Long radio feud ends
It’s now official: After 13 years, Northstate Public Radio may broadcast its signal from KFPR in Redding.
Say what? Hasn’t KFPR been broadcasting all along?
Well, yes it has. The transmitter’s signal airs what is being heard on KCHO, Northstate Public Radio’s flagship station based at Chico State University, on frequency 88.3 FM.
The emphasis here is on the word “official.” The Federal Communications Commission ruling released March 27 is a curious reminder of its original decision that gave KFPR the right to broadcast—a decision that prevailed until Jefferson Public Radio, which is based at Southern Oregon University, in Ashland, objected.
As a result, KFPR has been broadcasting with a temporary license since 1994. It is far more than just a transmitter for KCHO’s signal, however. It has its own studios (housed at the offices of public-television station KIXE) and produces a number of programs, including The Good Olde-Fashioned Folk Music Show, hosted by Lorraine Dechter, the station’s former longtime manager.
In a landmark ruling, KFPR’s and 75 other similarly contested applications from around the country were decided. Only one of those cases was older than KFPR’s.
“It’s the biggest thing that has happened to us,” noted Jack Brown, the recently retired former general manager of Northstate Public Radio.
“It’s been a long time waiting,” agreed Jerold Jacobs, a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm Cohn & Marks, which represents Northstate Public Radio. “We’re glad the commission permitted us to operate all this time.”
“Our goal is to keep our fingers crossed,” he added. The recent ruling is open to public comment for 30 days, and that conceivably could mean an appeal from Jefferson Public Radio.
Ron Kramer, the executive director of JPR, may be contemplating just that, for he and his staff have been meeting with attorneys to formulate a response. “We don’t yet consider the matter completed,” he said.
Jacobs, who worked at the FCC for nearly 20 years, said he’d never seen anything like this “peculiar” case. Much of the reason for the length of time the licensing has taken is that the rules have changed twice.
In 1988, the Communications Act of 1934 provided for a comparative evidentiary hearing when two competing entities applied for the same frequency in a service area. The original application from KFPR was approved under those guidelines.
When Jefferson Public Radio appealed that decision, the process went back to the FCC. By that time, the FCC had opened the airwaves to competitive bidding. Nonprofit organizations felt that this new practice was unfair and argued for change in the law.
A point system was then created. Competing nonprofits would be judged on criteria such as whether they were local organizations or if their service area was new and didn’t overlap with any of their other signals.
That system was challenged in court in 2001 but got upheld and remains in effect, and over the years the commission had been deciding disputes in “dribs and drabs,” Jacobs noted.
Matched head-to-head in this manner, Northstate and Jefferson public radios received equal points. The tie-breaker was the question of who had the fewer existing stations or transmitters.
Jefferson had 42. Northstate had just four.
KFPR is authorized to broadcast from Redding, the FCC decided. And that’s where it stands—for the time being.
“Frankly,” Jacobs admitted, “we’re trying to lay low on this and not going around strutting.”
If there is one thing all sides agree on, this process has stretched on too long.
“It’s been a very long discussion for all parties involved,” Kramer stated.