FCC launches WNCW investigation

Popular public-radio station WNCW is still on the hot seat.

The Federal Communications Commission is looking into whether the Spindale station violated FCC rules on underwriting announcements and maintaining its “public file,” according to a Jan. 26 letter the FCC sent to Isothermal Community College (which holds the station’s license).

“It’s a first step in an investigation,” says Ken Scheibel, an attorney in the Investigations and Hearings Division of the FCC’s enforcement bureau in Washington.

The investigation was prompted by a complaint that outspoken Hickory resident Bill Bost filed with the agency Dec. 12, much of which concerned the controversial Mountain Oasis Festival held last October.

“The complainant contends that the concert event in question was not the station’s own event, but was jointly sponsored with A.C. Entertainment of Knoxville, and thus served to impermissibly benefit a for-profit entity,” the FCC letter says.

The FCC notes that its underwriting rules prohibit public-radio stations from broadcasting advertisements, which are defined as program material broadcast “in exchange for any remuneration” and intended to promote “any service, facility, or product” or a for-profit entity, the letter notes.

A.C. Entertainment President Ashley Capps has responded to Bost’s allegations (see “A.C. Entertainment promoted a festival and a radio station,” Dec. 13 Xpress).

When a complaint is filed, the FCC evaluates it to determine whether the alleged behavior — if substantiated — would constitute a rule violation, Scheibel says. If so, the FCC has a duty to inquire, he notes.

Although the FCC letter is thick with official language, even a Washington bureaucrat would have to smile at an attached transcript of three promotional announcements that WNCW supposedly broadcast about the festival. The musical transcription says in part: “Way up on the hill where they do the boogie, do the boogie, do the boogie, oh I wonder what they do when they do the boogie … do do do do do do.”

The FCC is also looking into whether information was missing from WNCW’s public file when Bost inspected it on Oct. 3. FCC rules require noncommercial stations to maintain a file, open for public inspection, that contains specific types of information about the station’s operations, the letter notes.

The base fine for an underwriting violation is $2,000; the base fine for a public-file violation is $10,000, Scheibel reports.

Isothermal Community College has 20 days to respond to the FCC, and Bost has 10 days to react to that response, according to the letter.

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