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Radio to the People sign at LPFM hopeful San Francisco Community Radio. Photo: J. Waits

FCC Decision in San Francisco LPFM Group Means Probable SF Community Radio and SF Public Press Time-Share

On Friday, the FCC released a Memorandum Opinion and Order, which may bring a resolution to the lengthy and contentious competition for a new low power FM (LPFM) channel in San Francisco at 102.5 FM. This paves the way for a potential time-share between the two remaining applicants: San Francisco Community Radio and San Francisco Public Press.

In July, 2014, the FCC identified four applicants as tentative selectees for the frequency (there were initially 8 groups competing for it): Outsound, SF Indiefest, San Francisco Community Radio, and San Francisco Public Press. Following that notice, numerous Petitions to Deny and Informal Objections were filed, which led to a closer look at all four applications.

After evaluating the Petitions to Deny and conducting its own investigation, the FCC rescinded its tentative selection of Outsound for a construction permit (after points were deducted from its application due to the finding that the station would not have a publicly accessible main studio). An application from SF Indiefest (SFI) was also rejected after it refused to fully answer questions in an FCC Letter of Inquiry (LOI) related to alleged participation in pirate radio by one of its board members.

According to the Memorandum Opinion and Order:

The refusal to cooperate with a Commission investigation, even while invoking the Fifth Amendment, is grounds to deny a license. SFI’s refusal to provide the specified documentation set forth in Question 1 of the LOI and failure to provide fully the information specified in Question 3 of the LOI frustrates the Commission’s investigation into SFI’s eligibility to hold an LPFM license and delays the commencement of new LPFM service to San Francisco by the remaining qualified applicants in LPFM MX Group 37. Accordingly, we will dismiss the SFI Application pursuant to Section 73.3568(a) of the Rules for failing to provide the information specified in the LOI.”

REC Networks, which has been tracking the intricacies of all of the remaining mutually exclusive (MX) groups of LPFM applicants from the fall 2013 filing window, outlines more details about the FCC’s determination.

As a result of this order, the FCC is giving San Francisco Community Radio and the San Francisco Public Press the opportunity to develop a time-share agreement. The Memorandum Opinion and Order states, “Because SFPP and SFCR have not filed an acceptable time-share agreement, the Bureau will–by separate letter–afford these two applicants the opportunity to reach a new voluntary time-share agreement or identify their preferred timeslots pursuant to the involuntary time-sharing procedures set forth in Section 73.872(d).”

The order concludes, “If, after the time-share period has run, there is no substantial and material question concerning the grantability of the tentative selectees’ application, we direct the staff, by public notice, TO DISMISS the mutually exclusive application of Outsound and TO GRANT the applications of The San Francisco Public Press and San Francisco Community Radio, Inc. on a time-share basis.”

A separate letter to San Francisco Community Radio and San Francisco Public Press states:

The Commission has determined that these applications are the sole remaining tentative selectees of LPFM MX Group 37) Unless an acceptable voluntary timeshare agreement is filed, we intend to simultaneously grant the remaining tentative selectee applications, assigning an equal number of hours per week to operate the proposed station to each applicant. We will determine the hours assigned to each applicant by first assigning hours to the applicant that has been local for the longest uninterrupted period of time -The San Francisco Public Press-then assigning hours to the applicant that has been local for the next longest uninterrupted period of time-San Francisco Community Radio, Inc. We are now providing the applicants fifteen (15) days from the date of this letter to simultaneously and confidentially submit their preferred time slots. We will use the information provided by the applicants to assign time slots, per the rules.”

The FCC is giving the applicants the opportunity to work together to come up with a voluntary time-share agreement, which must be submitted as an amendment to the applications within 15 days. So, at this point, it looks as if San Francisco Community Radio and San Francisco Public Press could eventually be on the air in San Francisco, sharing a frequency.

For San Francisco Community Radio (SFCR), this marks an important milestone in its work to get on terrestrial radio. Eight of the nine current SFCR board members were also involved with University of San Francisco’s college radio station KUSF-FM (before the FM station was shut down in 2011 and transitioned into online-only KUSF.org) and the fight to prevent the sale of that station’s license; so this moment is the culmination of a long struggle for access to the San Francisco airwaves. Read more about SFCR in my radio station field trip report from January, 2015 and about the terrestrial KUSF-FM in my 2009 field trip post.

When I reached out to the San Francisco Public Press for a comment, Executive Director Michael Stoll contacted me over email and talked a bit about the time-share options, saying:

We were delighted to hear that we survived as one of two tentative selectees for an LPFM license in San Francisco. It is still too soon to know what this radio station will sound like. We look forward to working with San Francisco Community Radio over the next weeks and months to see if there are ways our two organizations can either share or divide a radio station to maximize its public-service value. At this point it’s uncertain what shape that agreement will take — whether it’s a timeshare, some kind of collective resource or perhaps a more complicated deal with third parties.”

San Francisco Community Radio Board Member and Treasurer Damin Esper told me by phone today that SFCR is “gratified” with the FCC’s decision, but also pointed out that there’s still much work to be done. Coming to an agreement about the time-share is the next step, according to Esper, who said, “we’re looking forward to coming up with something and there should be plenty of room to negotiate.” He added, “I like Public Press a lot” and explained that as a journalist himself, he appreciates their “in-depth” reporting and is “looking forward to what kind of radio they can produce.”

Although San Francisco Community Radio currently operates an online, streaming radio station, San Francisco Public Press does not, so its radio programming is still in the works. Stoll told me,

The San Francisco Public Press specializes in independent journalism and public affairs on a local level, and we intend to bring that sensibility to the radio. We have many partners in public broadcasting, including radio reporters and producers whose creative ideas have been kept off the air because of the limits of the time clock. We hope to nurture experiments in audio storytelling, journalism and public-affairs programming, while forging strategic alliances with other groups specializing in music programming to bring more diversity and a sense of free expression to the airwaves. We are grateful to the FCC for performing its due diligence in the process and hope to work with the commission staff to arrive at a mutually agreeable licensing arrangement.”
I’m certainly looking forward to hearing more voices represented on my FM dial in San Francisco and eagerly anticipate more news about the future of 102.5 FM.

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