Feeling the Squeeze

The voices of students who broadcast from their high school and collegeradio stations are in danger of being silenced due to a seldom-invoked FederalCommunications Commission rule that says stations may have to share theirairtime with others if they are on the air less than 12 hours a day.

Off-campus non-profit organizations are using this time-share agreement ruleto file for demands to share broadcast time or take over non-commercial schoolstations. The FCC requires radio stations to renew their licenses every eightyears. During the five-month renewal process period each station has,organizations can file time-share challenges or petitions to denylicenses.

One such organization is Hoosier Public Radio Corporation, anIndiana radio organization with religious ties, which filed time sharechallenges against radio stations at one Kentucky college and four high schoolsand one college in Indiana, Franklin College’s WFCI.

“[HoosierPublic Radio Corp.] is trying to do this to multiple educational frequencies [aswell as ours], which further adds to the inequity of the situation,” saidJennifer Sansfacon, a student and WFCI’s General Manager. “By takingaway these opportunities, [Hoosier Public Radio Corp.] is taking away the chancefor someone to try something new, step outside the box, and maybe find theircalling in life.”

In an April article by Reclaim the Media, thedirector of Hoosier Public Radio Corp., Marty Hensley, said he planned tobroadcast community news, public service announcements, local business andsports, music, weather and reports on drunk driving, teen pregnancy, drug useand jobs on WFCI.

“If they’re not using their license 24 hours aday, we just want to use the hours they’re not using and help them operatethe station,” Hensley said.

WFCI has not received its license renewal,and has been awaiting a renewal since Hoosier Public Radio Corp. filed achallenge in August.

WFCI is just one school station that has been targeted.Since the FCC began its mandatory radio station license renewal process in 2003,radio stations at 16 high schools and four colleges in Illinois, Indiana,Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio have been threatened with time share challenges,according to Collegiate Broadcasters Inc.

Neither the organization nor thestudents profit off a time share agreement. (School stations can sell stockinvestment advertising, but mostly survive financially off of donations orschool or government funding). The students and the organization would eithercome to an agreement about how airtime hours would be divided between them, orthe two parties could negotiate a time settlement and have it approved by theFCC. According to FCC rules, only noncommercial content can be aired on anoncommercial, educational frequency, but the FCC leaves it up to theorganization and school to determine what content to individually air. If notime-share agreement is reached and the FCC determines that the school stationis not using its frequency to the fullest extent–because of serious ruleviolations or not being on the air full-time–the students could face thepossibility of losing their broadcast rights if the FCC takes away theschool’s license. The FCC owns all frequencies.

Radio stations arerequired to “serve the public interest” by making themselves awareof key problems or issues in their communities and presenting some understandingof them to the public through programs and announcements about local issues,according to FCC regulations. If a station fails to meet this requirement, or ifit violates FCC rules against obscene language or indecency, the FCC may revokethe license or another party may file a petition to deny the station’spermit in order to take over the station. All stations–commercial andnoncommercial– must follow the rules of serving the public interest anduse their frequency to the fullest extent in order to retain broadcastingrights. However, the FCC is in the process of determining how to measure anddefine service to the community, according to FCC files.

The organizationsthat have filed time-share challenges against schools are Hoosier Public RadioCorp., Lincoln Land Communications and R B Schools. Hoosier Public Radio Corp.has targeted four high schools and one college in Indiana and one college inKentucky. Lincoln Land Communications, also an Indiana company, has targeted onehigh school in Indiana. R B Schools, a nonprofit educational institution withreligious ties that is located in Texas, has targeted 11 high schools and twocolleges in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio.

Of those threatened, just four highschool stations and one college station have been granted license renewals: BenDavis High School’s WBDG, Carmel High School’s WHJE, FranklinCentral High School’s WRFT, Pendleton Heights High School’s WEEM,all in Indiana; and Western Kentucky University’s WKPB. According to areport published by Collegiate Broadcasters Inc., the stations’ licenseswere renewed because the applications against the schools–filed by HoosierPublic Radio Corp.–were “procedurally defective.” The reportsays that the director, Marty Hensley, had failed to file the applicationsproperly or had filed after the five-month deadline.

Three stations inIllinois were granted license renewals that were later retracted by the FCC forfurther consideration, including Glenbrook North and Glenbrook South HighSchools’ WGBK, Homewood-Flossmoor High School’s WHFH and New TrierTownship High School’s WNTH.

