Originally published: April 19, 2010
Last updated: April 19, 2010 - 3:12pm
[Commentary] Entercom Communications' KDND 107.9 in Sacramento (CA) was found liable for the 2007 water drinking contest death of a 28-year-old married mother of three, Jennifer Strange. Last October, a diverse jury awarded Strange's family $16 million to compensate them for her loss. Industry analyst Radio Online reported that the full award was paid by the company's insurance carrier.
Just after the radio contest death, Strange family attorney Roger Dreyer wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, asking it to strip KDND's license to broadcast. The FCC replied that it would look into the matter, but never acted, and in fact rewarded parent company Entercom Communications with 14 additional broadcast licenses nationwide. But according to Entercom Communications 2008 annual report, all six Entercom Sacramento radio stations now face petitions in front of the FCC to deny their broadcast licenses.
In practice, the FCC does not take licenses away; the FCC does not even know when it last did so. Entercom apparently relies on this, writing in its 2008 report, "Subject to the resolution of open FCC inquiries, we have no reason to believe that our licenses will not continue to be renewed in the ordinary course." What the FCC does instead is to fine broadcasters when they misbehave. Again, from the Entercom report, "The maximum fine for a single violation of the FCC's rules (other than indecency rules) is currently $37,500. The maximum fine for a violation of the FCC's indecency rules is $325,000 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation, with a maximum fine of up to $3.0 million for a continuing violation."
This is a case in which DJs Maney, Lukas, Trish and Fester sponsored a water-drinking contest in which they knew, or should have known, that people could be endangered. In a wantonly reckless case like this, which clearly does not serve the public interest, the FCC should send a message to all broadcasters, remove KDND's license, and give a more responsible operator the opportunity to serve the Sacramento community. If the FCC follows precedent, however, it will fine Entercom, a billion-dollar corporation, a whopping $37,500. (If KDND's DJs had cussed on the air, the station could be fined millions.)
KDND's license will expire Dec. 1, 2013; it will take until at least then for the FCC to rule on the current Entercom license challenges.
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