News-Talker 890 WLS-AM Chicago, which came to Cumulus via its acquisition of Citadel, has just been hit with a substantial FCC fine for running material for which it received valuable consideration without revealing that this was the case. The sponsor in this case was identified, and Cumulus hoped that would get it out of the fine – however, the sponsor was not identified AS the sponsor, and therein lay the rub.
At issue was material which WLS was paid to run by Workers Independent News. A specific spot run 3/19/09 drew the initial FCC complaint, and the station admitted it ran a great deal of material for WIN between 3/19/09 and 5/30/09. In fact it ran “45 ninety-second spots, 27 fifteen-second promotional announcements, 2 two-hour programs, and 1 one-hour program.”
The licensee and the FCC agree that the material was properly identified as bought-and-paid-for in all except 11 of the 90-second spots. The buyer was identified at the top – a sample script began, “Workers Independent News, I’m Doug Cunningham.” But the script never got around to making it obvious that it was running in exchange for valuable consideration.
Cumulus said the WIN identification was enough to satisfy the ID requirement, and also said it was run with other advertisements rather than embedded in the station’s regular programming.
The FCC disagreed, saying there was no reason for any listener to suspect they were hearing an ad. Rather, given the buyer’s name, it “implies or creates the impression of an objective news program rather than an attempt at persuasion.”
The base fine for this violation is $4K. The FCC multiplied that by 11 occurrences and hit WLS with a $44K fine.