All of the other stations’ cases arestill pending.

Southfield High School’s radio station, WSHJ, isone of the stations whose license renewal was challenged by R B Schools.

Inits FCC filing, R B Schools said they planned to broadcast educationalprogramming on WSHJ, including literature, history, social sciences, health,hygiene, nutrition, child development, interpersonal relationships and civics,according to a November article by the Detroit Free Press. R B Schoolsdoes not own any radio stations, but its president, Linda de Romanett, isinvolved with several radio stations that broadcast religious programming.

Inthe article, student Kyle Covington, the production manager at WSHJ, said hedisagreed with R B School’s involvement in the station because of what theorganization intends to broadcast.

“People rely on [WSHJ] being aparticular style,” Covington said. “[R B School’s programming]would go against what we stand for.”

According to its Web site, WSHJairs mostly a mixture of hip-hop and rap music but students also broadcastinformational and educational programming.

Students at Lakota East HighSchool’s WLHS are also upset with R B School’s filing against theirstation. WLHS is on air 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Like other stations,De Romanett claims WLHS is not using its frequency to the fullest extent withits programming; music, sports and talk shows. De Romanett said R B Schoolscould improve the quality of WLHS and other stations through the programming sheplans to broadcast.

“This program is a really big deal to everyone atthis station and it’s a great educational tool,” music manager RyannWalton said. “A lot of people come to school just to come to [WLHS]. Itdoesn’t make sense how [R B Schools] would want to take that away fromus.”

De Romanett said she believes R B Schools will be successful inits filings because the organization has a right to the airtime.

“Thelaw is clear that if the airtime’s not being used, other people can use itfor educational [purposes],” de Romanett said. “The airtime belongsto the public and should be allowed to be used.”

De Romanett added thatR B Schools would want students to assist with its programming, and said shethinks students would learn more with “something other than a musicprogram.”

The reasons organizations go after school stationsspecifically may lie in perceptions of high school radio stations. Since the1950s, educational radio stations have historically been used “solely orprimarily as training facilities for students,” according to a 1995 reportpublished by Ralph Carmode, communications professor at Thiel College inGreenville, Pa. The stations have been categorized as “underfinanced,understaffed, underequipped, underpromoted and underresearched.”

“[School stations] tend to be underutilized. They are often on-airjust during school hours, and [some] broadcast in an immature fashion,”said Joe Misiewicz, the vice president for Academic Relations at the BroadcastEducation Association. “If they are not operating a full-fledged station,it makes it difficult to justify allowing them to have thelicense.”

Jennifer Sansfacon of Franklin College’s WFCI calledHoosier Public Radio Corp.’s Marty Hensley’s challenge“deplorable.”

“We operate on a frequency that is reservedfor educational purposes, so we–the students–can learn how tooperate and run a working station,” Sansfacon said. “By challengingour license, [Hensley] has the potential to take away a tremendous learning toolthat gives hands-on experience. I am [a] student that tried out the radio on awhim [at this radio station]; I have since chosen to make a career out ofit.”

John Krull, WFCI’s faculty adviser, said Hensley told thestation that students would be permitted to broadcast a minimum of 20 hours perweek, but said he would retain the authority to decide what was broadcast.

“What Mr. Hensley [is] attempting to do [is] leverage his way intoforcing disadvantageous timeshares,” Krull said.

On Jan. 31, WFCIentered into a rebroadcast consent agreement with WFYI, a National Public Radioaffiliate in Indianapolis. The agreement allows WFCI to rebroadcast NPR news andinformation that serves as a “teaching tool” for studentjournalists, according to Krull. WFYI also agreed to take WFCI students on asinterns. The agreement has resulted in an increase of WFCI’s airtime to 24hours a day. However, WFCI has not been granted a license renewal becauseHensley’s request for its airtime has not been dismissed.

Susan McGraw,the vice president of the Michigan Association of Educational Broadcasters, saidschool stations are targeted for airtime because they generally have lessavailable funding to legally fight time share challenges than do commercialstations.

Gregg Neilson, a teacher-ambassador for the Radio-Television NewsDirectors Foundation and station manager of Nathan Hale High School’sstation, KNHC in Seattle, agrees. In 1983, the FCC told KNHC that it facedlosing its license because the station’s airtime had fallen below 12 hoursa day for about six months, due to a “budget downturn.” The schooloperated the station as normal throughout the ordeal, and received its licensein 1990, after a seven-year battle.

