligible for a fair distribution preference based on first and second NCE service population totals — but because the applications were comparable, the Vida and Stonewall applications had to proceed to a point system analysis. Both applicants were awarded points for diversity of ownership — with Stonewall earning extra points for being a local applicant. In the end, Vida was credited with two points while Stonewall was credited with five points, meaning that Stonewall was identified as the tentative selectee of MX Group 33.

Soon after Vida filed a petition to deny against Stonewall.

In its petition, Vida argues that Stonewall is not entitled to points for diversity of ownership because the applicant failed to reveal in its application that it holds no attributable interests in any nearby radio station. Vida also argued that Stonewall does not qualify for points as an established local applicant because Stonewall’s headquarters is simply “a front” instead of a real office. Vida said it frequently visited Stonewall’s headquarters and always found the office to be empty, not appearing to have been used for any extended period.

In addition, Vida complained that Stonewall also failed to provide residential addresses for its officers, and that its application contains false certifications related to its public inspection file and compliance with local public notice rules. Plus, Vida alleged, Stonewall’s proposed effective radiated power of 10kW and antenna height violate the maximum limits for Class B1 FM stations and thus violate the commission’s rules.

In its response, Stonewall certifies that it holds no attributable interest in any other radio station and that Vida’s allegation of a false headquarters is inaccurate (Stonewall said that was due to the COVID-19 pandemic during which Stonewall closed the walk-in options at the office and instead offered services by appointment only). Stonewall agreed that there was indeed a technical defect in its application but Stonewall has amended it. The applicant also admitted that its local public notice announcement was indeed filed late.

In considering the case, the commission rejected Vida’s argument that Stonewall does not qualify for diversity of ownership points. “We have made clear that we will exercise ‘some flexibility’ in our assessment of the type of acceptable documentation needed to support a diversity of ownership claim,” the bureau wrote. As a result, the commission confirmed that Stonewall is entitled to two points for diversity of ownership.

The commission also rejected Vida’s allegation that Stonewall’s headquarters is a front since Vida’s visits to the applicant’s home office happened during the time the office was closed due to the pandemic. The commission also rejected Vida’s contention that Stonewall is not an established local applicant after noting that Stonewall’s articles of incorporation states it has provided services in Chico, Calif. — which is within 25 miles of Willows, Calif. — since August 1990.

And although the commission found that Stonewall misunderstood the public inspection file requirements and did not timely complete its local public notice obligations, the commission rejected the idea that this mistake should result in dismissal of the application. Stonewall did not deceive the commission on purpose, the commission wrote.

The commission also rejected Vida’s contention that the Stonewall application should be dismissed because of technical parameter errors. FCC staff independently reviewed the Stonewall application and determined that the proposed power and height levels comply with the rules as a Class B station and that Stonewall’s fair distribution population and service area data are not affected by the change from Class B1 to Class B.

As a result, the commission denied Vida’s petition to deny and granted the construction permit for a new NCE FM station to Stonewall — upon the condition that Stonewall agree to maintain the comparative qualifications for which it received points.

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