An allegation of unauthorized transfer of broadcast licenses has led a family-owned broadcaster to agree to a consent decree with the Federal Communications Commission.
The Communications Act stipulates that a station license cannot be transferred without first applying to the commission. That’s the situation that the Dickey Broadcasting Co. (DBC) found itself in when patriarch Lewis Dickey Sr. created a trust (called the Lewis W. Dickey, Sr. Irrevocable Children’s Trust) and, without the knowledge of the trustees, he transferred 90% of his equity into that trust. A few days later, DBC (now effectively in the hands of the trust) acquired the licenses of Atlanta stations WIFN(AM) and WCNN(AM) and Marietta, Ga., station WFOM(AM).
In March 2018, after the Dickey children assumed control of the trust after the elder Dickey passed away in 2013, DBC disclosed to the FCC for the first time the existence of the trust and the preceding unauthorized transfers of control.
The company sought nunc pro tunc consent from the commission for the previous transfers of control — seeking permission to retroactively correct the earlier mistake — and explained that the failure to accurately report DBC’s ownership structure and request prior commission consent to the unauthorized transfers was inadvertent and due to the elder Dickey’s complicated estate planning.
DBC and the trust agreed that they violated sections of the Communications Act and FCC Rules and agreed to make an $8,000 civil penalty payment as well as undertake a three-year compliance plan to prevent future similar violations. The commission agreed to the consent decree, though it did not agree to the broadcaster’s nunc pro tunc request, meaning that a retroactive license transfer is not part of the deal.
That three-year compliance plan includes designating an in-house FCC compliance officer who will administer the compliance plan, creation of an employee compliance manual and filing of regular compliance reports.