Michigan ABIP Program Field Notes: 2019 Inspections

Mark Croom

By:  Mark Croom, Riverfront Communications, LLC

It’s been a privilege to visit broadcast facilities around the state as the Alternate Broadcast Inspection Program representative for the Michigan Association of Broadcasters for the past two calendar years. It’s always interesting to see what kind of shape I’ll find stations in from the compliance standpoint. Here are a few of the common things that I find out of order that you may wish to double-check as you consider the compliance profile of your facility:

EAS System equipment – Your EAS system is required to be monitoring certain signals, and generally I find those to be correct, but occasionally if a radio that doesn’t have fixed tuning gets bumped or its components start to age it may be locked on another station or just picking up noise in between stations. I recommend you turn on the speaker in your EAS unit monthly and listen to each input and make sure it’s on the correct station and the audio is acceptable for retransmission. Your assignments are in the State or applicable Regional EAS Plan. Each week when your log reviews happen (see item #2 below) there should be an entry for each required monitor source, and one for your station or stations that show an EAS test or alert sent.

Station log reviews – It is not true that station logs are not required, though I often find folks who believe this. Logs must contain records of every test or activation of the Emergency Alert System, and any anomalies in your tower lighting system as observed in daily checks or alarms received from the tower lighting controller. Logs are required to be reviewed weekly by the station’s Chief Operator. Interesting item about the tower lights; no entries are required for working systems, but if you’re checking once every 24 hours there’s no reason to not record that fact. Your log should have a signature and date when it’s reviewed, then be filed and kept for two years. You’re also required to investigate any missing but required EAS tests. Have you upgraded your Sage ENDEC since the new Rev95 firmware was released? If you haven’t, you’re not receiving the required CAP/IPAWS tests and those should be noted in the log, with the reason that the firmware update is not yet complete. You should also not put that off any longer!

Quarterly Tower Lighting Inspection – If your station owns its tower, and that tower is required to display obstruction lighting, you are required to do a specific inspection of the lighting system and any associated alarms once a quarter. This should be logged in either the station log at the studio, or in a maintenance log at the tower site.

Missing items in the Online Public File – Sometimes I find required items missing from the Online Public File. You should review with your Counsel any questions you may have about this, but the most common one I find is that the station license isn’t posted correctly. This should be handled automatically by the FCC’s systems, but if you’re a TV station just repacked, or an older AM or FM station (last license before 1980 or so) your license link may pull up a document that says “Authorization not yet created by MB.” This does not absolve you of the requirement to have your license in the file. I suggest you scan the license you have, and place it in the “Additional Documents” section of the station information section of the site, along with the latest renewal if that is also missing. For repacked TV stations, once you have your new license it can take the FCC quite some time to get your authorization updated. I recommend when you get that new license, just upload a PDF to “Additional Documents” so you’re covered.

Issues and Programs lists – These quarterly filings are the bane of many a news director or manager’s existence. The Commission requires us to serve the public interest with our programming, and these lists are how we document what we’re doing. They should begin with a brief narrative, describing the issues being addressed in the list and in a general way the programming that addresses the issues enumerated. After the narrative, there should be a list of entries, either in table or paragraph form, that contain in each entry a specific issue listed above, the name of the program that addressed the issue, and (at a minimum) the date, time, and duration of the segment that addressed the issue. 5-8 of these entries per quarter is generally considered to be adequate, but you can obviously do as many more as you wish, covering things your station actually addressed in its program offerings. These must be uploaded to the online public file within ten days of the end of each calendar quarter (but you knew that part). I often note missing pieces the “at a minimum” section, or no narration in the filed lists.

AM power changes and/or directional parameters off, or monitor equipment faulty – Often when it comes time to check AM stations, I find there’s no way to be sure pattern switches are happening on schedule. This is important for any station with multiple power levels. You need to be sure (and able to demonstrate) that changes are happening on time. If you have a directional, it’s equally important that you’re monitoring directional parameters often enough to know that the system is operating as intended. If for some reason the numbers are off, make sure your antenna monitor is working OK before you start trying to make things work by turning knobs on the phasor. I’ve been in more than one station that had a faulty monitor; once repaired, usually the system falls back into place pretty easily if there’s no major component failures in the phasor or ATUs.

These are the major areas of concern that I find when I’m in the field. If I’ve already been in your station you know the drill. I would encourage all stations to check these items carefully, and make changes if needed before I come to your station to inspect. I look forward to meeting another great group of Michigan broadcasters in 2020.

Reserve Your 2020 ABIP Inspection Now

Scheduling has begun for the 2020 Alternative Broadcast Inspection Program (ABIP).  The MAB conducts these alternative inspections regionally from April to October.

