Station’s license expires

Published 12:31 am Friday, April 13, 2012

According to an April 6 letter from the Federal Communications Commission to Imani Communications, Inc., local radio station WBFZ FM is no longer allowed to operate after failing to file the proper application for renewal of the station’s license by Dec. 1.

In a letter sent to the company last week, the FCC states the station’s license expired on April 1 and that an application for renewal of “this station’s license should have been filed by Dec. 1, 2011.” According to the letter, the commission has “no record of receiving a license renewal application for this station, and the station’s license has expired by its own terms.”

One of the station’s owners, Selma attorney Faya Rose Toure Sanders, said neither she, nor any other of the station’s owners or operators, were aware the station’s license had expired and claim to have not been notified in advance.

“The first we heard of this letter and the license issue was when we were contacted by you,” Sanders said during a Wednesday interview with the Times-Journal. “It is extremely strange, and concerning, that we were not contacted directly by the FCC.”

Sanders said after she was contacted by the Times-Journal, she immediately called other members of the station’s management team, including her husband, State Sen. Hank Sanders.

“No one had seen a letter or knew of this problem,” Sanders said. “But, after talking with Hank, we decided the best thing to do was immediately turn everything off.”

In his letter to the station, Peter H. Doyle, chief of the FCC’s Audio Division, said “all authority to operate station WBFZ(FM), Selma, AL is terminated and the call letters are deleted. Any operation of this facility is now unauthorized and must cease immediately.”

When contacted, Doyle said the station will have 30 days from the date of the letter to seek reconsideration of the FCC’s decision, saying “they have no authority to broadcast” without a license.

“There’s the issue of getting back on the air and if they file (the application) we will act on that immediately and that will stay in effect until we review the application,” he said of Imani’s ability to get back on the air while the application is being considered.

“You’re probably looking at a five- to six-month period from the (application) filing to a decision date,” Doyle said. “In the meantime we would take steps to allow the station to operate lawfully during the license consideration.”

Doyle said if the station files the proper application and while the FCC is considering granting the license, the public will be able to comment on whether the station should be allowed to get back on the air.

“The public can file (with the FCC) comments regarding the station’s performance and if they believe the station has not operated in the public’s interest,” Doyle said. “Then the station would have the opportunity to oppose that and the initial filer would have an opportunity to reply. That’s part of the process is for listeners to object to the license application.”

Doyle said the FCC renews station’s licenses every eight years and that Imani also failed to file the proper paperwork in December 2003 and was fined $1,500.

In a response to the FCC’s fine, which was issued in January 2007, Imani claimed their reason for not filing the paperwork had to do with a fire at the station.

“(The) transmitter site burned down in August of 2002. The station was out of business for several months,” Imani stated in a letter to the FCC. “Needless to say, the station was unable to produce any income and there was some confusion during that time as to whether the station would ever be… re-established.”

In reviewing the fine, the FCC concluded the station had the time to submit the application despite the fire, as the application was not due until 16 months after the fire had taken place.

Doyle said that he was not fully aware of the facts of the case and whether Imani would be granted a license if they file the proper paperwork, but that the FCC wants to give Imani every opportunity to get back on the air.

“There are a couple of potential violations we’re going to have to consider,” Doyle said. “Their failure to file a required form, which can lead to a $3,000 fine and if they’re continuing to operate now that we’ve told them not to that could be a $4,000 fine.”

As to sanctions other than fines, Doyle said those were possible, but rare.

“We want to hear from the station why this very important deadline was missed,” Doyle said. “But it’s very, very rare that we would consider any sanction more than a fine.”

One of the station’s owners, Charles Jones, who operates a Uniontown radio station and, according to Sanders, handles the Selma station’s licensing and other radio paperwork “because of his years of experience,” has been out for the past few days as his family grieves the loss of their son, Tre’ Jones.

Tre’ was the University of Alabama student who drowned last week in the Black Warrior River during a collegiate party.

“At this point, we are not going to address this issue with Mr. Jones until he and his family have had the time to grieve the loss of their son,” Sanders said. “We will figure this out as soon as we can.”

 

— Times-Journal publisher Dennis Palmer contributed to this report.