Radio Station Withstands Fcc Probe

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KRIM, the low-power FM radio station with the eclectic mix of music, has apparently withstood yet another investigation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Since it went on the air three years ago, the station has been the subject of several complaints filed with the FCC. While the agency refuses to talk about complaints received or investigations in progress until some formal action is taken, Janet Wise, director of media relations, said all complaints must be taken seriously and investigated.

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Underwriting Manager Marty Stuckenberg, owner and General Manager Steve Bingham and Station Manager LeiLani Dawn comprise the KRIM team.

"When people file complaints or when we hear of something that needs to be investigated we certainly do that, but we can't talk about things," Wise said.

The latest investigation took place this summer when Jim Lyon, an FCC regional field engineer out of San Diego, visited the station. While Lyon would not comment, station owner Steve Bingham said he came to look into issues related to station ownership, management, operation and technical issues like the power levels the station and its translators generate.

No violations found

"He showed up about six weeks ago," Bingham said. "He came out to KMOG and inspected all their stuff and found no violations, and he inspected all our stuff and found no violations.

"He told (station manager) LeiLani (Dawn) that everything looks like it's fine, and when I talked to the guy he didn't feel there was any problem."

One temporary issue occurred after KRIM began leasing space from KMOG. For the first few days the two stations' signals were combining to create "spurs," Bingham explained.

"Jim Lyon gave me a call some time ago and said he had a complaint that we were on these various frequencies," he said. "What happened was that when we went over to the KMOG tower the frequencies were mixing and they were putting us out on the channel above (96.5) and below (96.1) where we were supposed to be (96.3).

"I had a conversation with Lyon and I told him I had ordered the filter that would take care of it and we had it on line within two days. The bottom line is we looked like a hero because most radio stations don't handle these kind of problems that rapidly."

One possible reason KRIM has received more than its share of complaints is that the station is one of a fairly new category of radio stations created by the FCC to serve small and rural communities. The public often confuses KRIM with public radio stations.

"It's basically low-power FM," Bingham said. "It's a noncommercial status just like any other noncommercial station; they can belong to churches, schools, organizations -- just about anybody as long as they're a 501c3 (nonprofit corporation), which we are."

Low-power stations are limited to 100 watts by the FCC.

"The primary purpose was to have localism, because the big giants are just totally monopolizing the airwaves," Bingham said.

"Community radio is a generic term that can mean almost anything," Bingham said. "One hundred watts doesn't get you very far."

To enhance KRIM's signal, the station turned to translators, which are allowed to generate 250 watts apiece.

"It's a little bit of a loophole I discovered, but I checked with the FCC and they granted them, so obviously they are legal," Bingham said. "I can have 20 if I want all over the state of Arizona."

KRIM currently has two translators, one at Diamond Point (99.7) and one atop the Mogollon Rim (98.9).

Bingham, a retired photography instructor who moved to Payson from San Diego 13 years ago, said he was very careful to research the legality of sharing facilities with a commercial radio station:

"I talked to an FCC lawyer and I said, ‘Can I move into a commercial station and lease space in the back of their building and run my radio station from there?' and he said, ‘Absolutely.' I said, ‘Can I put my antenna on top of his tower?' and he said, ‘Absolutely.'

"He said, ‘what you can't do is use their music, and you can't rebroadcast what they're doing, and they can't run the radio station for you."

Bingham, who previously owned TV37, a low-power television station in Payson, admits that KMOG owner Mike Farrell and station manager Blaine Kimball are part owners of KRIM.

"Blaine is a very minority partner, as is Mike, and that's perfectly legal as long as I own the majority and have the controlling interest and basically run the radio station, which is what I do," he said.

Commercials raise questions

The other charge leveled against KRIM is that the station's commercials are too commercial. Bingham says the correct FCC term is not commercials, but "enhanced underwriting announcements."

"There have been a few people complaining about them, and we're doing our damnedest to comply with the rules, but they're pretty gray," he said. "For example, you can ‘describe' but you can't ‘promote,' and when you're describing something you have to be careful not to use a comparative word.

"You can't say ‘best' or ‘better,' but you can describe the product.

"You can say they do hair-dos, but you can't say they do fantastic hair-dos because that's promotional."

The difference between a commercial and an enhanced underwriting announcement can be subtle.

"They sound very much like commercials," he said. "What you can't do is give prices or say 10 percent off, but you can describe the product."

Bingham says it would take a smarter person than he to pull one over on the FCC.

"All the T's have to be crossed and the I's dotted with the FCC," he said. "If you don't do that, you just get in a world of (trouble)."

On a positive note, the community has taken to the station's eclectic music format, which includes classical, big band, jazz, blues and international music.

"Our music format is very eclectic," Dawn said. "We try to play songs and music with character. We cross multiple boundaries to include things that are fairly current and blend them with some of the older pieces, but because we're kind of picky about which songs we choose, they work together well."

Bingham and Dawn say they have received a lot of positive feedback from listeners, but would like even more about what listeners want to hear. They both say they're committed to making KRIM even better.

"Our sole purpose for being in the very beginning -- and it really hasn't changed that much -- was to provide a variety of music for Payson," Bingham said. "We do the best we can."

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