This story will have many managers across the country firing up their computers to make sure their online public file is current. The FCC is investigating Entercom after a complaint was filed against the company’s Buffalo cluster claiming a Congressional candidate was overcharged in 2018.
As every manager knows radio stations must charge qualified political candidates the lowest unit rate available 45 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election. Stations must also post all candidate requests for rates online.
It all started with a complaint filed against three Entercom stations in Buffalo (WGR-AM, WBEN-AM and WTSS-FM) from the 2018 election, which could have easily been explained, as you’ll see.
Entercom appears to have made a big mistake that has pushed the FCC to investigate the matter even further. When the FCC went online to take a look at Entercom’s public file it found that the Buffalo team had not uploaded any records of requests for the purchase of broadcast time by or on behalf of candidates running in Federal, State or local elections in 2018. A January 2019 letter to Entercom’s General Counsel states: “The dearth of any such records in the online political files of the three stations, all of which serve a major metropolitan area in upstate New York, suggests that Entercom may have willfully and repeatedly violated Section 315(e) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, relating to the maintenance of political files.”
Why could this complaint been easily explained away by Entercom? The name included in the complaint, Jackie Drost, does not match any candidate that ran for Congress. So according to Entercom there’s no way she could have been overcharged because she wasn’t running for office. However, The FCC could not make that determination because the file was not up to date online. It’s almost as if the complaint was filed just to show the FCC Entercom was not following the filing rules.
Entercom did post the records once it received the inquiry from The FCC. We took a look at the Entercom public file which showed several candidates requested information about rates (none of them Jackie Drost) and those requests were uploaded to the online public file on January 28 and 29 of this year. The company called the late upload “an inadvertent oversight.”
In a February 28, 2019 letter to the FCC Entercom writes that it takes its public file obligation very seriously. “There are procedures in place to ensure that employees understand, and comply with, the public file requirement. For example, as part of the stations’ transition to the online public file in March 2018, licensee required employees with public file responsibilities to watch an online public file training that licensee conducted and stations were reminded of the documents required to be uploaded to the online file, including political file documents. Unfortunately, due to an inadvertent oversight the procedures broke down here with respect to the stations’ political file.”
We’ll have to see how the “inadvertent oversight” excuse flies with The FCC.
While the original complaint involved WGR(AM), WBEN(AM) and WTSS(FM), a March 5 FCC letter to Entercom expanded the investigation to also include WLKK(FM), WWWS(AM), WWKB(AM) and WKSE(FM). The FCC wants to see political documentation from all the stations. In that letter The FCC states that no decision has been reached in this investigation.
The Buffalo News was first to report that the FCC is looking into the complaint against Entercom.
Entercom sent the following statement to Radio Ink last night: “We are working directly with the FCC on this matter. We will not be commenting further.”