The Federal Communications Commission considers silence — instead of regular operation — a fundamental failure to serve a broadcast station’s community of license. And it takes a hard stance with stations that go silent without authorization.
That was the case with station KJMU(AM) in Sand Springs, Okla. When the station attempted to renew its license in January 2021, it revealed that it had fallen silent for four periods during its previous license term, three of which were nearly 12 months in length. That equated to the station being silent for 50% of its license term and 40% of its extended term (a term that occurs while the license renewal application is pending).
The Media Bureau has made it clear that the basic duty of a broadcast licensee is to broadcast to its community. As a result, it sees this type of scenario as particularly egregious because a silent station can offer no public service programming, weather information or emergency alert notifications. Brief periods of operation that are sandwiched between prolonged periods of silence are of little value, the bureau said, because the local audience is not accustomed to tuning into the station’s frequency.
When it comes to renewing a station’s license, the bureau looks to see if a station has served the public interest, if there are any serious violations of the Communications Act or FCC Rules and if there is any sort of pattern of abuse. If a licensee fails to meet those standards, the bureau can deny the application or grant one with certain terms and conditions.
In this case, the Media Bureau found that the conduct of Birach Broadcasting Corp., licensee of KJMU, had fallen short and that a routine license renewal was not warranted. “We cannot find that the station served the public interest, convenience and necessity during the license term due to the extended periods of non-operation,” the bureau said. After Birach disclosed to the bureau that it also failed to comply with its online public inspection file requirements, the bureau decided that a consent decree with a short-term license renewal would be an appropriate sanction.
As a result, the bureau agreed to grant the station a short-term license renewal of one year, which will give the bureau the opportunity to review the station’s public service performance as well as its compliance with the rules, and to take corrective actions if necessary. The agency specified that instead of a full eight-year term, the station’s license will expire on July 15, 2023. Birach must submit a renewal application by March 1, 2023.
As part of the consent decree, Birach must designate a compliance officer, create a compliance plan, distribute a compliance manual to all employees, facilitate a compliance training program and submit a compliance report one year after entering into the consent decree with the bureau.