A station can’t really serve the public interest if it’s off the air, and being silent for long stretches of time calls into question whether a licensee is warehousing spectrum, according to the FCC.
Those are the kinds of broad themes surrounding a case involving LKCM Radio Group, licensee of KOME(FM), Meridian, Texas.
LKCM Radio Group is apparently liable for a $4,000 fine and is receiving a shortened two-year rather than the full eight-year term for its license renewal, according to the commission.
The FCC recommended the penalty because the agency says KOME has missing documents in its public inspection file and “failed to meet the public service commitment expected of licensees due to its repeated and prolonged periods of silence during the license term,” according to the decision this week.
On its license renewal application, KOME answered “no” truthfully when asked to certify whether the station had the required number of quarterly issues/programs lists in its public file, noting the documents through 2010 were missing.
KOME was off the air for much of 2011 and 2012 while it looked for a new transmitter site, experienced interference, and then silent again while it resumed the search for a new transmitter site. The licensee assured the commission the station has new operating procedures in place to ensure proper documentation is now placed on time into the public inspection file.
If a station is off the air for a consecutive 12-month period, its license expires at the end of that period. The point is to ensure that “scarce broadcast spectrum does not lie fallow and unavailable to others” who can serve the public, according to the FCC. In this case, the station had two STAs for two periods of nearly a year for each and less than 30 days of operation between those two periods; altogether, KOME was silent for nearly half of its license term, according to the commission.
“Silence instead of licensed operation is a fundamental failure to serve station’s community of license, because a silent station offers that community no public service programming such as news, public affairs, weather information, and Emergency Alert System notifications. Moreover, brief periods of station operation sandwiched between prolonged periods of silence are of little value because the local audience is not accustomed to tuning into the station’s frequency,” states the FCC.
The commission has told licensees before they have a “very heavy burden” in demonstrating they’ve served the public when the station has been off the air for most of the licensing term. Though the agency encourages such stations to return to air, its policy “does not give any weight to efforts to return a station to full-time operation in the future,” according to the commission.
Here, the Media Bureau says LKCM Radio Group’s conduct “has fallen far short” of what is expected for a routine license renewal and that’s why, if nothing else crops up, the agency is granting the shortened license term separately, after the fine is processed.
LKCM Radio Group has 30 days to appeal, or pay the fine.