Fine time: Semantics debate with FCC fails again


Saga Communications’ Springfield MA station WAQY-FM was tardy getting prizes to a contest winner, resulting in a $4K fine for failing to live up to the contest’s announced terms. Saga made good on its obligations to the winner, but its plea to the FCC for mercy fell on deaf ears.

Saga pinned its hopes on a pair of words: “reasonable” and “willful.” However, if you are a veteran reader of RBR, you already know that getting into a semantics battle with the FCC is never ever productive.

In this case, the lucky winner of the WAQY-FM contest was to receive a two-year lease on a 2005 Buick or its cash equivalent, plus a “trunk load full” of Aerosmith memorabilia.

The victory occurred 7/19/05, and by contest rules Saga was to pay off on 7/22/05. However, it did not come through with the monetary portion of the prize until 8/18/05, and as of 12/31/05, the winner still hadn’t received the trunk full of goodies. At that point he complained to the FCC.

Saga came through with the goodies and then some to make up for being late – it claimed it was an oversight/error.

And it argued against the $4K NAL, saying that delivering part one of the prize within a month or so was “reasonable” and that since nobody deliberately set out to deprive the winner of the other part of the prize, that it was not “willful.”

The FCC, as usual, said that the rules are the rules, and anything delivered after the due date was a violation, regardless of intent. The fine sticks.

RBR-TVBR observation: It simply does no good to go to the FCC with a dictionary and/or thesaurus in hand. We might suggest, however, that the FCC cease using the word “willful” when it hits somebody with an NAL, since it seems to cause a great deal of confusion.

If the FCC just says Station X violated section blankety-blank of the Communications Act and hits it with a fine, that’s pretty clear cut. When it says the station “willfully” did it, many of them say, no way, it was an accident, an oversight –we did not set out to violate the blankety-blank provision as the FCC seems to think.

If the FCC’s attorneys or bureaucrats would simply fall out of love with the word “willful,” we’ll bet a lot more stations would realize they were caught, just like you know it when you’re pulled over for speeding, and would simply apologize and pay up – hoping extreme courtesy will result in some kind of break from the arresting officer/bureaucrat. (Helpful hint – sometimes the FCC does give a partial monetary break for candor on top of an excellent past record of compliance.)

Instead, when the station sees the word “willful,” it is inclined to protest. If the FCC simply stops using it, we believe far fewer stations would contest the NAL, and the FCC and by extension, the American people, including you, Dear Reader, would be spared the expense of handing the contested NAL.