WASHINGTON, DC -- Plans for a proposed new AM radio station in Saint Johnsville are dead. In a four-page ruling issued today, the Federal Communications Commission sealed the fate of what would have been 1120 WKAJ. The FCC confirmed its earlier ruling that the station's expired construction permit will not be reinstated.
Thanks to CNYRadio.com reader audio4tv, who spotted the letter on the FCC website today, and posted a comment on our previous story regarding the ongoing saga of WKAJ. Although Saint Johnsville is just outside of the Utica-Rome market boundaries defined by Arbitron (and thus, outside of CNYRadio.com's usual coverage area), the station remained on our radar because promoters claimed WKAJ's strong signal would have been competitive with other Utica stations.
In the statement released today, Audio Division Chief Peter H. Doyle responds to a "petition for reconsideration" filed by Cranesville Block Company on January 27. In the first paragraph, Doyle says "the Petition is dismissed as procedurally defective and, when considered as a waiver request, denied."
The rest of the letter explains how Doyle reached the decision. Doyle mentions that the original construction permit, issued in April 2008, was supposed to expire in April 2011. The deadline was extended by six months after Cranesville bought the CP from the original owner, and once more, by another two months, when Cranesville argued severe weather events had "limited access to the transmitter site."
The final deadline to get WKAJ up and running was December 15, 2011. Since WKAJ had not commenced broadcasting, and had not filed FCC Form 302 (to obtain a "license to cover," the final approval needed for a new station to be fully licensed), Doyle says the construction permit expired automatically on that date. FCC engineering staff contacted Cranesville's attorney in early January to confirm their suspicions. On January 25, the FCC website officially listed the construction permit as cancelled, and the WKAJ call sign deleted.
Doyle says Cranesville filed a petition for reconsideration two days later, claiming "its contractor abruptly abandoned the project without notice shortly before permit expiration." In the petition, Cranesville claims the proximity to the holidays made it impossible to obtain a new builder to complete the work, but in photos submitted with the petition, it appears that "all four towers, the transmitter, and control unit" are ready for operation.
In the final portion of the letter, Doyle says the FCC does consider Petitions for Reconsideration within 30 days of public notice of an FCC action -- but he says the permit's expiration on December 15 was an automatic event, which did not involve commission action; therefore, the petition is "procedurally ineffective."
Doyle said the FCC would reconsider the petition as a request to waive the automatic expiration date forfeiture, but he then explains the criteria for a waiver to be approved, and how Cranesville's request fails to meet those criteria. Regarding Cranesville's claims that its contractor abandoned the project, Doyle wrote:
Vendor and contractor problems, whatever their cause, also are ordinary risks for which businesses must prudently plan, and would not generally form the basis for a waiver of broadcast construction deadlines.
Doyle continues to explain that the FCC has granted waivers in the past, but in those cases, he says such permittees had "substantially completed construction prior to permit expiration in accordance with the terms of its permit but was prevented from taking relatively small final steps needed to file a license application."
By contrast, he says Cranesville waited too long -- six weeks after the permit expired -- to petition the FCC:
The matters upon which CBC relies -- construction of four broadcast towers, installation of a transmitter, and related matters – appear to have occurred after the December 15, 2011 permit expiration, at a time when CBC had neither requested a waiver of the deadline nor special temporary authority to construct despite expiration of its permit. CBC’s construction would, thus, have been without any color of authority.
Lastly, Doyle considered Cranesville's argument that WKAJ would have been the first radio station licensed to Saint Johnsville, and cancelling the permit would leave the area without radio service. Doyle refuted that claim by noting Saint Johnsville is covered by "ten FM stations licensed to surrounding communities."
At the end of the letter, Doyle restates that Cranesville's request is denied and dismissed. He closed with the reminder that the broadcast towers must remain painted and illuminated, as a matter of air traffic safety, until such time as they are dismantled.