A low-power FM station has agreed to enter into a consent decree to settle an investigation into whether it violated the FCC’s underwriting rules. The decree calls for the Athenian Multicultural Study Club to implement a compliance plan and pay a civil penalty of $10,000.
The Enforcement Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission received a complaint alleging that on May 13, 2019, Athenian — licensee of WPLP(LP) in Athens, Ga. — broadcast an advertisement for a for-profit entity, a direct violation of the FCC’s underwriting rules.
In April 2020, the bureau issued a letter of inquiry to Athenian, complete with audio samples of the advertisements that were allegedly broadcast that day.
An attorney for the licensee responded soon after and acknowledged that the station had broadcast underwriting announcements on behalf of for-profit entities between May 2019 and April 2020.
In addition, Athenian revealed that in the 12 months before receiving the letter of inquiry from the FCC, Athenian had aired nine announcements with similar promotional references.
The FCC noted that it gives special regulatory consideration to noncommercial educational stations — including LPFMs — by imposing fewer regulatory requirements and exempting them from annual regulatory fees. This is because noncommercial educational broadcast stations provide a unique service to the public and, via LPFM stations specifically, give the public a radio service that is commercial-free and specifically focused on local communities.
“That flexibility, however, is not unlimited,” the bureau wrote, noting that FCC has long prohibited NCE stations from airing commercial advertisements.
In this case, the bureau agreed to the consent decree with Athenian to end the investigation.
Athenian admitted that it broadcast prohibited commercial advertisements in exchange for consideration. In addition to the civil penalty, the decree calls on Athenian to designate a compliance officer who can help the station develop, implement and administer the compliance plan and ensure that Athenian complies with the terms and conditions. That involves notifying employees about the consent decree, establishing a set of operating procedures and reporting any future noncompliance with the underwriting laws, among other rules.