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FCC Sends $20,000 NAL to California Broadcaster

KSCO's nighttime operations have been outside what the commission has authorized

The FCC has issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) for $20,000 to a California broadcaster. The commission says it believes Zwerling Broadcasting System has willfully violated the Communications Act by operating its station KSCO(AM) at a different power at night than what was approved.

According to the FCC account, Zwerling has admitted that, despite being licensed to operate at night in directional mode at 5 kW, KSCO has been operating in non-directional mode at night with a power of 1 kW. In its communications with the commission, Zwerling said the AM station has operated in this manner for the entirety of its current license term, and continues to do so.

The non-conforming nighttime operations violate commission rules. Now, the FCC is proposing a $20,000 forfeiture to the broadcaster, pending formal argument from the licensee. The station has 30 days to respond, explain or ask for a reduction.

An Ongoing Issue

Since 1970, the FCC says KSCO has been authorized to operate by day in a non-directional mode at 10 kW and in a directional mode with 5 kW at night.

In 1993, Zwerling obtained special temporary authority to operate the station in non-directional mode at night with a reduced power of 1 kW. The Media Bureau extended the STA multiple times. The last extension was granted in October of 1996 and expired shortly after.

In its letter granting the extension, the bureau warned Zwerling that the station needed to “return to licensed operation or to file FCC Form 301 for modification of its nighttime facilities.”

To date, Zwerling has not filed an FCC Form 301, the FCC says.

In 2016, the Enforcement Bureau received complaints about KSCO’s operations. When the bureau contacted Zwerling, it said, the company admitted that the station was operating non-directionally at night at 1 kW, and said it had been operating in this manner pursuant to STA when Zwerling acquired it.

However, the Enforcement Bureau said Zwerling needed to apply for an STA and then return the station to its licensed parameters, or apply to modify the station’s authorization to reflect the manner in which it had been operating. It said  Zwerling did not request STA or apply to modify the KSCO’s authorization.

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Recent Complaints

In 2020, the FCC received another complaint. This alleged that KSCO has been operating at night in non-directional mode at 1 kW for more than 30 years. This affirmed Zweling’s previous comments that it was operating outside of it authorized parameters, despite being warned by the FCC.

When Media Bureau staff contacted Zwerling again, the broadcaster confirmed that the complaint was well-founded, the FCC wrote.

Zwerling told the commission that KSCO has “operated for more than 30 years now, at 1000 watts non-directional at night.” Zwerling asserted that “in the directional mode [the station] lose[s] coverage to a significant amount of [its] primary service area.” Because of this coverage issue, Zwerling argued that “it would not be in the public interest, convenience and necessity for us to cut out coverage to roughly 75% of the population we are here to serve.”

Further, Zwerling said it had not received any complaints of interference from local consumers or broadcasters.

Finally, it said the station “has been an incredibly valuable, highly-praised safety resource to Santa Cruz and all communities of the Monterey Bay Area during times of emergencies” throughout its nearly 75 years of operation.

What’s Happening Now

On Sept. 7, 2022, Zwerling requested STA to continue to operate non-directionally at night with reduced power. The FCC chose to deny that request because Zwerling did “not provide a justification for the need to operate with an alternate antenna system and reduced power during nighttime hours.”

The commission said Zwerling had not “provided any engineering studies to show that the proposed STA facility would protect other co-channel and first adjacent stations.” Based on its own interference analysis, the FCC said it found that the proposed operations were likely to cause interference to multiple stations.

Therefore, in addition to denying Zwerling’s STA request, the FCC ordered the broadcaster to immediately terminate its “unauthorized non-directional operation at night.”

As it did in 2016, the commission said KSCO could either resume operating with its licensed nighttime power or file a 301 application to modify its nighttime operation.

Upon resolution of the forfeiture proceeding, the FCC said it will grant Zwerling’s pending application to renew the station’s license for two years. The station has 30 days to pay or to respond to the NAL.