It was hardly a day at the beach for Cumulus Media stations up and down the state of South Carolina as the Media Bureau knocked five AM and FM stations for alleged violations relating to the public file rule.
The alleged violations surround a section of the FCC Rules that requires a commercial broadcast licensee to maintain a public inspection file containing specific types of information related to station operations. In that file, stations must include quarterly issues/programs lists, and those must be kept handy as part of the station’s license renewal process.
For each of these stations, when the license renewal form asked whether those documents were in the public file, the licensee answered “no,” the Media Bureau said. Each station did offer an explanation: In each case, it looks like program lists and reports were misplaced due to changes in management and staff, as well as upgrades to the stations’ computer systems.
For example, the Media Bureau found that station WLFF(FM) in Georgetown allegedly violated the public file rule by failing to retain program lists/issues for part of 2003 and all of 2004–7. There were also missing files for parts of 2008–10, though those reports were able to be recreated.
Due to personal changes at all levels of management and staff and changes to the station’s computer systems, the station said, no one at the station was able to locate the documents.
After reviewing the situation, the Media Bureau decided to issue a monetary fine of $10,000, which is the base amount listed in the FCC’s Forfeiture Policy Statement.
Similar situations occurred for the four other Cumulus stations, wherein each station allegedly was missing more than 20 issues and program lists in its public file.
For example, up the coast in Pawleys Island, staff at WDAI(FM) were unable to locate the issues and program lists for part of 2003 through part of 2007, as well as parts of 2008–10. Although the station was able to recreate missing reports for some years, it was not able to find or recreate missing files for the years 2003–7.
At the other stations, the bureau found that alleged violations were similarly extensive — in some cases, paperwork had not been properly filed during almost all of the station’s entire license term. For each of these stations — which includes WSEA(FM) in Atlantic Beach, WSYN(FM) in Surfside Beach and WRWM(AM) in Conway plus WDAI — the bureau handed down a $12,000 forfeiture for the alleged violations.
The bureau also chastised each station for admitting the violation only after being directly questioned. “ Although licensee has admitted to violating Section 73.3526, it did so only in the context of the question contained in its license renewal application that compelled such disclosure,” the bureau said in its release.
The bureau also found that the stations’ “conduct has fallen far short of the standard of compliance with the [Communications] Act and the [FCC] Rules that would warrant a routine license renewal,” pointing to the allegation that the stations failed to prep and file more than 20 issues/programs lists — in a few cases, for most of the station’s license period.
“The public information requirements are integral components of a licensee’s obligation to serve the public interest and meet its community service obligations,” the bureau said.
Once the forfeiture proceeding against WLFF is resolved, the FCC said it will grant its license renewal application. But the commission did not do the same for stations WDAI, WSEA, WSYN and WRWM. Rather than grant a probationary four-year license renewal, as is typical, the bureau said plans to address the situation during the station’s upcoming license renewal process in August 2019.