Former LPFM operator Elaine Rougeau feels that an FCC enforcement action and Radio World’s reporting of the fine have been unfair. In February 2011 Radio World reported that Rougeau had not been able to convince the FCC to forgive a $20,000 penalty. The station was WHYR(FM) in Baton Rouge. The Audio Division of the Media Bureau said the licensee, Ethics Inc., violated the rules with an unauthorized transfer of control starting in late 2005. (Read that text here.)
Rougeau challenges the FCC’s account as reported by RW. She responds here in a commentary that also sheds light on challenges facing small radio operators; she said her goal is simply to “set the record straight.”
Baton Rouge is a big, small town. The information on your website has damaged my reputation in this community and I’ve lived here since 1973. I’ve had job offers withdrawn because of the untruths in the article. Just as importantly it leaves out all of the hard work, expenses and community support and resources that were donated by some amazing people in order to get the station up and running. An amazing amount of sweat equity was required to gain approval of the license, and to keep it on the air after disaster struck in the aftermath of my son’s catastrophic injury, and two months later my home’s destruction during Tropical Storm Allison in late 2001.
I didn’t go looking for this license. I received a late-night call from an FCC consultant and was recruited after being told that the license had been abandoned. I had a very small time window to complete everything to get approval. The community support was nothing short of miraculous. At that time the effort was faith-based.
Just to name a few of the biggest challenges that were overcome: Of course an entire set of radio station equipment had to be purchased. I had to locate a site and get someone to agree to let me set up the antenna. A donor agreed to let us use his property. He moved a small portable building on it. The building had to be completely wired to set up the transmitter and other equipment. A local radio station donated their staff and expertise to set all frequencies and connections to bring the equipment online.
A greater challenge was conducting the frequency test prior to approval. The test required that the antenna had to be in place 40–50 feet up in the air to run the frequency test. The results from this test had to be submitted before the approval deadline. I had a 60-day deadline. With the help of a community grant I purchased a 40-foot telephone pole on which to mount the antenna. I arranged for local police to stop traffic while the pole was transported on a flatbed truck to the site during work hours. The crew had to dig a 10-foot hole before it could even begin to install the pole. The antenna and wiring had to be installed on the pole by a technician prior to lifting the pole with the crane. A local construction company donated a crane and crew. Lifting a pole of that size was not easy, and we ran into problems. A cantilever had to be built. What was supposed to be two hours of donated time by the crew ended up being over eight hours of donated time before we could conduct the test.
I was forced to move the entire station into my home one month after the approval. The guy that rented me the small building returned after that time and said that he was raising the rent from $150 monthly to $800 monthly unless I agreed to sign one-half ownership of the station to him. This type of behavior was to become the norm over the entire time that I had the license. The new owners were simply the successful ones who managed to actually obtain the station.
I moved the entire station into my home (again with community support and technicians returned to bring the entire setup online within my house). This included purchasing and installing a sufficiently tall antenna on my home property in order to broadcast. The technicians set the station up for automated broadcasting and I monitored it to ensure that we ran automated music 24/7, and broadcast an emergency alert at the top of each hour in order to remain in FCC compliance while I dealt with tragedies that were happening to me on a personal level. Music and the rights to play that music had to be paid for. Community volunteers recorded programs at no cost that could be added to the automated programming.
We stayed on the air. During that time I lost count of the number of people who offered to buy the station from me, or who tried to gain control in other ways. We were faith-based and the offers were not, so I never transferred the station because of that. In retrospect perhaps I should have. I took my faith-based stewardship responsibility very seriously during my ownership … perhaps too seriously.
But the most important point is this. A huge number of amazing people donated time, sweat, resources and prayers to WHYR(LP), and I don’t want that be forgotten. Originally WHYR branding was this: The HYR part was for a “higher” power, God.