“[The FCC] figured they’djust wear us down, cost us a lot of money and we’d have to give up,”Neilson said. “[They probably thought], ‘How can they survive alegal challenge? [KNHC] doesn’t have enough resources or time or publicopinion that will help them.’”

The Pendleton Heights High Schoolstation, WEEM, received its license renewal from the FCC on March 7. Accordingto station manager Jeff Dupont, Hoosier Public Radio Corp. also filed a petitionto deny WEEM’s license renewal.

WEEM was not on-air for 12 hours a daywhen Hensley filed his challenge.

Dupont said the station was on-air for 10hours a day Monday through Friday, when students were at school. In addition,WEEM broadcasted nine hours on Saturdays. Prior to Hensley’s advances,Dupont said the station had been planning to extend its hours but had lacked thefunding for digital broadcasting equipment, so the station only broadcasted whenstudents were available to be on-air.

WEEM has since acquired the fundingfor the equipment and is now broadcasting 24 hours a day, seven days a week.Hensley’s motions for time-share were denied.

Carmel HighSchool’s student-run radio station, WHJE, also received its licenserenewal. The station’s battle began in mid-August 2004 when Hoosier PublicRadio Corp. filed challenges against the station, and ended with a letter fromthe FCC granting its license renewal on March 3.

Tom Schoeller, thestation’s manager, said the students, who were “gung-ho” aboutthe station, were “torn up” over the prospect of losing rights totheir station.

First-year DJ Corrina Gonzalez said she had just startedworking at the station when she learned of the challenge. Gonzalez said she andthe staff were upset at the thought that they could lose their rights tobroadcast because of Hoosier Public Radio Corp.’s challenge.

“Ithink he shouldn’t be messing with [students],” Gonzalez said,adding that she believes WHJE was vulnerable because it is “just a schoolstation” that is primarily used as a learning environment for students anddoes not employ professional broadcasters.

“It worried us that we[could] get our rights taken away,” Gonzalez said.

Schoeller disputedHoosier Public Radio Corp.’s claim that the students were not using thestation’s frequency to its fullest extent, saying that WHJE had been onthe air for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, since 1981.

According to twoApril articles by Collegiate Broadcasters Inc., Hoosier Public BroadcastingCorp. recently filed petitions to reconsider the dismissal of its time-shareapplications against Carmel High School’s WHJE, Ben Davis HighSchool’s WBDG, Franklin Central High School’s WRFT, PendletonHeights High School’s WEEM, all in Indiana; and Western KentuckyUniversity’s WKPB. All the stations were already granted license renewals.If Hoosier Public Radio Corp.’s petitions are granted, a hearing willlikely follow. However, the article said, if the petitions are denied, directorMarty Hensley could file review petitions, which would compel the FCC to reviewits decision-making process regarding each license renewal.

John Morris, theexecutive director of the Indiana Association of School Broadcasters, saidorganizations are interested in using school frequencies for their own benefit.Morris said the organization’s possible gain is a tremendous lossfor students.

“The big [problem] is the loss of a potentialopportunity for students to be on a station and not just to learn radio but tolearn some of the business sense, the ability to communicate,” Morrissaid. “To have somebody come in and try to force shared airtime issomething most [high school] stations would not be for.”

Will Robedee,the vice chair for Collegiate Broadcasters Inc., said this is the first timeschool stations have been targeted “on this scale.”

“[There has been] an unprecedented number of filing against thesestations,” Robedee said.

Robedee said he does not know why schoolradio stations have been suddenly targeted, other than the fact that the lastthree years have been license renewal years. According to a FCC staff member,Robedee said, applications for time-share are being filed “practically forthe first time” since the time-share agreement rule was written in 1980.

The FCC is currently reviewing all regulations concerning its radio andtelevision stations.

Robedee said noncommercial, educational radio stationscan avoid becoming targets for organizations by acquiring the funds forautomation devices including CD players, media players, iPods or computers, thatwould allow them to be on the air full-time. In addition, Robedee said stationsneed to purchase a remote control to alert the station management ofemergencies, which range from $1,000 to $3,000. Robedee said stations also needto make themselves aware of FCC rules, including time-share agreements.

“The FCC is taking a look at the rules and how they’re appliedin this instance,” Robedee said, adding that in the meantime, thepotential threat of time-share challenges needs to be addressed by “makingstations aware that this is a problem and getting them to be proactive inpreventing this from happening in the future.”