Post-Facto Piracy: Not So Bad

I just updated the Enforcement Action Database: FCC field agents really went on a tear in July, and they are on pace to meet or beat their enforcement record set just last year.
But the really interesting cases I found involved stations who were licensed, let them lapse, and then just kept running as if nothing was amiss.
The first involves the Christian Family Network in Battle Creek, MI. Until just last month, CFN ran an AM station, WOLY. The station first went on the air in 1963. Unfortunately, the organization let its license lapse in October of 2004.
For nearly two years, Christian Family Network continued to run WOLY without any license at all. In 2007, the FCC contacted the station to remind them that, um, they’re pirates now. CFN filed an application for Special Temporary Authority to continue broadcasting, but never received acknowledgement from the FCC, and never got around to re-filing for that all-important actual license.
In July, the FCC finally fined Christian Family Network $10,000 – for effectively running a full-power AM unlicensed radio station for four straight years. In an ironic argument, CFN says it wasn’t able to file for a new license to cover WOLY-AM because it didn’t have a computer. Nice try: the FCC still accepts forms via papyrus – you know, the stuff the Bible was written on. Chances are, you’ve got some of that laying around your offices, probably with your own letterhead pre-printed on them.
Secondly, CFN pleaded poverty – not because it’s actually poor, but because it fears that the FCC’s $10,000 penalty may jeopardize “assets worth more than $1,000,000” currently held by the organization. No surprise: appeal denied.
Secondly, there’s the case of A-O Broadcasting Corporation. A-O used to hold the rights to KMTN-FM in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. At the end of 2002, KMTN’s license also lapsed, and A-O did not renew. Yet, in April of 2004, KMTN magically returned to the airwaves, sans license.
The station stayed on the air for nearly a month, navigating a warren of correspondence with the FCC until finally agreeing to silence its rogue signal. In late April of this year, the Enforcement Bureau issued a $10,000 Notice of Apparent Liability to A-O Broadcasting for effectively running a pirate radio station.
Last month, however, the FCC cancelled A-O Broadcasting’s pirate penalty. Why? Inability to pay – this is a common statutory consideration the FCC must make when considering the range of reprimand for offenders of its rules, but A-O Broadcasting finds itself in dire straits precisely due to a previous run-in with the FCC.
Back in 2004, KMTN was caught running a very dangerous broadcast operation – so dangerous that anyone straying too close to its transmission tower risked being exposed to more than three times the RF radiation limits set by law. And that was with the station operating at less than its half of its licensed power of 100,000 watts. This transgression cost A-O Broadcasting a steep $28,000 fine.
Unable to pay the previous penalty, A-O Broadcasting pleaded poverty this time around. The FCC bought it.
What is wrong with these situations? In both cases, operators of these pirate stations previously held licenses – they were well-aware of the rules and what it took to keep their stations within the bounds of legality. Christian Family Network simply disregarded the rules for several years running, and in light of that their penalty smacks of a slap on the wrist.
In the case of A-O Broadcasting, isn’t there something a bit strange about the FCC repealing a penalty because the party at hand already has such a bad record? Aren’t those the types of entities that the rules are precisely designed to stick it to?
Again, compared to your garden-variety free radio station, these two violators went far beyond the pale – yet their penalties do not reflect the egregiousness of their actions. Just more evidence that corporate piracy still pays.