As first reported by RBR+TVBR by way of a Breaking News e-mail distributed midday Tuesday (8/7), the FCC says Cumulus Media has violated the terms of a Consent Decree reached to civilly resolve a violation of the commission’s sponsorship ID rules.
While the matter originally involved a New Hampshire radio station, Cumulus is now being fingered for transgressions at two Motor City stations, in addition to properties in the Michigan markets of Flint and Ann Arbor. A Macon, Ga., AM is also on the hot seat.
The August 6 Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture in the amount of $233,000 is being handed to Cumulus, which has not commented on the matter, for “apparently failing repeatedly to air sponsorship identifications in violation of the Communications Act of 1934, on paid-for-broadcast programming,” the Commission said.
Further, it failed to timely notify the FCC about the violations — a requirement of Cumulus’ 2016 consent decree struck with the Commission’s Enforcement Bureau.
The trouble dates to 2011, and a problem tied to WOKQ-FM in Dover, N.H., today owned by Townsquare Media. The station aired 178 announcements supporting a hydro-electric energy project without specifying that the company with a financial interest in the project was actually behinds the ads.
In January 2016, Cumulus agreed to resolve the matter by paying a $540,000 civil penalty — the largest single amount for a single-station violation of the agency’s sponsorship ID laws — and agree to a compliance plan.
Now, the Commission says, the compliance plan’s terms were violated by Cumulus.
But, the violations weren’t at WOKQ.
As Radio Ink reported early Wednesday, Cumulus in January 2018 notified the Commission that one non-compliant spot sponsored by Relevant Sports LLC aired 13 times on six stations in Michigan in 2017.
Those stations are WDRQ-FM & WDVD-FM in Detroit, WTKA-AM & WWWW-FM in Ann Arbor and WTRX-AM & WFBE-FM in Flint.
The problem? Cumulus reported the violations eight months after the spots aired; the consent decree called for them to be reported 15 days after.
Then, in a May 2019 filing with the Media Bureau, Cumulus reported that a non-compliant ad concerning a Georgia gubernatorial candidate ran nine times on WMAC-AM in Macon on May 14, 2018, and four times on May 15, 2018, for a total of 13 times in May 2018.
While $233,000 is not chump change, Democratic FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks wanted the NAL to be even higher.
“From my time in the Enforcement Bureau, I know that these actions are significant and will not go unnoticed by savvy lawyers, who will undoubtedly refer to this case in future investigations,” he said. “I fear that the Commission’s action here will make it more difficult for us to impose significant penalties for consent decree violations in the future and will signal to industry that we do not take noncompliance seriously. This will undermine the deterrent effect of our enforcement actions and make it more difficult for the Enforcement Bureau to prosecute its important mission. For these reasons, I dissent.”
Meanwhile, Cumulus/Detroit’s VP/GM at the time of the incidents, is no longer with the company. Tom O’Brien retired at the end of 2018.