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Colorado LPFM Station Is Fined for Airing Commercials

KELS is penalized $15,000 for broadcasting thousands of spots

A Colorado low-power FM station has been assessed a $15,000 fine by the Federal Communications Commission for airing commercials.

It wasn’t just a few commercials, either. The FCC said KELS(LP) in Greeley aired more than 1,600 spots in just three months in 2018, and that the Enforcement Bureau had received earlier complaints going back to at least 2015 that KELS was essentially operating as a commercial station. (The station brands itself Pirate Radio 104.7, but is in fact licensed.)

The FCC issued a notice of apparent liability in this case almost three years ago. Now it says licensee Plymouth Gathering Inc. hasn’t contest that it aired spots but asked for a reduction or elimination of the fine, saying it couldn’t afford to pay it.

Plymouth submitted IRS forms, financial statements and a statement citing the impact of the pandemic. It also cited several past FCC cases where penalties had been reduced.

But the commission now has rejected its appeal and finalized the forfeiture order.

The Enforcement  Bureau said the base fine of $2,000 in such cases was increased to $15,000 based on “the protracted period of time over which the prohibited announcements were aired, the number of announcements at issue as well as forfeiture actions in other underwriting cases.”

It said Plymouth had not demonstrated an inability to pay and that its tax returns from 2018–2020 indicate total average gross revenues of $228,796, sufficient to sustain a $15,000 forfeiture. And the previous cases cited by Plymouth involved different circumstances in negotiated settlements, it ruled. The station has been given 30 days to pay.

The FCC explained in the order that LPFM licensees are exempt from regulatory fees and have fewer regulatory requirements than commercial entities do, in recognition of their noncommercial and non-profit nature. Underwriting laws prohibit noncommercial educational stations, including LPFMs, from airing commercials. They can identify contributors who provide financial support, but they can’t promote a contributor’s products, services or businesses.

There have been other penalties assessed against low-power stations. For example in 2021 an LPFM in Michigan agreed to pay a $17,500 fine after another broadcaster submitted 24 examples of commercials. Last summer the commission upheld a $25,000 fine against a Florida LPFM, in a case that involved other types of alleged rule violations.