How to deal with a noncommercial radio station’s public inspection file when the station is licensed to a college and has a main studio in a restricted-access student residence hall is a question that I have received repeatedly when I have conducted sessions on FCC rules at noncommercial broadcasters’ conventions and meetings. In a consent decree reached with a college and announced by the FCC on Friday, the FCC’s Media Bureau has suggested how this issue should be dealt with – by asking for a waiver of the Commission’s rules to allow the file to be maintained at another campus building which has access for the public during normal business hours.
In that case, the Bucknell University station had its main studio in a residence hall not open to the public, and it kept its public file at the student center, another campus building to which the public had access. While the station posted a sign at the entrance to the residence hall where the main studio was housed that the public file was at the student center, and instructed campus security that this was where anyone who asked for the file should be directed, the college had not asked the FCC for a waiver of Section 73.3527(b)(1), which requires that the public file of a noncommercial station be kept at the main studio of the station. In the Consent Decree, the FCC agreed to waive the FCC rules to allow the public file to remain at the student center location, balancing the needs of the public for access to the file with the security needs of the college. Nevertheless, the licensee made a $2200 “contribution” to the US treasury for not having previously asked for a waiver of the rules to locate the files at a location other than its main studio, and for also failing to include in its files Quarterly Issues Programs lists for several years during the license renewal term in which these issues arose.
Thus, for college and university stations, it appears clear that the FCC expects that it be asked for specific permission before locating the noncommercial station’s public inspection file at a location remote from the station’s main studio. Obviously, for college TV stations in a similar situation, the public file issue may be less important given that TV stations keep their public files online. But access to the main studio may still be an issue, as the public is to have access to a main studio during normal business hours so that complaints may be lodged and other issues of importance discussed with station personnel. See, for instance, this case from 2011, when a noncommercial TV station was fined for restricting access to its main studio for security reasons, and only allowing visits when the visitor made a prior appointment. Thus, some way to accommodate public access, without appointments, must also be found.
In this case, the FCC also applied its policy of reducing fines for student-run college stations that had not had a prior history of rule violations (see our article here about this policy). For commercial stations, for missing several years of Quarterly Issues Programs lists, the fine imposed here would have been much higher. As with any case where a station pays a fine for FCC violations, this case should serve as a warning to broadcasters to watch this kind of issue and prevent it from happening at your station.