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college radio public file. Photo: J. Waits

College Radio Station WVBU Penalized for Missing Public File Documents and For Moving File Away from Main Studio

Last week the FCC released details about a consent decree (PDF) with Bucknell University that resulted from public file violations at its student radio station WVBU-FM in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. The school agreed to pay a penalty of $2,200.

In the station’s license renewal application, it admitted that it had neglected to place quarterly issues and programs logs (lists of public affairs programming) in its public inspection file prior to October, 2011. Additionally, WVBU revealed in an email to the FCC last fall that it had moved the station’s public file to the school’s student center in 2013. The file was moved so that it could be more accessible to the public for possible inspections, however, the FCC requires that public files remain in a station’s main studio. According to the FCC’s order, Bucknell wrote in its letter:

WVBU’s main studio is located in the basement of one of the University’s residence halls, Roberts Hall. To ensure the safety of our students, University residence halls are keycard access restricted such that only individuals with University keycards can access the building. In order to ensure that the Public File is available for public inspection at any time during regular business hours, the University moved the Public Inspection File to the University Switchboard in May 2013. The Switchboard is located in the publicly-accessible Elaine Langone Center (“Student Center”) and is open from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00p.m. When the Public Inspection File was moved to this publicly-accessible location at the University, numerous steps were taken to alert the public regarding it location. Specifically, a sign was placed at the entrance to Roberts Hall stating that the File is located at the Switchboard and listing the Switchboard telephone number. The University’s Department of Public Safety, which operates 24 hours per day, was advised as to the location of the File and the requirement of public access.”

In its order, the FCC shows some leniency by offering Bucknell the opportunity to negotiate a consent decree (vs. just being fined) due to the fact that WVBU is a student-run radio station with a first-time violation (student radio stations have been given a break in the past few years following a decision in 2013). Additionally, the FCC found that “special circumstances exist for waiver of Section 73.3527(b)(l) of the Rules to relocate the Station’s public file from the Station’s restricted access main studio, which is accessible only by keycard, to the publicly-accessible Student Center, both of which are located on Licensee’s campus.” In so doing, “the Bureau agrees to waive Section 73.3527(b)(1) of the Rules on a prospective basis as of the date the Adopting Order is released.”

I have to admit that I didn’t realize that moving a college radio station’s public file to another building on campus could be construed as a public file violation, especially when the move actually ensures a greater likelihood of public access to the files. But, as this order confirms, public files are supposed to be located in the “main studio” of a radio station and are not to be moved off-site without prior permission by the FCC.

David Oxenford breaks this incident down on his Broadcast Law Blog and reminds college radio stations that, “Thus, for college and university stations, it appears clear that the FCC expects that it be asked for specific permission before locating the noncommercial station’s public inspection file at a location remote from the station’s main studio.”

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