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St. Bonaventure Will Have to Pay $7,000

School station hadn’t realized its license expired four years earlier

This FCC enforcement case offers a lesson or two of interest, particularly to school-owned radio stations.

Just because your station is run by students and has a lot of annual turnover doesn’t excuse you from following FCC license renewal rules. And, you’d better not count on the FCC to remind you when your license is about to expire.

St. Bonaventure University in New York will have to pay a $7,000 fine after the FCC rejected an appeal. The Audio Division of the Media Bureau ruled that the school must pay for failing to file license renewal applications for WSBU(FM) in a timely way and for engaging in unauthorized operation. It upheld a notice of apparent liability issued last fall.

As RW has reported, the FCC first wrote to WSBU in 2010 informing it that the station license had expired more than four years earlier and that it had been operating without authorization since. The station (after getting a quick STA lined up to keep operating) explained that it is student-run, with yearly staff turnover, and that nobody still at the station in 2010 would have been around to receive any license renewal notification in 2006.

The FCC last fall issued the NAL but reduced the fine from the usual $10,000 to $7,000. (It did also approve the station’s license renewal.)

But the school then argued that the fine should be reduced further or cancelled. These violations were inadvertent, it said. It had no notice of the filing deadline or the lapsed license. Also, the school had self-reported the issue and took corrective measures; and further it operated the station as a not-for-profit entity. A $7,000 fine would require an increase in fees to students.

But the commission has now rejected a further reduction or cancellation. It reiterated that being unfamiliar with your renewal application deadline due to station staff changes doesn’t excuse a failure to file your license renewal application on time. Also, “Correspondence reminding a licensee that a renewal deadline is approaching is a mere courtesy and does not in any way change the licensee’s obligation to file a renewal application before the deadline.”

The FCC rejected the other arguments as well, saying the station had disclosed the problem only after it received the expiration letter. Also, stations don’t qualify for reductions of fines just because they’re noncom educational. And, the FCC said, when considering a claim of financial hardship, it considers not the station’s ability to pay, but the licensee’s ability to pay; in this case the university gave no documentation to support a claim of financial hardship, it ruled.