While much of the broadcast industry’s attention has been focused on the designation for hearing of Entercom’s license for the Sacramento radio station involved in the contest that went very much wrong (see our article here), many have not focused on a case that one might think would be far more appropriate for a judge to sort out. This case involved an individual named Brian Dodge who, according to a settlement agreement (available here) reached with the FCC’s Media Bureau and announced last week, filed multiple applications over almost 30 years either under a cloud because of an unresolved misrepresentation finding in a case in 1988 that led to the dismissal of an application in which he was involved. , According to the Consent Decree, Mr. Dodge even filed applications under false names and pseudonyms. There were also questions about whether Mr. Dodge was operating translators that served areas outside of the service contours of their affiliated primary stations, in violation of Section 74.1232 of the rules. Again, according to the Consent Decree, the FCC in 1993 sent a letter asking about Dodge’s alleged involvement in several applications, which was never answered, nor was a 1997 complaint by another broadcaster which alleged multiple rule violations. In the Consent Decree, Mr. Dodge agrees to pay the government $100,000, admits liability, surrenders the licenses of an AM and several LPFM stations, but gets to keep another AM and several FM translators, albeit with short-term renewals contingent on these stations operating in compliance with FCC rules.
Some trade press reports seemed to view this as a harsh penalty. But instead, it seems to be a fairly light one, especially as misrepresentations to the FCC are usually seen as a violation of FCC rules that can be fatal to a licensee, particularly when compounded by the failure to even respond to FCC requests for information. However, in the Consent Decree, the FCC noted that the violations might be hard to prove as some of the people involved in the violations from long ago are now dead, and because there was at least some indication in FCC records that some of this was going on, suggesting that it would be hard to prove that Mr. Dodge intended to deceive the FCC. Nevertheless, some FCC licensees, paranoid about even the slightest misstep that could cause them to fall out of favor with the FCC, may see this as slap on the wrist to someone who appears to have engaged in a long-term practice of flaunting FCC rules and refusing to explain his activities. I would not take the actions in this case to represent any sort of precedent on which other broadcasters can rely but instead see it as a one-off decision with unique facts that made prosecution of a rule-breaker problematic.