Ever since religious KOKS Poplar Bluffs, MO (89.5) signed-on in 1987 it has had trouble complying with Federal Communication Commission rules. It has even had one-year renewal cycles and near-death experiences for its licenses when the Stewart family, which then controlled the Calvary Educational Broadcasting (CEB) Network, faced a review of their license status by an administrative judge at the FCC. The Media Bureau has just agreed to keep KOKS on the air, but it is requiring a transfer of control of the organization to a new governing board. It is also renewing the station license only through Feb. 1, 2021. A consent decree will also allow KOKS to operate at reduced power while its facilities are modified.
“The consent decree aims, in lieu of a hearing proceeding, to bring about, within a one-year probationary period, the station’s full compliance with broadcast rules, statutes, and case law and with the terms and conditions of the consent decree, including a compliance plan,” Bureau Chief Michelle Carey wrote in the order. She said if CEB fails to come into compliance it agrees to “the automatic and permanent termination of all of the station authorizations without a hearing proceeding, administrative or judicial review.”
The consent decree made public by the FCC on Tuesday reads like a guide for what not to do when operating a radio station. It details a litany of broken rules and some violations that have spanned a quarter century. Here’s some of what the FCC has said about KOKS:
- Shortly after the station began broadcasting, CEB and the Commission’s Kansas City Field office received multiple complaints that the station was causing interference to radio and television reception of local residents.
- A field inspection in August 1995 determined that the Station continued to cause blanketing interference to radio and/or television reception in at least eight residences.
- CEB identified several tower maintenance issues including failure in early 2018 of most of the tower’s lighting
- In May 2018 CEB said KOKS was in dire financial condition and that its transmitter was damaged, probably by lightning, and it had insufficient funding to support full power or to undertake more extensive repairs to return to full power.
- CEB had sold the Station’s broadcast tower on Aug. 1, 2018, but neither CEB nor the new tower owner -- Brook James Properties -- notified the Commission.
- In March 2019 an FCC field agent visited the station and found KOKS was operating with a backup transmitter capable of generating only 450-watts rather than its licensed 100,000-watts; that the primary transmitter was 30 years-old, broken, and not repairable. He also observed that the tower lighting continued to be non-operational. The agent also noted that the station did not have station logs; had transmitter operation and control issues; and was operating at low power without authority.
What the agreement between the FCC and KOKS doesn’t include is any fine, despite a long and detailed record of violations. The Media Bureau said that the station was able to demonstrate just how precarious its finances are. Even if it did issue a fine, based on tax returns it is likely CEB would only be able to pay “a very small portion” of the penalty according to the FCC. Instead, the Media Bureau believes it would be best if KOKS directs its limited resources to fixing its technical problems and complying with the consent decree, which it said “will require substantial expenditures.”
The task of righting the situation will fall to Gerard Woolverton. He is the sole remaining board member of CEB after Nina Stewart died in May 2019 and her son, Ben Stewart, resigned from the board. Woolverton told the FCC he donated approximately $53,500 between 2016 and 2018 to bring CEB’s tax and electric bills current and stated that he had stopped foreclosure on the tower site by personally purchasing the station’s land.
He will operate KOKS under probation for the next two years. On a technical front, Woolverton will be required to address interference issues. Under the proposed modification, the station will be downgraded from a directional, Class C1 station with 100,000 watts to become an omnidirectional, Class C2 station with 30,000 watts. Woolverton will also need to put a compliance plan into place, and file reports with the FCC that he is meeting terms of the consent decree for the next five years. There will also be special technical recordkeeping required.