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Trust, But Verify — Even When You Call the Commission

A Missouri NCE station learns that a filing error can be costly

“Parties relying on informal discussions with commission staff do so at their own risk.”

That’s a lesson the FCC is reiterating in upholding a fine against a noncom educational station in Missouri. A paperwork error five years ago is going to end up costing KRNW(FM) $5,000, though that is a 28% reduction from the original 2007 fine.

The penalty is for failing to file a license renewal properly. The chief of the Audio Division of the Media Bureau has ruled in the case this week, after an appeal filed by the station.

The station in Chillicothe is licensed to Northwest Missouri State University. Its case started with the expiration of the license in early 2005; the station didn’t file properly until two weeks later, and it didn’t seek an STA to operate then or give a reason for the failure to file on time, according to the commission.

The college, which also owns KXCV(FM), appealed. It argued that the fine was unfair because it did in fact try to renew properly. It said FCC staff had told the station manager to file both station renewals on the same form, and the manager did so.

But this argument didn’t win the day. “While the commission allows for some stations to file on the same form, the manager should have filed, as she did in the past, a separate renewal application for the station,” the FCC now has ruled. “Commission precedent has established that parties relying on informal discussions with commission staff do so at their own risk. The commission may still enforce its rules despite the public’s reliance on allegedly erroneous staff advice.”

Further, it said, the instructions on Form 303-S make clear that only associated translators may be included in a primary station’s license renewal, not other full-service stations.

The FCC did reduce the fine based on the station’s good-faith efforts “by attempting to timely file a renewal application for the station, as demonstrated by the fact that it referenced the station in KXCV(FM)’s renewal application, and by contacting staff when it realized that the station’s renewal may not have been properly filed.”

But it rejected an argument that the station’s noncommercial status should argue in favor of reducing the fine.