Renewal Application Scheduled For Hearing

Posted on November 30th, 2016 by

The FCC has taken the unusual step of designating a radio station renewal application for hearing before an administrative law judge. As you might have perceived, that is bad. It essentially means that the station did not meet the minimum public interest standards necessary to have the application granted and, therefore, whether its license is renewed is now a question for a judge to decide. The FCC will act on the judge’s recommendation after the hearing proceedings are complete.

The designation of a renewal application for hearing is rare, and it is usually for some grievous error that calls into question the licensee’s fitness to be a licensee. In this case, the station sponsored a contest that involved drinking copious amounts of water, and one of the participants later died. As you may have surmised, the actions of the employees of the station – over whom the licensee is supposed to exercise control – are imputed to the licensee.

How the judge rules here will be interesting, as we are unaware of a prior license renewal hearing involving the outcome of a contest ending in the death of a participant. The potential outcome includes fines, a short-term renewal, or no renewal. The licensee’s oversight of the station and its employees will be a central issue as to whether it fulfilled its duties as an FCC licensee. In addition, the appropriateness of the contest rule disclosures made by the station – which did not include any mention of risks associated with the contest or water intoxication – will be examined closely. There is a separate lawsuit pending related to the death of the participant, a mother of three. The precise details of the case can be found in the 36-page hearing designation order.

This case is a good reminder that licensees are required to oversee station personnel and are responsible for the actions they take in any area of station operations. The consequences for not doing so can be severe. In addition, compliance with the FCC’s contest disclosure rules should be paramount in any contest a station conducts.