A Fort Collins-Greeley, CO market low-power FM has been slapped with a $15,000 fine by the Federal Communications Commission after it determined the station aired more than 1,600 commercials promoting a variety of products and services during a three-month period in 2018. The FCC says adult standards “Pirate Radio 104.7” KELS-LP violated the Commission’s rules prohibiting commercial advertisements on noncommercial educational stations.
KELS-LP first came on the radar of the Enforcement Bureau in 2015 when several complaints were lodged about license holder Plymouth Gathering essentially operating the noncommercial station as a commercial station. In September 2018 field agents at the Colorado field office paid a visit to the station and recorded a segment of programming. The transcript of that tape revealed 14 different announcements that went beyond the limits put on traditional underwriting spots allowed for noncommercial radio. The ads were for local restaurants, a shoe store, a jeweler, realtors, auto repair shops, home repair shops, and a pet grooming service, among other local businesses.
“None of the foregoing announcements are permissible,” wrote Enforcement Bureau Chief Rosemary Harold in the forfeiture order, explaining each spot had “clearly promotional” language. “Each announcement refers either to specific qualities or attributes of the respective underwriters and their products and seeks to distinguish them from competitors or contains language of inducement,” she said. Harold also noted that KELS-LP did not dispute the accuracy of the transcripts when presented with the evidence.
The result is a tentative $15,000 fine against the LPFM. Plymouth Gathering now has thirty days to pay the fine or file a response that explains why the penalty should be reduced or canceled.
Shorter Is Safer
In the Bureau’s decision, Harold also offers some guidelines for noncommercial stations, including LPFMs, about what sort of copy points should not be included in their underwriting announcements. While brand or store names can be acknowledged for contributing to a station, the FCC rules say those mentions cannot promote the contributors’ products, services, or business in general. The underwriting mentions also cannot include comparative or qualitative descriptions; price information (sales or discounts); calls to action; inducements to buy, sell, rent, or lease; and excessively detailed “menu listings” of services offered by the entity.
“The Commission has found that the longer the announcement, the more likely it is to contain material that is inconsistent with its ‘identification only” purpose,” said Harold. “The Commission expects that licensees exercise reasonable ‘good faith’ judgment in this area and affords some latitude to the judgments of licensees who do so,” she added.