Unless you’re looking for even more trouble than you’re probably already in, try to keep The Man happy.

Here’s a helpful tip: If an FCC inspector stops by your station, notices something amiss, and tells you to turn your station off, you’re probably better off following that particular instruction. About $7,000 better off, it looks like. Don’t take our word for it – just ask the licensee of a low power FM station in Dunnellon, Florida.

The lo-po’s problems started when the local FCC Field Office got a call from the local airport complaining about interference to an Air Traffic Control frequency. That kind of call generally gets the FCC’s attention pronto (and, speaking on behalf of the flying public, CommLawBlog supports that kind of attention). Using direction-finding gear, they tracked the offending signal to the LPFM station. The Feds showed up at the station’s doorstep, explained the situation to the only station staffer in sight, and asked him to turn the transmitter off. The guy refused. They got the station’s owner on the phone, and the inspectors asked him to tell his employee to turn the station off. The owner refused – unless the station’s engineer was present. The owner was finally convinced (after about half an hour) to get his sweet self down to the station, at which point he agreed to let the FCC folks inspect the operation. The inspectors found that the station was operating with a transmitter not certified by the Commission. The owner turned the transmitter off, and the interference to the airport ended.

The standard fine for operating with unauthorized equipment is $5K – and that’s exactly where the Enforcement Bureau’s Notice of Apparent Liability started. But the Bureau then tacked on an “upward adjustment” of $7,000 – a bump amounting to nearly 150% over the starting point – because the interference caused by the unlawful operation affected the safety of life and property and because the owner and his employee refused to comply with the inspectors’ request that the station be turned off immediately. Total fine: $12,000. Make you check payable to the FCC. Thanks for your business.

This isn’t brain surgery. Congress has given the FCC the authority to inspect broadcast stations (really – it’s in Section 303(n) of the Communications Act), and the FCC can exercise that authority. If FCC inspectors show up at your station, the best policy to follow 99.99% of the time is to invite them in, make them comfortable, and do what they tell you to do. As tempting as it might be to try to tell The Man where to get off, that’s bound to be a losing proposition no matter how you slice it.