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Man Your Battle Station

Last week Vision Latina's KBPO in Port Neches, TX received a $25K fine from the FCC mother ship. It was for failing to maintain a main studio with a meaningful staff and management presence; and failing to maintain a complete public file. Do you know what "meaningful staff and management presence actually means? If not, attorney John Garziglia lays it out for you in our weekly feature called "Ask The Attorney."

RI  What are the rules broadcasters should know about staffing the studio?
John Garziglia:  Every so often, an FCC inspector knocks on the door of a radio station and finds no one home, at least for FCC purposes.  This situation arises in three different ways.  The first is the truly small radio station, perhaps a mom and pop operation, that subsists on few employees.  The second is the outlier main studio where a studio is being maintained within 25 miles of a city of license by a group owner of stations since the centrally located studios are too far from the city of license to be compliant.  The third is the LMA operation where someone is there, just not the right somebody. 

The FCC requires that a radio station licensee maintain a meaningful management and staff presence at a radio stations main studio.  In addition, that main studio must have the capability to a maintain continuous program transmission capability. 

The FCC has defined a meaningful management and staff presence to require full-time managerial and full-time staff personnel.  In its most basic form, this has been interpreted to mean that at least one manager and one staff person must report to work at the radio stations main studio on a daily basis, spend a substantial amount of time there, and use the studio as a home base for employment.   The FCC has clarified that does not mean that the manager must be there all day long as the manager might be out making sales calls, but while the manager is not there, a staff person should be.  Why?  Presumably in the event that someone wants to visit and inspect the local public file. 

For a continuous program transmission capability, the FCC has dinged stations in the past for only having a dial-up telephone line as the path from the studio to the transmitter, and would equally frown on a studio that had no ability to originate live programming.  So, even if the total program origination equipment needed in todays world to run a radio station is a laptop connected to the Internet, be sure to have at least a microphone that can plug into the laptop at whatever is being held out as the FCC main studio.  Also, remember that the FCC requires that it be a toll-free call from the community of license to the main studio.  It also helps to have a sign or some other indicia of the location being the radio stations main studio location if the location is for an outlier, or LMA, main studio. 

So, for sparsely-staffed mom and pop operations and outlier main studios, always be sure that someone is present during whatever is regarded as normal business hours in the community.  If it is normal for businesses to shut down for an hour at lunchtime, then presumably it would be acceptable to the FCC that the main studio be unstaffed during that hour.  But, if an FCC inspector stops by at 10:30 a.m. and finds no one there, and visits again at 2:30 p.m. and likewise no one is there, and it is a business day, there is likely an FCC violation.

For LMA operations, the same rules apply, keeping in mind that employees of the time broker do not count for the FCCs main studio rules.  Rather, the FCC expects a full-time managerial and a full-time staff presence from employees of the licensee even though the station may be time-brokered on a 24/7 basis. 

Most radio stations do not need to worry about the FCC main studio rule because they are sufficiently staffed during business hours.  But, for those situations where the meaningful management and staff presence at the main studio is marginal, or it is questionable whether a location is truly a main studio, the FCC requires at least one full-time manager and one full-time staff person to make that main studio their base of operations and be present on a day-to-day basis, and for that main studio to have a continuous program origination capability.

Yes, when a radio station can be fully programmed from an MP3 player located anywhere in the world, it is debatable whether the FCCs main studio rule is rational and serves the public interest.  But, a radio station licensee ignores the main studio rule at the risk of a $7,000 or greater fine. 

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