FCC suspends ruling that could have forced Wash. student radio station off the air

WASHINGTON — School officials had not yet finalizedtheir response to a May 26 Federal Communications Commission ruling that couldhave shut down the Mercer Island High School radio station when the ruling wasset aside amid questions of possibly inaccurate information in the initialruling. In an order thought likely to signal the end for KMIH, astudent-run radio station, the commission ruled that based on the FCCclassification system, the school’s station was not protected frominterference from a commercial station seeking to relocate into the area.“The Class D FM station [KMIH] will be required to suspendoperations if interference to the new primary station occurs,” the reportstated. The FCC classification system provides greater protection forhigher status stations with greater broadcasting strengths. KMIH requested theFCC change their status from Class D to a more protected Class A, butcommissioners denied the request, citing minimum distance requirements.The report went on to say the school station, which serves an audienceof more than 40,000 listeners with music, local news and sports andentertainment shows, provided a secondary service. And there were alternativefrequencies to operate from, so a commercial station, Mid-Columbia Broadcasting, couldrelocate into the area.But the school station’s lawyer said hedoes not know of any suitable alternative frequencies that exist.“There are no frequencies,” Howard Barr said. “Thereport and order just said out of the blue that there are.”On June8 the FCC released an order that the May 26 decision had been set aside, to thesurprise of both the school and Mid-Columbia Broadcasting. The notice did notinclude any reasons for the decision, but an FCC spokesman said there willlikely be more information released in the coming weeks. “We werevery much intending on appealing, but as it stands now, it does not look likewe’re going to need to do that, at least not now,” Barrsaid.Dom Monahan, an attorney for Mid-Columbia Broadcasting, said hesuspects the FCC has set aside the order while it performs a study to determinewhether there is an alternative frequency available forKMIH.“Having made a possible error, I would think they would bequick to review it,” he said.The school hired McClanathan andAssociates, an electrical engineering firm, to search for alternativefrequencies after Mid-Columbia filed notice that they wanted to relocate KMCQ,an adult contemporary station, from The Dalles, Ore., to Covington,Wash.“The only available channel is your existing frequency 104.5mHz, channel 283,” wrote Bob McClanathan in a letter to the school thatwas included in a petition to the FCC.After the initial ruling, theschool radio station’s Web site featured a plea for help with its ongoing legal battle.“A station from Oregon has beenthreatening to move in on 104.5 FM and take us off the air X104 is fighting thedecision, but legal costs are not cheap, and we need your help,” it readin part.Nick De Vogel, general manager of the school’s station,which has served the island community for more than 30 years and has a staff of20 to 50 students, has been an advocate for the educational values of thestation.“We do something that is unique to us by providing aservice to the community and helping these kids learn at the same time,”he previously told the SPLC. “They are immeasurably changed by thisexperience.”

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