FEMA to Upgrade Emergency System at WTIC-AM Tower As Station's License Renewal Remains Unresolved

As the license renewal application of WTIC-AM radio continues to languish at the Federal Communications Commission, nearly one year after the station’s broadcast license expired, another federal agency is proceeding with WTIC on a local project aimed at assuring the availability of broadcast communication in the event of an emergency. This week the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, testified at the Avon Planning and Zoning Commission outlining a plan to upgrade the Primary Entry Point System (PEP) facility which is located on Avon Mountain at the site of the station's transmitter and operated in conjunction with WTIC. 600px-us-fema-pre2003sealsvg

The facility is part of a nationwide network of about 70 such installations, which for the past 30 years have provided a “broadcast-based capability to communicate critical life-saving information to the public in times of extreme emergencies,” according to FEMA officials.  FEMA coordinates with local broadcast stations with the most far-reaching signals in their respective regions.  WTIC is the only PEP station in Connecticut.

FCC-LogoAlso this week, an official at the FCC indicated that the "enforcement hold" status of the station’s license renewal was "unchanged," and the station continues to operate until a decision is made, as is customary with delayed renewal applications. The WTIC-AM license renewal application has been on enforcement hold at the FCC since the license expiration date of April 1, 2014, as the agency’s Enforcement Bureau continues to consider “an alleged violation of FCC rules,” according to an FCC official. The renewal application was filed by the station almost 16 months ago, on November 27, 2013. Stations must file an application for license renewal) four months prior to the expiration date of the station’s license.

The facility at the WTIC broadcast tower and antenna in Avon would be the last in the country to be upgraded by FEMA.  After hearing a FEMA presentation and comments from local residents, the Avon Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the plan and construction is slated to begin later this spring.

FEMA, noting that the PEP system “proved invaluable” to the New Orleans community in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, places back-up generators and diesel power at the transmitter sites of key commercial radio stations, to assure that they stay on the air to broadcast emergency information if other media is off-line due to power outages or other “extreme emergencies.”  Such was the case in New Orleans with WWL-AM, which, like WTIC-AM, is a 50,000 watt broadcast station.

Federal officials noted that “WTIC is the only original PEP station that has not been upgraded with long-term back-up components.  This leaves Connecticut and its local communities in a very vulnerable position when a major disaster strikes.”  The plan approved this week calls for installation of a new emergency back-up transmitter, two state-of-the-art generators and diesel fuel tank that would enable the station to transmit broadcast signals for longer than two months if necessary.  Nationally, FEMA continues to upgrade and expand the PEP system. The agency's website indicates that direct coverage of the nation’s population will expand from approximately 67 percent in 2009 to over 90 percent through 77 PEP stations by the end of this year.

WTIC_1080_AM_Radio_logoWTIC-AM, which is licensed to Hartford but operates from studios in Farmington and has its broadcast tower on Avon Mountain, can continue broadcasting under the license that expired  on April 1, 2014, until the FCC acts on its renewal application. Until the enforcement hold is lifted the FCC Media Bureau cannot proceed with a decision on whether or not to renew the station’s broadcast license.  The Enforcement Bureau must first determine whether or not a violation of FCC rules has occurred.  If the allegation is substantiated, the agency has a range of options, such as warning that the violation not be repeated or imposing a monetary fine on the station, officials said.

Precisely what the allegation under review involves is not made known to the public, officials reiterated this week.  That information is only made available to the licensee or their attorney, FCC official have said. The agency can, and often does, communicate with the station as part of their review process.  WTIC has declined to comment on the ongoing review process at the FCC.

Hartford Attorney Ken Krayeske filed an informal objection last fall to WTIC’s broadcast license renewal, alleging that the station “demonstrated serious malfeasance” and “helped conceal violations of federal law,” related to former talk show host John G. Rowland’s use of his radio program to promote the Congressional campaign of Lisa Wilson-Foley. Krayeske had filed a previous complaint in 2012 that did not result in FCC action against the station.

When the license renewal application does reach the agency’s Media Bureau, they will consider “how the allegation of violation was resolved,” as well as a range of other factors in deciding whether or not to renew the station’s license.  The other, more routine, factors include whether any other objections have been raised about the station, whether the station has been adequately serving the public in their area of license, their history of compliance with FCC regulations, and their overall performance.  License renewals for radio stations are issued by the FCC for a period of eight years.