Two media watchdog groups will challenge the license renewal of Entercom’s KDND-FM Sacramento, which was held responsible for the 2009 death of a woman participating in a water-drinking contest. The now-infamous “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest had Jennifer Strange, then 28 and a mother of three, drinking as much water as possible in a three-hour period without going to the bathroom. She drank about two gallons of water and died as a result of apparent “water intoxication” – a dilution of body fluids leading to fatal changes in electrolyte levels.
A Sacramento County Superior Court jury awarded the woman’s husband and other plaintiffs a total of $16.57 million, largely in punitive damages.
The Sacramento Bee reports the Sacramento Media Group and the Media Action Center announced they intend to file legal challenges with the Commission before the 11/1 deadline to contest the station’s pending eight-year broadcast license renewal.
Media Action Center founder Sue Wilson, producer of a 2009 documentary, “Broadcast Blues,” that spotlighted Strange’s death, said the groups intend to formally serve papers challenging KDND’s license renewal when FCC commissioners meet in DC on 10/22. The group’s efforts were also supported by California Common Cause, which advocates on political transparency and media issues.
In a news conference at the Sacramento County courthouse, Wilson noted that a jury had held the radio station liable for Strange’s death, but the FCC has shown no inclination to go after its broadcast license – despite calls from the victim’s family for sanctions against the station.
“In that contest, a woman died,” Wilson said. “However, the Federal Communications Commission has not acted in any way.”
Kevin Geary, a spokesman Entercom said “the events in 2007 were tragic. Our thoughts remain with the family. We will respond to any petition filed with the FCC at the appropriate time.”
RBR-TVBR observation: In recent years, the FCC has been aggressively enforcing a policy requiring broadcasters to announce all material rules of a contest on the air enough times for a reasonable listener to hear the announcements. In March, the Commission issued a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) and subsequent Forfeiture Order for $4,000 against Journal Broadcast’s KJOT-FM Boise for broadcasting info about a contest “without fully and accurately disclosing all of its material terms.” But this is a bit different and probably didn’t break any specific rules on the books. The fact that the family was awarded $16.6 million for the incident will help the Commission consider that Entercom has already paid dearly for its mistake. It will fully consider these filings and could issue a fine, but we think KDND will keep its license.