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Contest Missteps Slip Up Two Texas Stations

FCC plans fines on stations that failed to hand out prizes in a timely way

Don’t give the people who win your on-air contests a reason to call the FCC.

That’s the takeaway from two cases in Texas in which broadcasters have ended up facing possible fines.

On-air contests have long been one of radio’s most engaging and entertaining activities. But there are strict rules around running them. Failure to hold up your end of a contest can bring action from the Federal Communications Commission.

Townsquare Media of El Paso Inc. allegedly violated those rules when KSII(FM) failed to timely award a contest prize.

The commission said it got a listener complaint that KSII had failed to award a prize of Elton John tickets in late 2016. The winner said a station employee took his information, informed him that the tickets were not yet available and instructed him to call back after the new year. The listener called in January and February but was told the tickets still were not available.

Townsquare blamed the problem on a breakdown in communications and procedure, saying there was no intent to defraud or deceive. It eventually followed up and provided tickets to a different Elton John concert in Las Vegas, with airfare and hotel.

But the FCC says precedent is clear that “neither the improper actions of a licensee’s employees nor subsequent remedial actions undertaken by a licensee can excuse or nullify a licensee’s rule violation.” It plans a $6,000 forfeiture. This is higher than the base fine of $4,000 because of the trouble the listener had to go through and because of another past fine against Townsquare, though it’s nowhere near the upper limits in contest cases of about $50,000 per violation or even $500,000 for a single act.

In a separate case, contest rules tripped up Gow Media, licensee of sports station KFNC(FM) in Mont Belvieu, Texas. The FCC said KFNC failed to award a prize to the winner of a Fantasy Football contest in 2016. The listener said that the prize was an all-expenses-paid vacation to Marival Resort in Mexico, but that he he never received it “despite many calls, emails and messages.”

Gow Media said the operator of the resort had reneged on its commitment and that the station eventually offered the listener $3,600 in cash, which it said is twice the value of the prize. The listener accepted this, signed a Settlement Agreement and indicated that he would like to rescind his complaint.

But the deed was done. Although Gow Media later took steps to resolve the issue, this was only after the FCC began its investigation, the commission said, adding that Gow did not explain why it took so long to respond to the listener nor why the matter remained unresolved for two years. It also pointed out that KFNC’s contest rules limit the time period to claim a prize to 30 business days. “Timely fulfillment of the prize … was a material term of the licensee’s own contest rules.”

In this case the proposed penalty is $5,200. In both cases, the broadcasters have a window of time to pay the forfeitures or file a written statement seeking to overturn them.