FCC Gives College Stations a Break

Posted on June 5th, 2013 by

Because of low budgets and high staff turnover as well as a desire to foster continued interest and training in broadcasting by the younger generation, the FCC has announced a new and more lenient enforcement policy for certain rule violations by college radio stations that are student-run. The new policy is significant and groundbreaking, and reverses a decade-long trend of higher and higher fines. The new policy is limited in scope, so understanding it is a bit tricky.

The first limitation deals with the station itself. It must be a noncommercial station licensed to an educational institution (or an entity controlled by one) and be “primarily student-run.” That last phrase means that college students must fill all the positions at the station except for a faculty advisor. The FCC’s Order refers to student “volunteers,” so paid students might disqualify the station.

The second limitation deals with the rules involved. Leniency will only apply for violations of rules involving “the submission of reports and other materials or public notice of information”. So, for example, the ownership report rule, the issues/programs list rule, and requirements for local public notice by stations would all qualify for leniency. The FCC makes clear that the new policy won’t apply to improper or undisclosed underwriting announcements, misleading contests, engineering violations, or obscene/indecent broadcasts.

The third limitation is that violations of the applicable rule will not get a total free pass on the normal fine amount. Instead, the FCC will review the station budget, and offer a consent decree that may require some payment of a “voluntary contribution” to the US Treasury, and will include internal logging, monitoring and training obligations, the successful completion of which will have to be reported to the FCC in the form of certifications.

Finally, the new policy will apply only one time to a college station. Repeat offenses will not be entitled to the new “leniency” policy.

The FCC’s change came about as it considered rule violations by KIGC(FM) in Iowa, a student-run station, which filed for renewal but had not filed ownership reports on time and had neglected its quarterly issues/programs list obligations. Faced with fines in excess of $20,000, and an annual budget of only $6,650, the station risked being shut down altogether. In exchange for the consent decree and a $2500 contribution, the station became the first in FCC history to receive leniency under the new policy.