The Federal Communications Commission took a decisive step this week when it deleted the call signs of two California FM stations and ordered them to immediately cease operations.
The decision came down to a question of character and the ripple of consequences that come from breaking commission rules.
In the case of KAAX(FM) and KYAF(FM), the story started rather benignly when Avenal Education Services and Central Valley Educational Services requested to modify the authorization of their stations from noncommercial educational status (NCE) to commercial stations. A seemingly simple loophole stymied that request: Avenal and Central Valley were not incorporated prior to filing their station operations.
[Read: Alleged Deception Costs FM Broadcasters Their License]
But it was the details revealed in a previous proceeding that contained the bite that lost owner William Zawila his modification requests.
The FCC looked closely at the findings from a hearing in which the permits and licenses of three other FM stations were revoked after Zawila and two other groups were accused of disingenuous stonewalling and various misrepresentations in their dealings with the commission.
In a proceeding that included six stations (including KAAX and KYAF) questions were raised about misrepresentation, failure to maintain a public file and various technical rule violations against both Avenal, Central Valley and Zawila. During that hearing the Enforcement Bureau found that Avenal and Central Valley were not legally formed nonprofit entities that were qualified for a construction permit for an NCE station. Although the two companies filed their applications in 1988 and 1989, they were not incorporated until 1999 and 2001.
But Avenal and Central Valley answered, no, they actually were in the right and were free to attempt to convert KAAX and KYAF — two stations that are located amongst vast agricultural fields in Central California — to commercial stations by merely by notifying the FCC that they were hoping to have that conversation take place. Zawila challenged the FCC chief administrative law judge’s findings in that earlier proceeding. But the commission ruled against him based on lack of evidence.
Now jumping ahead to May 2020, the FCC again found that Avenal’s and Central Valley’s initial applications for construction permits were flawed because neither applicant was incorporated at the time of filing. And neither can fix the situation by simply applying to convert from NCE to commercial status.
Keep in mind that the FCC is watching closely when it comes not only to character but to the willingness to follow FCC rules. In its findings, the commission found that these two entities cannot attempt to correct their initial errors by attempting a conversion to commercial status. Nor can the two hide the fact that the Avenal company that was incorporated in 1999 has since been dissolved, and that the versions of that corporation incorporated in 2003 and 2015 are currently suspended. Same with the Central Valley Educational Services: the company incorporated in 2001 and the version incorporated in 2015 are also suspended.
The final nail in the coffin for the two entities: as of the date of the FCC’s decision on May 1, 2020, Avenal and Central Valley are still not valid California corporations.
All this led the commission to dismiss the construction permit request and the request to modify from NCE to commercial status, to revoke the stations’ ability to broadcast going forward, and to delete the two station’s call signs.
In an-all-caps demand in its letter to the two entities, the FCC said both KAAX and KYAF must cease broadcast operations immediately. But Zawila and company cannot walk away entirely. Until their towers are dismantled, Zawila and the companies are on the hook for keeping the lights on.