FCC Designates FM Station for 'Paper' Hearing

The FCC has quietly voted to designate a radio station license for hearing. That means the station owner will have to provide evidence of why the FCC should not revoke its license for failure to operate the station for long periods of time.

The agenda for the FCC's May 10 meeting had included the rather cryptic line item: "Media; title Hearing Designation Order: The Commission will consider a Hearing Designation Order."

That whetted the curiosity of some FCC watchers.

Related: FCC USF Fund Transfer Troubles Dems

The item was deleted from the agenda Monday, May 7 without elaboration, as is the case with such items.

According to the hearing designation, at issue is whether Family Voice Communications (FVC) should keep the license for KFSX (FM) Rozet, Wyo.

But rather than a "trial-type evidentiary hearing" before the FCC's Administrative Law Judge, with its "lengthy and resource-intensive procedural requirements," the FCC will conduct a "paper hearing," with FVC required to make its case in writing--no more than 25 pages--and other interested parties getting 30 more days to file responses, then 10 more days for FVC to rebut (no longer than 10 pages). FVC can also immediately challenge the hearing designation. 

That is because the basic duty of a licensee, radio or TV, is to serve the public and, by FVC's own reckoning (per a series of filings for special temporary authority, that it was only on the air for a few handfuls of days between signing on in November 2010 and Aug. 27, 2017 (2,643 days off the air versus 142 on the air).

The station has been on the air continuously since Aug. 27, but the FCC points out that that the August re-start came soon after the FCC designated for hearing other stations with similar periods of inactivity.

The FCC is concerned about a pattern of brief periods on the air followed by long stretches off it given that discontinuous operation for more than 12 months at a time is cause for losing a license per the 1996 Communications Act. Following that change, "some licensees of silent stations have adopted a practice of resuming operation for a short period of time, in some cases as little as a day or less, before the one-year limit in Section 312(g) applies and the station license automatically expires," the FCC said. "Other stations have alternated between periods of silence and operations with minimal power levels—in some cases as low as five watts—that cover a small portion of their service areas and may be insufficient to allow them to provide service to their communities of license."

KFSX's pattern was to be off all but a few days each year, or what the FCC called "brief alleged operations followed by extended periods of silence."

While the FCC says it would not have to conduct a hearing in this case, it appears to be looking to set down a marker about discontinued operations that attempt to meet the letter rather than the spirit of the rule.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.