Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Seek, and ye shall find



Ours is a tale of two governments.

One knows who you are, to whom you've been talking, has your emails stored on some gigantic NSA hard drive and regularly peruses your phone records to make sure you're not in cahoots with al-Qaida.

The other -- and we're talking about you, Federal Communications Commission -- can't find its behonka with both hands.

Thus, the story of Omaha's "Magic 1490," KOMJ, found on the right end of your AM radio dial. The FCC is proposing fining the bejeezus out of its present owner, Cochise Broadcasting, because one of the agency's inspectors could find neither the studios, the required "public file," nor a phone number for the station's owner.

Reports the Omaha World-Herald:
The FCC said in its filing that the station is owned by Cochise Broadcasting, in Jackson, Wyo. The agency said it could find no phone number for the company, no website. Neither could The World-Herald.
Other than the singers of songs such as “Forever in Blue Jeans” by Neil Diamond, or “Evergreen” by Barbra Streisand, the only voices heard are in short station promos.

“Magic 1490,” intones an announcer. “The height of relaxation.”

Maybe. In truth, what the station specializes in is old music, dubbed “easy listening” or “middle of the road” by programmers. The playlist includes a smattering of big band, swing-type numbers of the 1940s, and a few softilicious hits of the 1980s, such as “Captain of Her Heart,” by the French pop band Double.

But most are from the dawn of the rock era and up through the singer-songwriter trend of the 1970s.

Occasionally, a promo will feature someone who sounds like a listener who called in with a message of praise.

“Just keep playing those hit records!” says a woman with great enthusiasm.

What number she called is a mystery.

“On August 1, 2013, an agent from the Kansas City Office attempted to inspect station KOMJ's main studio, while the station was on the air,” the FCC enforcement report reads. “The station's web-page contains no main studio address and only lists a local phone number, which transfers to voice mail for stations located in the state of Arizona. The station's address of record is a mail box in the state of Wyoming.”

The saga took another twist when the FCC dug deeper into the studio location. The agency said it found an unnamed attorney who served as contact person for the station. The attorney, filings say, said the main studio is at 10714 Mockingbird Dr., Omaha.

The FCC investigated further, sending an inspector there.

“This location is the main studio for the Journal Broadcast Group stations in Omaha,” the report says. “The staff for the Journal Broadcast Group stations stated that station KOMJ's main studio was not located at 10714 Mockingbird Dr. and that no one associated with station KOMJ worked at the location.”
IF YOU ASK this curious radio geek, the feds and the World-Herald weren't looking hard enough -- if at all -- and someone is going to end up paying the not-inconsequential tab for that.

As part of the licensing process, the FCC already has all the information it needs to find the small radio chain's headquarters -- indeed, even its owners -- by just making a few phone calls and asking a few questions. Informing people on the other end of the line, "I'm with the federal government and we can fine you into oblivion should we so choose" should be enough to make them forthcoming.

Me, I found the owner of Cochise Broadcasting, Ted Tucker, at his Tucson, Ariz., home after searching on Google for about 20 minutes or so. We had a nice conversation. Perhaps I should apply at the National Security Agency . . . or at least at the World-Herald, which was as stymied as the obviously Internet-challenged FCC agent.

You wouldn't want to think so, but it almost appears as if no one wanted to let a little persistence get in the way of busting some broadcaster's chops or a good "ghost station" yarn.

FOR HIS PART, Tucker maintains that the station's main studio -- which basically consists of an automation computer, a good Internet connection to program syndicator Westwood One (formerly Dial Global) and a studio-transmitter link . . . not so live and not so local from (probably) a large closet -- are indeed in the Omaha complex of Journal Broadcasting, from whom he rents the space. Likewise, he says, KOMJ's public file is at Journal as well.

After the FCC's initial inquiry, Tucker says, Journal employees called the commission's Kansas City field office back to inform it they indeed had Magic 1490's public file. If Cochise is negligent here, perhaps it would be in choosing a landlord for its operation -- when dealing with the FCC, it's important that the right hand know what the left is up to.

Judging by what Tucker says, people who should have known about KOMJ's studio and its public file didn't know much of anything. That's a problem. A public file, which contains information about a station's operations, ownership and public-service programming, isn't "public" at all if those charged with housing it can't be bothered to know what they're required to know . . . like where the heck it is.

Magic 1490's owner isn't happy with the commission or with the World-Herald, which he accuses of sensationalizing and embellishing Sunday's newspaper story. I'd be even more unhappy with my landlord if I were in Tucker's shoes.

SOON ENOUGH, pending commission approval, KOMJ and know-nothing landlords no longer will be Tucker's problem. He's selling the station (presumably lock, stock and cloaking device) to Kona Coast Radio for $450,000.

No doubt, Kona Coast of Cheyenne, Wyo., and its owner, Vic Michael, will face their own adventures in absentee ownership here. Perhaps Michael will shake the "ghost station" rap by making sure the FCC and the World-Herald have his cell-phone number. I'd also recommend a corporate website optimized to land on the first page of Google's search results.

And a neon-lit studio in the middle of the intersection at 72nd and Dodge.

I have no good advice, however, for listeners in this age of "radio by wire," where "live and local" is as much as a thing of the past as the broadcasting professionals who, once upon a time, made that possible. A once-vital medium lingers on life support . . . and those who once served and entertained the public linger in the unemployment line.

Many things have improved over time. Radio isn't one of them. Ditto for newspapers.

And let's not even mention the federal government.

1 snappy rejoinders:

Ralph said...

What a cogent, well-written piece this is. Thanks for the information -- and the time it took to craft it.