Six years ago Jennifer Strange signed up for Sacramento station KDND-FM‘s “Hold your wee for a Wii” contest and lost her life as a consequence. The mother of three followed the game rules, drinking almost two gallons of water without urinating. She died of water intoxication soon afterwards.
Although a nurse called in to warn the station about the danger, a deejay appeared unworried during the game merriment. “Your body is 98 percent water,” he noted. “Why can’t you take in as much water as you want?” Medical experts addressed this question for a jury, which found station’ owner Entercom liable and awarded Strange’s family $16.5 million in damages.
“If we drive so recklessly that we kill someone, our insurance company will pay restitution, and the DMV will revoke our license to drive,” said Sue Wilson of the Media Action Center. “When a radio station broadcasts so recklessly that it kills someone, its insurance company pays restitution, and the FCC must revoke its license to broadcast. If ever there is a time the FCC should act on behalf of the public interest, it is now.”
Entercom fired ten KDND employees after the tragedy. It appears that the FCC ran an investigation of the incident—or at least then FCC Chair Kevin Martin said that he ordered one. I asked broadcast attorney John Crigler what the procedures were for these sort of complaints.
“The FCC has a variety of ways of enforcing its rules,” Crigler replied in an email:
“Which way it uses depends in part on when a complaint is filed. If a complaint is filed when a broadcast renewal application is pending, the complaint will generally be treated as a petition to deny and will be handled by the Media Bureau. The MB can admonish the station, impose a short-term renewal (e.g. 3 rather than 8 years), fine the station, or set the renewal application for hearing. Only the last option, which is rarely used, has the potential for loss of license.
Complaints filed during a license term are ordinarily handled by the Enforcement Bureau. The EB has a similar range of remedies, but it is fond of Consent Decrees, essentially a plea bargain. The EB is even more unlikely than the MB to go after the license itself.
Rule violations alone do not result a hearing to revoke or deny renewal of a license. That drastic remedy is usually reserved for lying. If the FCC thinks a licensee is engaged in a pattern of lies or shaded truths (a so-called lack of candor), it takes the matter seriously.”
Why a license challenge now? Wilson says a November 1 filing deadline looms. She has been following this matter since its sad beginnings, and says that she will attend the FCC’s next Open Commission meeting to submit legal documents.
We contacted Entercom about this development. “The events in 2007 were tragic,” observed Kevin Geary, Entercom Director of Strategic Communications. “Our thoughts remain with the family. We will respond to any petition filed with the FCC at the appropriate time.”
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