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FCC Backs Off on EAS Fine

WASHINGTON: The Federal Communications Commission reversed itself on a broadcast fine involving the Emergency Alert System. KWVE-FM of San Clemente, Calif., was fined $5,000 in September for conducting a monthly EAS test instead of the required weekly one. KWVE is a local primary, or LP-1, EAS broadcaster, monitored by TV and radio stations and cable systems for tests and alerts. It ran the offending test in October of 2008. KWVE’s chief engineer, Marcos O’Rourke, is the chairman of the area’s EAS committee, according to BDR. He said a label on the automation computer confused an operator, who then failed to send the end-of-message code. Stations that were passing through the alert ended up broadcasting KWVE’s audio, resulting in a complaint to the FCC.

“Since we’re a religious station we had a spot for our church and then a promo for our Spanish HD-2 channel,” O’Rourke said. “A viewer on one of our local cable systems was offended by the religious material and complained to the FCC.”

He said personnel have since been retrained on the system. KWVE, owned by Calvary Chapel, protested the fine as did 50 state broadcast organizations. FCC rules state that such fines are based on “willful” violations, which the collective of organizations said KWVE’s definitely was not. In a letter to the FCC, the group noted that LP-1s volunteered to be part of the EAS chain, and that the fine could jeopardize participation.

The FCC rescinded the fine and instead issued an admonishment.

“In taking this action, we are mindful of the unique circumstances at issue, including the voluntary and critical nature of the service provided by local primary stations in enabling statewide EAS activity, as well as the isolated nature of the particular violation, which occurred while Calvary Chapel was conducting regularly scheduled mandatory testing designed to identify problems prior to a real emergency or natural disaster,” the commission’s order stated. “Thus, while we seek strict compliance in the EAS arena given the national interests at stake, and while no one factor standing alone would justify modification of the proposed NAL, we conclude after further consideration of the totality of the evidence that a different approach is warranted in this limited instance.”