In September 2009, following a complaint, agents from the Enforcement Bureau’s Tampa Field Office conducted an inspection of a Florida AM station. According to the Notice of Apparent Liability (“NAL”) issued by the FCC, the AM broadcaster failed, for the second time within three years, to maintain the required number of full-time employees at its main studio in violation of Section 73.1125(a) of the FCC’s Rules, and to maintain a complete public inspection file, which violates Section 73.3526 of the FCC’s Rules.
Section 73.1125, also known as the “Main Studio rule”, establishes, among other things, the requirements for a station’s main studio location. The FCC requires that licensees maintain a “meaningful management and staff presence” at a station’s main studio. Based on a 1991 FCC decision, the FCC defines “meaningful” as at least one management level employee and one staff level employee generally being present “during normal business hours.” According to the NAL, inspectors were unable to locate any personnel employed by the licensee. At the time of the inspection, the station, which is operated under a time brokerage agreement (“TBA”), was staffed solely by individuals employed by the broker. While at the station, the FCC field agents reviewed the station’s public inspection file. The NAL states that, among other things, the public inspection file did not contain a copy of the current TBA.
The base fines associated with violating the Main Studio rule and the Public Inspection File rule are $7000 and $10,000, respectively. Section 503 of the United States Code provides the FCC with the authority to adjust the penalties downward or upward based on the “nature, circumstances, extent and gravity of the violations, and with respect to the violator, the degree of culpability, any history of prior offenses, ability to pay, and other such matters as justice may require.” Based on the prior violations by the broadcaster, the FCC adjusted the $17,000 base forfeiture upward to $25,000 and included a warning that “future violations of the rules may result in more severe enforcement penalties, including significantly larger forfeitures.”