FCC goes pedal to metal on AM station studio presence fine


A station serving the Catholic community in the Wilkes Barre-Scranton PA market was found without any personnel at its Olyphant PA studio, and it still lacked a presence when the FCC made a return visit about three weeks later. The upshot is a somewhat inflated fine for WQOR-AM licensee J.M.J. Radio Inc.

The station was acquired by the non-profit in a $100K deal with Holy Family Communications filed with the FCC 12/19/07. It primarily broadcasts programming from Catholic network EWTN.

The FCC said that an agent from its Philadelphia office went to Olyphant to make a routine inspection of the station, which is located in a building at St. Joseph Oblate Seminary. The agent was assisted by a church employee who had to unlock the studio door and who said that there was no regular employee assigned to the station. An engineer was said to visit about once a week to check EAS and make any necessary repairs.

The agent advised them that somebody had to be on duty at the station during regular business hours.
A return trip 12/17/10 yielded the same locked door and unattended studio.

The FCC noted that its standards in this regard include some flexibility, saying, “Although management personnel need not be ‘chained to their desks’ during normal business hours, they must ‘report to work at the main studio on a daily basis, spend a substantial amount of time there and…use the studio as a ‘home base.’”

The FCC said the normal fine for this violation is $7K, but since the station failed to correct the matter after the November inspection, it decided that an upward adjustment was warranted, and hit WQOR with a $10K fine. It also has to submit a sworn statement to the FCC within 30 days that it is in compliance with the main studio requirement. It still has an opportunity to appeal.

RBR-TVBR observation: For a station running a national network, and not concerned with selling local advertising, the regularly-scheduled check-ups from a contract engineer may be all that’s needed. But it does not suggest that the station is not providing one of the FCC’s three broadcast goals, that of localism (it goes with diversity and competition).

However, just because programming comes in from out of market does not mean that it is not serving the local public interest. People everywhere want to hear Rush Limbaugh and others, and there are obviously people in Wilkes-Barre who want to hear EWTN.

Other religious noncoms frequently ask for main studio waivers. We would suggest that is something for J.M.J. to look into at its earliest opportunity.