In a warning to broadcasters about how seriously it is taking tower light violations, the Federal Communications Commission has fined the E.W. Scripps Co. $1.13 million for failing to monitor the lights on ten antenna structures in five states. “The Commission takes seriously its role in ensuring that antenna structures do not pose a hazard to air traffic,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief Rosemary Harold. “Monitoring lighting on these structures on a daily basis is a potentially life-saving measure critical to public safety,” she wrote in an order released Monday.
The towers are located in Billings, MT; Bozeman, MT; Great Falls, MT; San Luis Obispo, CA; Branch, LA; Kaplan, LA; Lexington, KY; Bishop, TX, Blanconia, TX; and Robstown, TX. According to the FCC, when the facilities were owned by Cordillera Communications, engineers failed to conduct required daily inspections of the lighting systems at ten antenna structures. They also failed to completely log a dozen lighting failures at seven antenna structures. And Cordillera also failed to notify the Commission that it bought two antenna structures. When Scripps bought Cordillera’s 15 stations for $521 million two years ago, it also inherited the outstanding investigation.
Under an agreement with the Enforcement Bureau, Scripps has not only agreed to pay the $1.13 million fine but also implement a five-year compliance plan that will include employee training across the entire company, the appointment of a compliance officer to keep tabs on its towers, and filing of a series of reports detailing how it is complying with the consent decree. Harold said in the order that after reviewing the facts of the case, she concluded it would be in the best interest of the FCC to settle the case – in part because Scripps agreed to take responsibility for the violations that predated its ownership of the stations.
Fining broadcasters for antenna violations isn’t new for the FCC and it’s not always about lighting. Last summer gospel “Power 1360” WGBN Pittsburgh was fined $25,000 not only for having burned out tower lights but also a structure that hadn’t been cleaned or repainted.