The group that pushed the Federal Communications Commission to hold a hearing into whether Entercom should be given a new license for Sacramento CHR “107.9 The End” KDND is declaring victory after the company announced it will turn in the station’s license. The Media Action Center (MAC) calls the decision a “victory for public interest” and says its battle against the company continues.
Entercom spent the weekend alerting listeners that “The End” format will live-on at a new dial position as it takes over what has been hot AC “Star 106.5” KUDL, which has been the company’s lowest-rated FM in the cluster. In a brief filing with the Commission on Friday, Entercom’s attorney said they plan to power down KDND this Wed., Feb. 8, and then hand in the license with a request that the station authorization be canceled. The company makes no explicit mention of the situation that put KDND at risk.
The FCC announced in October that a decision about whether KDND would be granted a new license would go before an Administrative Law judge. At issue is the station’s 2007 “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest, which led to one of the contestants, Jennifer Strange, 28, dying of water intoxication. MAC argued KDND’s sister Sacramento stations “operated under the same management, practices and resource constraints” and should also be subject to license revocation.
But letting go of KDND moved from a painful prospect to a means to a larger end last week when Entercom announced it would acquire CBS Radio. That deal would give the company four more FMs in the Sacramento market than current FCC rules allow. By turning in the KDND license it now only needs to find buyers for three FMs. Entercom hasn’t identified which stations it plans to spin off.
Chief FCC Administrative Law judge Richard Sippel still hasn’t ruled on a request by MAC to enlarge the case and consider whether Entercom should lose the licenses for all the stations in its Sacramento cluster. MAC director Sue Wilson says she’s pushing forward with that effort regardless of the fact that the company plans to surrender KDND.
“To conclude that Entercom is the good guy here ignores the fact that rather than surrendering their license upon the FCC Hearing Designation Order, they have instead litigated this issue with a huge team of expensive attorneys,” Wilson says. “Only now that the FCC must approve the company’s pending merger with CBS Radio is this mega corporation doing the ‘right thing.’”
Entercom has called the death of Strange a “terrible tragedy” that runs against the broadcaster’s 49-year history. Ten employees were fired in January 2007 over the incident and in one of the few documents filed so far Entercom has provided the FCC with a list of on-air and promotions department staffers involved and what roles they played in the contest. It noted that although KDND employees had sought approval from the company’s legal department to conduct the contest, corporate attorneys never approved the promotion.
Even though it appears Entercom may step away from the experience with more Sacramento stations—not one FM less—the story remains a cautionary tale for broadcasters. The Strange family never filed a petition asking the FCC to deny KDND a new license—the family only sent a letter to the Commission in January 2007 that was critical of the station. But that set off a chain reaction inside the agency.
“I am grateful that due to the loss of this key station, FCC compliance issues will be on the minds of this and every broadcaster moving forward,” Wilson says.