FCC Pops Unstaffed Station for $25,000

WASHINGTON: A Florida broadcaster is being fined $25,000 for not having full-time staff at its main studio, and for neglecting its public inspection file.

The Federal Communications Commission found WRHB-AM of Leesburg, Fla., in willful violation of rules pertaining to staffing and public records. The station, owned by Rama Communications, is managed under a local marketing agreement with another company, Heartbeat Radio.

“On Sept. 3, 2009, in response to a complaint, agents from the Enforcement Bureau’s Tampa Office conducted an inspection during normal business hours of AM station WRHB’s main studio and transmitter location,” the Notice of Apparent Liability states. “During the inspection, agents from the Tampa Office questioned all of the individuals present at the main studio, and each stated that they were employed by Heartbeat Radio. No managerial or staff personnel employed by Rama were present at the main studio or at the transmitter site.”

Field agents also asked to inspect WRHB’s public file, which hadn’t been updated since June of 2007. When the agents returned to the station a month later, they questioned the two people present in the main studio, one of whom was brought in by Rama two weeks prior. She also “did not appear to have any managerial authority over the station,” the notice said.

FCC rules state that licensees “must, at a minimum, maintain full-time managerial and full-time staff.” All radio, full-power and Class A TV stations also have to keep a public inspection file containing, among other things, a program list that’s updated every three months and any time-brokerage contracts.

“The fact that this station, like so many others in this time of economic upheaval, was operating under an LMA highlights what the FCC has said so many times in the past about the staffing of such stations,” said media attorney David Oxenford of David Wright Tremaine LLP. “A station licensee cannot just sign an LMA, and leave the station to the control of the program provider. Instead, the licensee must oversee the operations of the station, and have its own employees physically present at the station on a day-to-day basis to do so.”
-- Deborah D. McAdams