An FCC Enforcement Bureau District Office today issued a Notice of Apparent Liability, proposing to fine an AM licensee $25,000 for not having a meaningful staff presence at the station's main studio, and for not being able to produce a public inspection file when the FCC inspectors visited the station. The station was being operated by another party pursuant to a Local Marketing Agreement ("LMA") and, when the FCC inspector showed up, none of the employees at the main studio identified themselves as an employee of the licensee. Not having any employees at the main studio, and the additional inability to locate a public file for the station, resulted in the FCC proposing a $25,000 fine ($7000 for the lack of employees at the main studio, $10,000 for the lack of a public file, and an upward adjustment to reach the $25,000 total as the licensee had a series of prior violations).
The fact that this station, like so many others in this time of economic upheaval, was operating under an LMA highlights what the FCC has said so many times in the past about the staffing of such stations. A station licensee cannot just sign an LMA, and leave the station to the control of the program provider. Instead, the licensee must oversee the operations of the station, and have its own employees physically present at the station on a day to day basis to do so. The decision today cites a 20 year old case for the proposition that the licensee must have both management and staff presence at the station on a full-time basis to be considered meaningful. In other cases, the Commission has said that the there need to be a manager and a staff employee of the licensee who report to the studio as their principal place of business on a daily basis, and at least one of these employees must be physically present at the station's main studio during normal business hours. Here, where there was no one employed by the licensee at the station when the FCC inspected it, the fine was issued. So, if you are operating under an LMA, make sure to observe these staffing requirements, or risk a fine from the FCC.