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Criminal Record Means Wilhite Loses WELE

FCC clears license renewal; okays station donation

WELE(AM), Ormond Beach, Fla., just got its latest two license renewal applications approved — one renewal had been pending since 2004. However, the owner lost the station because of character issues and the commission approved donation of the station and its assets to a university.

In his decision, Audio Division Chief Peter Doyle describes WELE as having “an exceptionally troubled history.” F. Douglass Wilhite, the sole shareholder of the licensee, Wings Communications, was convicted of two felonies in 2010, went into bankruptcy the next year, and then emerged from that in 2012. The felonies were “child abuse and neglect of a child causing great bodily harm,” according to the account.

Wilhite also faced consumer complaints of consumer fraud leading to a civil penalty, according to the agency. Several individuals protested the license renewal, claiming they had been defrauded by Wilhite for alleged deceptive travel ads aired on the station. The FCC said those claims weren’t backed up documentation and the agency dismissed them.

However, in light of his criminal record, “we cannot make a determination that Wilhite and the licensee are qualified to hold, or assign, the station’s license,” writes Doyle.

“Compelling public interest determinations support actions that will allow a donation of the station’s license and related assets to Bethune-Cookman University,” according to Doyle, who adds that Wilhite will get no financial benefit from the donation.

The commission’s decision means that Wilhite leaves broadcasting and ensures that WELE will operate in the public interest under the university’s control. In this case, the agency follows precedent that finds public interest considerations support a grant of an assignment application where a character issue is resolved against a licensee or is pending.