Cumulus Media to Pay $540,000 Penalty to Settle FCC Investigation
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January 08, 2016

The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Enforcement Bureau says that it has reached a $540,000 settlement with broadcaster Cumulus Media regarding sponsorship identification in radio advertising promoting a proposed energy project.

The settlement resolves an investigation into whether radio station WOKQ (97.5 FM) in Dover, New Hampshire violated the FCC's sponsorship identification rules. The agency says that the station had broadcast 178 announcements in support of the Northern Pass hydro-electric energy project without identifying the sponsor of those announcements, in this case a company with a financial interest in the project.

This is the largest payment in FCC history for a single-station violation of the Commission's sponsorship identification laws.

"Radio and television stations that are paid to air any announcements or other content are required to clearly disclose the payer's identity," said Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. "While failure to disclose these identities generally misleads the public, it is particularly concerning when consumers are duped into supporting controversial environmental projects."

The Northern Pass energy project is a $1 billion proposal to run 180 miles of new power lines from Canada through New Hampshire. The Enforcement Bureau says that it began its investigation into Cumulus Media after receiving a consumer complaint alleging that WOKQ had broadcast an announcement for the Northern Pass project in September 2011 without identifying who sponsored the announcement. The Bureau's investigation revealed that the station had broadcast multiple versions of the announcements from May through October 2011 that referenced the Northern Pass project but none of them expressly identify Northern Pass Transmission LLC, a company with a financial interest in the project, as the sponsor.

Under the terms of the settlement, Cumulus Media Inc. subsidiaries Cumulus Radio Corporation and Radio License Holding CBC, LLC will pay a penalty of $540,000 and will enter into a robust compliance plan governing 195 stations across the country. The plan includes appointing a Compliance Officer, enhanced operating procedures, employee training on sponsorship identification laws, and a hotline for reporting violations of the compliance plan.