The Federal Communications Commission is cracking down on stations that are off the air for a majority of its license term.  In June of 2021, Snake River Radio, LLC, applied to renew the license of KPCQ (AM) in Chubbuck, Idaho. However, the FCC’s review of the application and station records found that the station had been off the air for a great majority of the license term.  The station’s prolonged periods of silence and apparent inconsistencies in the explanations provided for such silences led the FCC to designate the station for hearing to determine whether renewal of KPCQ’s license is justified.

Snake River acquired KPCQ (then KRTK) on February 1, 2018. From that point until June 14, 2021, KPCQ was off the air 80% of the time for a total of 1,077 days – 350 between 2018 and 2019; 363 between 2019 and 2020; and 364 between 2020 and 2021.

The station initially went silent on June 30, 2018 because the leased tower “was sold to a housing developer” who demanded “removal” of the tower. Just shy of one year later, on June 26, 2019, Snake River filed a Resumption Notice stating, without further explanation, that it had resumed operations at its licensed facilities on June 15, 2019. However, around the same time, Snake River also reported that it went silent again on June 17, 2019 because one of the station’s guy wires had been “clipped and severed.”

The FCC is apparently unconvinced that KPCQ in fact returned to the air for a two-day period just before reaching 12 months of silence, at which point the license would automatically have expired as matter of law.

“Because it is improbable that [Snake River] was able to resume operation with the Station’s licensed facilities after dismantling its tower, we are designating an issue to determine whether the Station’s license expired . . . because the station failed to operate with its authorized facilities for more than 12 months,” Media Bureau Chief Holly Sauer wrote in the Hearing Designation Order released this week.

If the FCC finds that KPCQ was in fact off the air for 12 consecutive months, Snake River’s license would be deemed to have expired at the end of that 12 month period by operation of law. While the Communications Act of 1934, as amended by Congress, allows licenses to be extended or reinstated for any reason that would “promote equity and fairness,” making a showing to overcome the 12-month off-air rule is a very heavy lift.

For more information, contact Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth.