Enforcement Hold Lifted, FCC Will Now Consider License Renewal Application of WTIC-AM, Pending for Two Years

Just days after a federal appeals court upheld former Gov. John G. Rowland’s conviction for violating federal campaign laws, the Federal Communications Commission lifted an enforcement hold on WTIC-AM's license renewal. At the time that Rowland was accused of secretly accepting pay as a political consultant, he was also an afternoon radio host on WTIC-AM. His use of the airwaves in order to favor the candidate, Lisa Wilson-Foley, whose spouse was paying Rowland at the time, was raised during his trial.

The FCC is now “in a position to consider the objections that have been filed regarding the renewal application,”  an agency official told CT by the Numbers.  There is no timetable for that review, which is just beginning now that the agency’s enforcement hold has been “lifted,” or for a final decision on the station’s license renewal application.fcc-logo

The station’s broadcast license expired almost 27 months ago, on April 1, 2014.  In accordance with FCC procedures, the station filed a license renewal application on November 27, 2013.  By September 2014, the FCC’s enforcement division placed the renewal application on “enforcement hold,” which precluded any action by the agency on the renewal.

The station, owned by CBS Radio, could continue broadcasting while the FCC held the renewal application. Stations in such a status routinely continue to operate without any interruption until a decision on license renewal is made.

Even as the station remained on the air, the license renewal has been in limbo. As the agency’s Enforcement Bureau considered “an alleged violation of FCC rules,” the agency’s Media Bureau could not proceed with a decision on whether or not to renew the station’s broadcast license, typically an 8-year renewal.WTIC-AM-2

The FCC has not provided the reason that the license application was put on hold.  FCC officials have indicated that most often enforcement holds are instituted due to a complaint being filed that requires investigation, but they would not confirm whether that was true in this instance.  That information is only made available to the licensee or their attorney, according to an FCC official.

Now that the license renewal application has reached 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.

Hartford Attorney Ken Krayeske filed an informal objection on October 1, 2014 to WTIC’s broadcast license renewal, alleging that the station “demonstrated serious malfeasance” and “helped conceal violations of federal law.”  The FCC has confirmed the receipt of that objection.

Rowland resigned from his drive-time talk show on WTIC-AM in April 2014.  The station currently airs a locally-originated sports talk program in that time slot. The FCC had no comment on whether the now more than two-year delay in making a determination on the license renewal is among the longest in FCC history.

License Renewal of WTIC-AM on “Enforcement Hold” at FCC

The Federal Communications Commission has the pending license renewal of WTIC-AM radio on “enforcement hold,” nearly six months after the station’s broadcast license technically expired.  The station can continue broadcasting under the license that expired on April 1, 2014 until the FCC acts on its renewal application, which was filed last year on November 27, just days ahead of the renewal application deadline. In the wake of the corruption conviction earlier this month of former Governor and former WTIC talk show host John G. Rowland, questions have been raised about the radio station that employed Rowland.  Although FCC officials say that “while it is too late to file a formal Petition to Deny the license renewal,” because the renewal date has passed, “an informal objection can still be filed to the license renewal” at any time prior to action on the pending renewal application.WTIC_1080_AM_Radio_logo

The FCC explains that an "informal objection," which is an official process, “may take the form of a letter signed by the objector” and should “contain sufficient information to establish any violation alleged.”   FCC officials indicate that no objections to the station’s renewal have been filed as of this week.  If the station’s license renewal is granted, it would be for an 8-year period.

There is no indication when the hold was placed on the renewal application by the FCC’s enforcement division, what the reason was, or when it might be lifted.  FCC officials indicate that most often enforcement holds are instituted due to a complaint being filed that requires investigation, but they would not confirm whether that was true in this instance.  That information is only made available to the licensee or their attorney, according to an FCC official. FCC

Action on the license renewal application remains possible at any time.  Should an informal objection be filed, the FCC would, in most instances, need to deal with any issues raised in the objection before it would act on the license renewal application.

In April 2014, Rowland resigned as a WTIC-AM radio host as his drive-time talk show, with a federal indictment imminent related in part to Rowland’s relationship with the campaign of then-Congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley. Rowland had remained on the air on WTIC, even after it was revealed that his relationship with the Wilson-Foley campaign had sparked a federal grand jury investigation.

During this month’s trial, according to published reports, a former campaign operative for Wilson-Foley described ways Rowland allegedly coordinated topics on his WTIC talk show with the messages he wanted the campaign to get out.

In May 2012, responding to a complaint filed that month by Kenneth James Krayeske to the FCC regarding Rowland’s unstated relationship with the Wilson-Foley campaign, Mark Berlin of the FCC’s Policy Division Media Bureau indicated that “the FCC has no control over who a station might employ either on-air or off the air, and there is no requirement that a station disclose any current or prior political relationship of its employees.”May2012FCCletter

“We accept Mr. Rowland’s decision to step down at this time," Jenneen Lee, the station's program director, said in a statement posted on the station's website soon after Rowland went off the air earlier this year, CT Mirror reported.  The Rev. Will Marotti, who was Rowland's spiritual adviser and served as his co-host when Rowland went on the air at the station in September 2010, took over as host of the weekday afternoon program and remains on the air.

Back in 2012, the Torrington Register-Citizen reported that “according to a WTIC-AM representative, former Gov. Rowland disclosed the fact that he was working with Republican Lisa Wilson-Foley’s campaign ‘months ago,’ but said the 5th congressional district race is avoided on air, intentionally. ‘He actually stays away from it on purpose,’ Jeneen Lee said. ‘To date, there’s been no conversation on the air about the campaign.’”  Editorials published in the months following the campaign-related revelations called for additional disclosure by WTIC.

CBS Radio horizontal color EPSRowland, who resigned as Governor a decade ago in a corruption scandal and served 10 months in prison, was convicted this month of federal charges that he conspired to hide payment for work on two congressional campaigns, in 2010 and 2012, including the Wilson-Foley campaign.

WTIC is owned by CBS Radio.