This story has been updated with additional information.
The Federal Communications Commission has imposed a $25,000 penalty on a Florida low-power FM station for rule violations. This is believed to be the largest fine against an LPFM station since that service was created more than 20 years ago.
Earlier its Enforcement Bureau had announced a notice of apparent liability against Jupiter Community Radio Inc., licensee of WJUP(LP) in Jupiter, Fla., for alleged violations including operating over its licensed power, failing to permit an inspection and failing to maintain Emergency Alert System equipment.
Now the FCC has confirmed the finding.
The commission says that in early 2020, agents from its Miami office monitored the station’s transmissions to determine if WJUP was operating in an unauthorized manner. Shortly after, they tried to access to the station during business hours but were unable to do so for more than a week.
When they did do an inspection, they found the station operating at an ERP of 177 watts instead of its licensed 20 watts, using a two-bay antenna instead of its licensed one bay, and transmitting from a spot about 1/3 of a mile from its licensed location.
The station also did not appear to have EAS equipment at its transmitter site. When an agent requested logs to demonstrate that the EAS equipment had been installed and functioning, the station instead provided logs for equipment at station WOIB(LP), which is licensed to a church.
That fall, the bureau issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and proposed a $25,000 penalty.
In responding to that, Jupiter did not deny the violations but asked for a reduction or cancellation of the fine, according to the FCC summary of the case.
Jupiter said it would make operational and staff changes to facilitate future inspections.
It argued that the FCC staff had used the wrong base amount for unauthorized operation.
It said that its record of compliance should argue for a lower fine.
It also argued that a penalty for operating from an authorized location should be cancelled because it was not deliberate but a result of a technical error by a consulting engineer. And it said its unauthorized antenna had been used as a substitute temporarily because the original was damaged by lightning.
The licensee sent in a copy of EAS logs that, according to the Jupiter, was purported to be for WJUP for several months before the date of the inspection. It said that the EAS forfeiture should be cancelled because it eventually provided logs.
The bureau rejected all of Jupiter’s arguments as unpersuasive for various reasons, which you can read here.
One thing weighing against Jupiter’s assertion of a good compliance record was the fact that in 2017, the FCC had issued a separate Notice of Unlicensed Operation to Jupiter’s president, Wayne Manning, and to The Omega Church International Ministries for operating an unlicensed station on 104.1 MHz in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Manning acknowledged the violation at the time, according to the FCC; he said operation of that station was a brief weekend test to determine whether WJUP should change frequency. But the incident was one of several reasons the FCC declined Jupiter’s argument in this later case.
The commission set the forfeitures at $10,000 for operating without an instrument of authorization, $7,000 for failing to permit an inspection and $8,000 for failing to install required EAS equipment. With the issuing of this order, the penalty takes effect. Jupiter was told to pay within 30 days.
According to an FCC official, the fine is believed to be the largest levied on an LPFM station to date.