By Adam R Jacobson
RBR + TVBR
A husband and wife who are not U.S. citizens but have been living in Alaska since 2006 have become the first foreigners to obtain FCC approval for 100% ownership of an AM or FM radio station.
In a Memorandum Opinion and Order and Declaratory Ruling released late Thursday by the FCC’s Media Bureau, 29 licenses held by four separate licensees can be transferred to the couple’s Frontier Media — a move that exceeds the 25% foreign indirect ownership benchmark by 75%.
In making its decision, FCC Media Bureau Acting Chief Michelle Carey ruled that the unopposed petition from Richard and Sharon Burns — the sole owners of Frontier Media — “will serve the public interest.”
The story of the Burns’ quest to consolidate the licenses of the 29 AMs and FMs held by four licenses, for which they maintain 20% total ownership, first emerged in July 2016, when broker Cliff Gardiner, their broker, told RBR + TVBR their case was unusual.
The couple moved to Juneau, Alaska’s state capitol, in 2006 to manage stations owned by Roy Paschal. They have managed the stations for several years. In their petition, it states that Richard Burns managed the Alaska stations for 11 years and the Texarkana stations for four years, and that they understand FCC rules.
Granting the request, they say, poses “no national security or other threat” to the U.S., they added in “MB Docket 16-212,” which saw the FCC take public comments on their petition through Aug. 5, 2016.
There were no complaints, or charges to put up a virtual “border wall” to protect the nation’s airwaves.
In fact, the only headlines involving the Burns, and Paschal, in recent weeks involved a post-Inauguration Day protest in which pop star Madonna suggested that the White House be blown up — comments made in an expletive-filled tirade shown on national television.
How were the Burns involved? Class A KTTY-FM 105.1 “Hits 105” in Texarkana, Ark., owned by Texarkana Radio Center Licenses — one of the four licensees for which the Burns have 20% ownership — issued a ban on Madonna records that GM Terry Thomas said was “a matter of patriotism.”
OnStage magazine picked up on the irony of the decision, given the Burns’ status: They have held E-3 specialty occupation visas and have used them to live and work in the U.S. for more than a decade.
Other than that, the Burns, and their foreign ownership petition, stayed out of the press and the public eye — until now.
With the Media Bureau ruling, the couple will move forward with consolidating under Frontier Media seven AMs, eight FMs, 13 FM translators and 1 UHF translator currently held by the aforementioned Texarkana, Alaska Broadcast Communications, Juneau Alaska Communications, and Jo-Al Broadcasting.
This will see the Burns acquiring the remaining 80% of the ownership interests in the four licensees, currently held by Roy Paschal and Jason Paschal. After the proposed transaction, the Burnses would hold 100% of the ownership interests in Frontier and, through Frontier, would indirectly own 100% of the interests in the licensees.
The ruling follows recent FCC decisions that loosen foreign ownership, but this is the first that allows for full ownership by a non-citizen. The FCC on Jan. 3 gave Univision Communications and Mexican media goliath Grupo Televisa a huge New Year’s gift by agreeing that the public interest would be served by permitting foreign ownership of Univision beyond the federally mandated limit of 25%. This petition was also unopposed.
In its Declaratory Ruling, the FCC’s Media Bureau noted that it has ruled on only one petition for declaratory ruling regarding foreign ownership in the broadcast context since the 2013 Broadcast Clarification Order. That ruling centered on Pandora Media‘s acquisition of KXMZ-FM in Box Elder, S. Dakota. As the FCC approved Pandora’s request to exceed the 25% foreign ownership limit, it ruled that Univision could also do so.
Just weeks later, the FCC’s Media Bureau granted Hemisphere Media Group, owner of such Spanish-language pay-TV channels as WAPA América and Cinelatino, permission for 49.99% foreign equity and voter interests. This company’s petition was unopposed.
Thus, the Commission and its Media Bureau have employed a level of scrutiny to its loosening of foreign ownership. With Frontier, two individuals who have been active parts of broadcast properties in the U.S. for over a decade — in two states — passed muster. With Univision and Hemisphere, foreign investment will help the public interest — Hispanic media consumers — with a boost in dollars from across Iberoamérica.
It therefore remains to be seen if a Canadian broadcast media giant such as Rogers Media or Newcap Radio could swoop in from the north and buy border-market stations deemed strategic. At the same time, Grupo Radio Centro‘s ability to take 100% ownership of KXOS-FM 93.9 in Los Angeles could be bigger than ever.
For now, the Burns may just need to celebrate the Media Bureau’s ruling with some Texas BBQ, some wild salmon, and a bottle of Jacob’s Creek Reserve Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir.