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FCC Rejects Tentative Selectee for New South Florida NCE FM

Commission says group failed to disclose all associated parties

The FCC is reprimanding a broadcast applicant for a new noncommercial education (NCE) FM station in south Florida, saying it misled the commission.

The NCE FM filing window of 2021 resulted in four MX applications for new service in Key West, Fla., according to the FCC. The applications, referred to as Group 55, were then part of a paper hearing using a point system and tiebreaker to identify the applicant that best meets the commission’s criteria.

As a result, the FCC selected Key West Radio (KWR) as the tentative selectee based on the information the company provided. However, a competing applicant in the MX group, Frequency Zero, Inc., disputed KWR’s application saying it was defective and that KWR failed to disclose everyone associated with the company.

KWR’s application listed Bertrand Stebbins, Diane Stebbins and Fred Stebbins as the officers and directors of the company. However, it was alleged by Frequency Zero that the three were merely a front for two other family members who have a history with the FCC. 

Frequency Zero alleged Peter Stebbins and John Stebbins, the sons of Bertrand and Diane, were associated with KWR and, in fact, controlled the company.  

Peter and John Stebbins, together with an individual named John Viera, operated a Low Power FM (LPFM) station at two unauthorized locations in Miami while telling the commission that the station was broadcasting from an authorized site that was never constructed, according to the FCC.

A 2019 investigation by the FCC into the actions of the LPFM licensee, a company named 305, led to the Stebbins brothers and Viera to surrender the license. Since 305 surrendered the license voluntarily, legal counsel for 305 argued the matter was moot. However, the FCC at the time said matters related to the LPFM were not moot and would remain relevant in any future broadcast applications that the brothers and anyone else that held an interest in 305 filed in the next five years.

Frequency Zero argued John Stebbins was listed as an officer of KWR in articles of incorporation filed in 2021 with the state of Florida. It also alleged an email address and telephone contact number list on the KWR application are associated with companies run by Peter Stebbins.

For its part, KWR responded that it has no connection to 305 and thus not subject to the requirements the FCC attached to the group. “Rather, it contends that a person has an attributable interest only if their ownership or position is sufficient to exert influence or control over station finances, programming, or personnel, and that neither Peter (Stebbins) nor John (Stebbins) has any such interest in KWR,” according to the FCC decision. 

KWR further asserted that Peter Stebbins simply provides unpaid consulting services to the company. “Although KWR acknowledges that it listed John as a board member in corporate filings with the State of Florida before and after filing the KWR application with the commission, it maintains this was a mistake caused by hasty filing and not out of any intent to deceive,” according to the FCC document.

KWR says it corrected the error earlier this year, but the FCC found “John’s position as a corporate officer is dispositive of his having an attributable interest in KWR at the time of filing the application.”

The FCC goes on to rescind the KWR application saying the company failed to disclose all parties associated with it on the application for the new NCE service in Key West. “We further note that the defect in the KWR application is fatal and cannot be cured by a corrective amendment,” the FCC stated.

The FCC concluded: “We name FZI [Frequency Zero, Inc.] the new tentative selectee in Group 55, and accept the FZI Application for filing.

“It is further ordered that 305 Community Radio, Key West Radio, and the principals of each must alert the Commission of these matters in any application any of them file within ten years from the date of this letter.”

The FCC letter is dated June 7, 2023, and signed by Albert Shuldiner, chief of the FCC’s Audio Division.

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