Veteran broadcaster Randy Michaels became the first to be targeted by the Federal Communications Commission’s crackdown on silent stations last August when his company Radioactive opted to turn in the license of WRAX, Lake Isabella, MI (98.9) rather than face a hearing over whether the station should be granted a new license. Now the FCC is putting Radioactive on the proverbial short leash for another of its stations.
The Media Bureau says it will give “Classic Hits 95.9” WIQI, Watseka, IL a one-year license term rather than the usual full eight years in a move that amounts to probation for the station. In a letter explaining the decision, Audio Division chief Albert Shuldiner said WIQI was silent for more than five years during its most recent license term which ended in Dec. 2012.
The Class A station that was first licensed in 2008 has however been on the air since June 2015. Shuldiner said such long periods of being off the air is a “fundamental failure” by a broadcaster to serve the public with not only on-air programming but also Emergency Alert System notifications. “Brief periods of station operation sandwiched between prolonged periods of silence are of little value because the local audience is not accustomed to tuning into the station's frequency,” he said. Making matters worse, the FCC says when WIQI was on the air it often operated at reduced power.
“We conclude that a short-term license renewal for the station is the appropriate sanction,” Shuldiner said. He concluded that limited license period will give the Media Bureau the opportunity to review the station's compliance with the FCC's rules and to take whatever “corrective actions” may be warranted. That seems to leave open the door to taking a harsher action against WIQI.
The FCC also hit three other stations for their long stretches of being off the air with two-year license terms. They include Big D Consulting’s hot AC KNAN, Honolulu (106.7); Yellow Dog Radio’s regional Mexican “Fiesta FM” KSIL, Rincon, NM (107.1); and Cultural Energy’s variety KCEI, Red River, NM (90.1).
It’s all part of the Media Bureau’s stepped effort to clear the dial of AM stations that remain licensed but aren’t broadcasting. The Commission last month unanimously approved using the hearing process to determine whether Birach Broadcasting should lose two long-silent Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News market AMs. The FCC said WBVA (1450) was silent for all but 56 days of its last license term running from 2008 to 2011. That meant the station was off the air for 1,225 days or 3.4 years by the FCC’s tally. And WVAB (1550) was on the air for 66 days and was dark for 2,186 days—or more than six years of silence. The Commission said Birach Broadcasting’s record of “extended periods of silence” raised questions as to whether WBVA and WVAB should be awarded new licenses.
The FCC is also now flagging long-silent stations in its review of station license transfers. This week it agreed to approve Saranac Lake Radio’s pending $6,000 sale of the currently-silent WNBZ, Saranac Lake, NY (1240) to North Country Radio. But the authorization points out that WNBZ has been off the air since last June and that means if North Country Radio doesn’t resume operations by this June the license will be cancelled.