The Federal Communications Commission doesn’t like it when a radio station sits silent; the idea is that precious radio spectrum should not “sit fallow.”
That’s the background to explain scolding language from Peter Doyle, chief of the commission’s Audio Division of the Media Bureau.
Handing down a decision in an AM station license renewal case in Colorado, Doyle took the opportunity to comment more broadly to the industry about a practice employed by some licensees of switching their silent stations back on briefly — for as little as a day — just to avoid otherwise losing the license after 12 months of silence as stipulated by the rules.
“Silence instead of licensed operation is a fundamental failure to serve station’s community of license,” Doyle wrote, “because a silent station offers that community no public service programming such as news, public affairs, weather information and Emergency Alert System notifications. Moreover, brief periods of station operation sandwiched between prolonged periods of silence are of little value because the local audience is not accustomed to tuning in to the station’s frequency.”
He noted that in 2001, the FCC issued a decision cautioning that “a licensee will face a very heavy burden in demonstrating that it has served the public interest where it has remained silent for most or all of the prior license term.” In his view, licensees have been on notice since then that the eventual resumption of operations after long periods of silence “does not necessarily resolve the renewal inquiry as to whether the licensee served the public interest during the preceding license term.”
In this specific case, owner Roger Hoppe sought license renewal for KLIM(AM) at 1120 kHz in Limon, Colo., which he wants to sell to Catholic Radio Network. He filed the renewal application in 2012. Over the previous several years, he had obtained special temporary authority to remain silent for several periods, citing storm damage, health issues, financial difficulties and equipment problems.
But the FCC said KLIM also was silent for more than 11 months without an STA, and that Hoppe acknowledged that it had sometimes overlooked the notification requirement. All told, during the last four years of the eight-year license term, KLIM was off approximately three and one-third years, sometimes with and sometimes without authority; further, it was off air for additional periods of about 17 months while license renewal was pending, with periods of service ranging from one to 80 days.
Doyle wrote that Hoppe’s stewardship of the station “fails to meet the public service commitment which licensees are expected to provide to their communities of license on a daily basis because the station was silent for significant portions of its license term, resuming operation sporadically to avoid license termination.”
But he said the actions were not sufficiently serious for stronger actions to kick in, especially considering that Hoppe plans to hand off the station to another licensee. So the FCC is assessing a $5,000 fine. Once that’s paid, it will renew the license for two years instead of eight to the commission can review its compliance. Doyle indicated the FCC would also approve the pending sale to Catholic Radio Network.
Hoppe has 30 days to pay the fine or appeal the ruling.