American Tower

The future of four Jackson WY stations remains in limbo over a dispute between their owner, Rich Broadcasting, and American Tower Corp (ATC), which leases tower space to the broadcaster. ATC threatened to shut off power to the stations if the lease disagreement wasn’t resolved by March 8. The deadline came and went and the stations remain on the air.

Stations at the center of the dust-up are adult alternative “96.9 The Mountain” KMTN, classic hits “KZ95” KZJH and country KJAX (93.5)—all Class C1 FMs—and “Newsradio 950” KSGT. Each broadcasts from the Snow King Site in Bridger-Teton National Forest under oversight of the U.S. Forest Service.

At issue are unpaid tower rental fees due to ATC by the broadcaster, which says the tower company has threated to remove Rich’s equipment from the tower site and shut off its power if the $500,000 in disputed back rent and penalties aren’t paid. Rich filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last fall. The Utah bankruptcy court gave it and ATC until March 7 to reach an agreement over the unpaid fees.

But Rich Broadcasting principal Richard Mecham contends he owes less than $150,000, not $500,000, and that his current lease has expired and ATC is unwilling to negotiate new lease agreements at fair market value. He also argues that ATC is violating the communication site plan on file with the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

“Rich Broadcasting has been attempting to renegotiate new lease agreements with American Tower,” Mecham told Inside Radio. “Not only has American Tower made no effort to negotiate, they are threatening to take our stations dark in Jackson.”

Based on market research, Mecham say lease payments in markets the size of Jackson are $400-$750 per month per station while his payments are $3,000 per month per station.

Per the communication site plan with the Forest Service, no other facilities can be built on the site, Mecham says, and there are no other full power tower sites in Teton County that Rich can move to.

According to the site plan, fees and rents charged by ATC to its tenants are to be “consistent with, and not in excess of, other fees for similar facilities” and “reflective of standard and business accounting practices in regards to return on investment and profit.”

In a Mar. 3 letter to Dale Deiter, Jackson District Ranger, United States Forest Service, ATC disputes Mecham’s claim that its current dealings with Rich constitute a breach of its agreement with the Forest Service. Fees ATC charges Rich “are at or near comparable market rates,” ATC claims. Despite Jackson’s relatively small market size, Rich’s installations have commercial licenses, broadcast at high power and have large equipment on both the tower and ground, the tower company says. “Combined, these factors dictate a higher rental rate,” ATC says, adding that the rates it charges Rich “are commensurate with Rich Broadcasting’s use and occupancy of the site” and are “consistent with (if not lower than) fees for similar facilities.”

In its response to ATC, Rich claims markets with the same or higher FM classification, the same number of antenna bays, and 5-29 times the population/coverage area are paying $500-$2,000 per month.

Based on ATC’s criteria for determining a lease payment, KZJH and KMTN should be paying less than $750 per month, Rich contends.

Both parties claim that the other side has not made attempts to contact the other for further negotiation, leaving the fate of the stations, which include the market’s primary EAS station, at a legal standstill. Meacham says he is trying to arrange a meeting with the Salt Lake City legislative aide to Sen. Orin Hatch and Nora Rasure, the Intermountain Regional Forester.

Rich bought the stations in Apr. 2013. The previous owner, Jerry Lundquist’s Chaparral Broadcasting, had also owned the tower site. Chaparral sold the tower site to ATC.