The “imminent loss” of four St. Louis-area AM radio stations has the MMTC concerned — and they are asking the FCC to do something about it.
The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) asked the Federal Communication Commission to provide emergency interim relief to preserve four radio stations and a construction permit by giving its subsidiary, MMTC Broadcasting, ownership and operating responsibility for the stations. The stations have been tangled up in the Bob Romanik imbroglio.
Back in June 2019, four AM stations in the St. Louis market — KTFK, WQQW, KZQZ and KQQZ as well as the construction permit W275CS — had their renewal and assignment applications held up over several issues, including alleged misrepresentation issues and an alleged unauthorized transfer. When Entertainment Media Trust (EMT) applied for renewal of its licenses in 2012, a Petition to Deny was filed soon after, asserting that the stations were actually controlled by a convicted felon who was not named by the licensee in its applications. Soon after, EMT applied to assign the licenses to a newly formed trust (called EMT #2) but the same ownership concerns were raised. (An application was also filed for a new FM translator to rebroadcast WQQW.)
According to the FCC, a subsequent hearing raised key questions about an alleged undisclosed transfer of control of the stations and questioned whether EMT engaged in misrepresentation and/or lack of candor in its communications with the commission.
The hearing judge found that EMT failed to follow commission rules when addressing the questions at hand; as a result, the commission dismissed all of the applications.
But according to the MMTC, this means that unless emergency interim action is taken by the FCC by the end of March, these stations “will be irretrievably lost,” the MMTC said in response to the FCC ruling. The MMTC said it now “stand[s] ready to assist the commission in saving the stations.”
“The loss of four radio stations and a CP in the nation’s 24th radio market would be unprecedented and devastating,” the MMTC said in its letter. “Facilities such as these are entry points for new talent and entrepreneurship.” Often times stations like these serve underrepresented, minority, multilingual and religious constituencies, the group said.
The MMTC pointed to several previous court cases that have been used in the past to rescue stations such as these, but expressed concern that prior litigation routes would not work in this case, and as a result, MMTC said it is prepared to step in.
According to David Honig, who is president of MMTC as well as vice president of MMTC Broadcasting, the goal of the organization’s nonprofit subsidiary is to facilitate diverse ownership of broadcast stations. It has taken ownership of nine AM radio stations since 2008 and incubated new entrants at these stations by training them to become owners.
In this case, the MMTC Broadcasting group told the FCC that it would like to volunteer to assume ownership and operating responsibility for the stations.
“Our plan is to operate them as radio incubators, generally along the lines of the incubator plan approved by the commission in 2018,” the group said. “To execute this plan, MMTC Broadcasting would LMA the stations to Roberts Radio Broadcasting LLC, a minority-owned and family-owned company based in St. Louis,” which currently owns and operates an FM station in Jackson, Miss.
The MMTC reminded the FCC that is has broad authority to grant emergency relief to protect the interests of broadcast consumers, pointing to the operation of WLBT(TV) in Jackson, Miss., that was operated by the nonprofit Communications Improvement Inc. after the D.C. Circuit Court vacated WLBT’s license renewal. In that case, the agency turned to Communications Improvement to operate the station while conducting a hearing to select a new permanent licensee.
During Communications Improvement’s tenure at WLBT(TV), the station rose in the ratings; doubled the size of the news staff; and hired the its first African American general manager, news director and news anchors in Mississippi television, the MMTC said.
“Ultimately, in 1980, five competing applicants settled and, after 11 years of interim operation, a permanent and minority owned licensee took over,” the organization said.
While the WLBT(TV) scenario is not identical to the dilemma in St. Louis, it is close, MMTC said. “It shows how a nonprofit interim operator can heal an ailing facility to the great benefit of the general public.”
“MMTC is confident that the commission can swiftly evaluate the equities and arrive at a course of action that saves the stations by allowing MMTC Broadcasting to operate them as radio incubators on an interim basis, with an LMA to Roberts,” MMTC said. “As the D.C. Circuit observed in 1990, when service to the public should be preserved, it can be ‘reasonable, perhaps essential, therefore, that the commission grant an interim license to someone.’”
“Thus, if the commission invites it to do so, MMTC Broadcasting will file applications to serve as an interim operator,” Honig said.
Radio World will report on any response that comes from the commission.