President Trump knows a little something about run-ins with the Internal Revenue Service and so an Alabama broadcaster is appealing to the White House for help in its decades-long battle with the taxman. The money is desperately needed by Shelley Broadcasting since the Federal Communications Commission has just revoked the license for the currently-silent WGEA, Geneva, AL (1150) after it failed to pay the $9,974 in annual fees it owes.
The FCC says Shelley Broadcasting failed to pay its annual fees between 2009 and 2016 which in April 2017 led the Media Bureau to cancel the license for WGEA 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 in June reversed that decision 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. And the license for the station that’s part of the Dothan, AL market was reinstated.
Shelley Broadcasting owner Jack Mizell has said he’s been unable to pay the FCC annual fees since the IRS has refused to refund $323,566 he believes he and his wife are owed. The battle with the IRS dates to 1987 when he says the agency acknowledged the error and pledged to refund the money within two weeks. But 32 years later no check has come in the mail.
That’s where the Presidential appeal comes in. In a letter to President Trump, Mizell said that if he were to finally receive his refund, the money would be used to pay the FCC annual fee. Mizell also said that he wanted to get WGEA back on the air saying it was only because vandals “invaded the studio” earlier in April, ransacking the building and taking equipment, including the transmitter that has caused WGEA to be silenced.
So far the White House hasn’t intervened and the Media Bureau has run out of patience. In an order released Tuesday, the Bureau said that while it recognizes that Mizell has tied his inability to pay the delinquent fees until the IRS refund arrives, the claim remains unsubstantiated despite years of back and forth between the agency and the station. The Bureau says Mizell has failed to provide the FCC with any of the required documentation to show it’s unable to pay the fees. “Shelley Broadcasting has not met its burden of showing extraordinary and compelling circumstances outweighing the public interest to justify a waiver of its outstanding regulatory fee obligations,” Bureau Chief Michelle Carey wrote in the order.
The result is the FCC has again revoked the license for WGEA and told the station that it must cease operations immediately. Since WGEA is already off the air that shouldn’t have much impact on local listeners.
WGEA signed-on March 17, 1953 by the family that owned the Geneva County (AL) Reaper newspaper. Shelley bought the station and its FM sister, what’s now WPHH, Hope Hull, AL (93.5) in 1987. When he ran into financial difficulties during the Great Recession, Mizell spun-off the FM and through a series of moves WPHH moved out of the Dothan radio market and into the Montgomery market.