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Cumulus, FCC Settle Sponsorship ID Case; Big Payout Involved

Half-million-plus payment is largest in commission history for a single-station violation of sponsorship ID laws

Perhaps evidence that new CEO Mary Berner is making progress cleaning up old business, big broadcaster Cumulus will pay a record amount — $540,000 — to settle a case with the Federal Communications Commission involving sponsorship identification in radio ads about a proposed project to run new power lines through New Hampshire.

This resolves an investigation into whether WOKQ(FM) in Dover, N.H., violated sponsorship identification rules. It’s also likely to get the attention of any broadcasters who air ads for advocacy programs, as a reminder to make sure the sponsor is clear.

Cumulus will also adopt a “robust” compliance plan at 195 stations.

“The station had broadcast 178 announcements in support of the Northern Pass hydro-electric energy project without identifying the sponsor of those announcements, in this case a company with a financial interest in the project,” the commission wrote in an announcement. It described the amount as “the largest payment in FCC history for a single-station violation of the commission’s sponsorship identification laws.”

Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc was quoted noting that radio and TV stations paid to air announcements must clearly disclose a payer’s identity. “While failure to disclose these identities generally misleads the public, it is particularly concerning when consumers are duped into supporting controversial environmental projects.”

The commission said the investigation started when it received a consumer complaint that the station had broadcast an announcement for the Northern Pass project in 2011 without identifying the sponsor. “The investigation revealed that the station had broadcast multiple versions of the announcements from May through October 2011 that referenced the Northern Pass project but none of them expressly identify Northern Pass Transmission LLC, a company with a financial interest in the project, as the sponsor.”

A company compliance plan will include appointment of compliance officer, enhanced operating procedures, employee training on sponsorship identification laws, and a hotline for reporting violations.