FCC 375

Call it a move of mercy. The Federal Communications Commission has agreed to reinstate the licenses of two AMs—one in Alabama the other in Tennessee—after previously refusing to renew a pair of licenses after the owners failed to pay their regulatory fees. But while Shelley Broadcasting and Metropolitan Management have a second chance, the FCC says they’re still on the hook for the unpaid fees.

In the case of Shelley Broadcasting, it says a decades-long dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over what it believes is a large refund check it is due is the problem. Shelley president Jack Mizell told the FCC that while it would like to pay the regulatory fees for talk WGEA, Geneva, AL (1150), it doesn’t have the money without the IRS refund in hand. The lack of payment of annual fees between 2009 and 2016 led the Media Bureau to cancel the station’s license in April 2017 and delete the call sign from the FCC’s database under the agency’s “red light” rules which prohibit grant of an application when a licensee is delinquent on debts owed to the Commission.

But Audio Division chief Albert Shuldiner has now reversed that order, at least temporarily, saying the FCC’s death sentence was “premature,” especially given the fact Shelley had entered into an installment payment plan and had already made eight payments. Shuldiner’s order says the FCC still considers outstanding debts to be a “serious matter” and the FCC has also ordered Shelley to pay the $9,974 it owes the agency.

It’s a somewhat similar story for Metropolitan Management, which had its license for urban AC “Power 1580” WNPZ, Knoxville, TN cancelled in June 2017 when it failed to pay the $34,072 it owed in annual regulatory fees. It had fallen behind on what it owed and while it was also on a payment plan with the FCC, the economic fate of the AM made that unsustainable and it had its license renewal rejected.

In a petition seeking reinstatement, Metropolitan says reinstating WNPZ would be in the public interest because it’s a“100% minority-owned” broadcaster and cancellation of the station’s license would limit the number of minority-owned broadcast facilities in the market.

Shuldiner dismisses that argument, but he again concludes the Media Bureau was too hasty in its decision to cancel WNPZ’s license. But he also orders Metropolitan to pay the fees it owes, covering a period from 2005 to 2017.

Even as both Shelley Broadcasting and Metropolitan Management are cleared to return to the airwaves, both still owe the FCC thousands of dollars. The reinstatement gives them a fresh opportunity to file requests that the outstanding fees be waived or deferred. In the meantime the amount each owes continues to tick higher. The FCC is required under federal law to charge a 25% late payment penalty for any fee not paid on time.