The Federal Communications Commission is questioning whether a licensee of a station in Pennsylvania is qualified to retain his license — or if it should be revoked after he pled guilty to felony use of a communication facility and several related misdemeanors.
The chief of the Media Bureau has begun a hearing proceeding to determine whether 70-year-old Roger Wahl, licensee of WQZS(FM) in Meyersdale, Pa., should be allowed to keep his broadcasting license.
In July 2020, Wahl pleaded guilty to criminal use of a communications facility (the station is located in his home) and four related misdemeanors after he admitted to recklessly endangering another person, unlawfully disseminating intimate images and tampering with evidence.
At the time of his sentencing in November 2020, the judge decided against jail time for Wahl due to his age and underlying health conditions that put him at risk for the coronavirus, according a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Wahl, the station owner as well as a disc jockey, pled guilty to secretly taking nude photographs of a woman inside her home using a concealed camera that had been installed in her bathroom. According to court documents, he also impersonated the woman on an online dating site, sent nude photos of the woman to at least one man whom he connected with through that site and solicited that man to have sexual relations with the woman without her consent. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, one man from the dating site came to the woman’s address and was met by Wahl who solicited the man to rape the woman, according to authorities quoted by the Post-Gazette.
Once he learned an investigation was underway by the Pennsylvania State Police, Wahl was accused of tampering with evidence by deleting the nude photos from his mobile device and erasing the communications he made at the online dating site.
Initially, Wahl also pleaded guilty to invasion of privacy; after learning that that charge would require him to register as a sex offender, however, he withdrew that guilty plea and instead pled guilty to identity theft. He was sentenced to three years of probation, four months of electronic monitoring, and was required to pay $600 in fines as well as the costs of his prosecution and supervision.
Local sources also reported that Wahl was prohibited from hosting his morning show on WQZS for the duration of the electronic monitoring but has since returned to the airwaves.
Charges of this type — which in Wahl’s case include a third-degree felony, first-degree misdemeanor and several second-degree misdemeanors — raise the question of whether the holder of a broadcast license possesses the character qualities to remain a licensee. Following guidelines under the FCC’s Character Qualifications Policy Statement, the Media Bureau instigated a hearing proceeding in which an administrative law judge will serve as a presiding officer.
The commission has the authority to revoke a license when the character of an applicant is called into question, according to language within Section 312(a)(2) of the Communications Act. The Media Bureau started a hearing proceeding in this case because it considers any felony to be a serious crime. In some cases, certain misdemeanors may also be relevant when it comes to determining the character of a licensee. In this case, the bureau said it was necessary to evaluate Wahl’s character in light of the felony and multiple misdemeanor convictions.
“Furthermore, the fundamental purpose of the commission’s character inquiry is to make predictive judgments about an applicant’s truthfulness and propensity to comply with the [Communications] Act and [FCC] Rules,” wrote Media Bureau Chief Michelle M. Carey. “For this reason, we find that Wahl’s misdemeanor convictions directly implicate his character qualifications.”
If he chooses, Wahl has the opportunity to be heard by the administrative judge as part of the hearing proceedings. To do so, a written request must be filed within 20 days of the Notice of Opportunity for Hearing he received.
A hearing will commence from there to determine if Wahl has the qualifications to be a commission licensee and whether or not the license for station WQZS should be revoked.