Every broadcaster wants to be in full compliance with FCC rules, but finding out that you are not in compliance by receiving an FCC fine, can be a costly learning experience. The Michigan Association of Broadcasters’ Alternative Broadcast Inspection Program (ABIP) is a unique partnership between the MAB and FCC under which stations that pass their inspection will receive a three-year exemption from routine FCC inspections.

SAVE Money!
Stations that have successfully completed the program are exempt from routine FCC inspections and possible fines for a three-year period.

SAVE Staff Time
Now that the public inspection file is online, it is easier than ever for the FCC to inspect it without prior notice. It is not uncommon for the FCC to spend a day or more at a station. That would involve significant time from several key staff members. MAB’s inspections are set ahead of time and by appointment. They are learning experiences, without the risk of a fine.

SAVE Worry
A station’s successful participation in the ABIP is evidence of the licensee’s positive attitude toward regulatory compliance. The inspector also provides feedback to management that station personnel are performing important duties in an adequate manner.

The inspector uses inspection criteria that have been set by the FCC and are uniformly used in the many ABIP programs administered by State Broadcast Associations throughout the U.S.

If you have questions or would like to schedule your 2020 Alternative Inspection, contact Ann Walters at 517-484-7444 or [email protected].

Alpha Media’s Geary Morrill Joins SBE Board

Geary Morrill

At the SBE National Meeting held October 16 in Middleton (Madison), Wisconsin, Saginaw-based Alpha Media Regional Director of Engineering Geary Morrill was formally inducted to a 2-year term on the SBE Board of Directors.  This follows an announcement in August by the Society following a month-long ballot process with its members.  Morrill is a long-time member of SBE Chapter 91 in Central Michigan.

Wayne Pecena was sworn in as the next president of the SBE, replacing Jim Leifer, who becomes the immediate past president.  Pecena will serve a one-year term as the society’s President.  Pecena, a member of SBE’s Chapter 99 in College Station, Texas, is the assistant director of educational broadcast services at Texas A&M University, where he also serves as the director of engineering for public broadcast stations KAMU FM/TV.

Three other officers were inducted to one-year terms: Andrea Cummis (Chapter 15, New York; Roseland, N.J.) was voted Vice-President; Kevin Trueblood (Chapter 90, Southwest, Fla.; Ft. Myers, Fla.) will become the Secretary; and Ted Hand (Chapter 45, Charlotte, N.C.) was voted as Treasurer.

Others inducted to 2-year terms on the Board of Directors are Mark Fehlig (Chapter 40 San Francisco); Charles Keiler (Chapter 53 South Florida); Jason Ornellas (Chapter 43 Sacramento, Calif.); Chris Tarr (Chapter 28 Milwaukee); and Dan Whealy (Chapter 96 Rockford, IL).  Those elected will begin their terms on October 16.

The SBE National Meeting was held in conjunction with the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association’s Broadcast Clinic.

Morrill Elected to SBE Board

Geary Morrill

After a month-long ballot process with its members, Saginaw-based Alpha Media Regional Director of Engineering Geary Morrill has been elected to a 2-year term on the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) Board of Directors.  The results were announced on August 29.  Morrill is a long-time member of SBE Chapter 91 in Central Michigan. He will be sworn in at the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association’s Broadcast Clinic in Madison this October.

Wayne Pecena has been chosen as the next president of the SBE, replacing Jim Leifer, who becomes the immediate past president.  Pecena will serve a one-year term as the society’s President.  Pecena, a member of SBE’s Chapter 99 in College Station, Texas, is the assistant director of educational broadcast services at Texas A&M University, where he also serves as the director of engineering for public broadcast stations KAMU FM/TV.

Three other officers were elected to one-year terms: Andrea Cummis (Chapter 15, New York; Roseland, N.J.) was voted Vice-President; Kevin Trueblood (Chapter 90, Southwest, Fla.; Ft. Myers, Fla.) will become the Secretary; and Ted Hand (Chapter 45, Charlotte, N.C.) was voted as Treasurer.

Others elected to 2-year terms on the Board of Directors are Mark Fehlig (Chapter 40 San Francisco); Charles Keiler (Chapter 53 South Florida); Jason Ornellas (Chapter 43 Sacramento, Calif.); Chris Tarr (Chapter 28 Milwaukee); and Dan Whealy (Chapter 96 Rockford, IL).  Those elected will begin their terms on October 16.

WION Hosts 2019 SBE Picnic

On Thursday, August 15, 2019, WION Radio in Ionia hosted broadcast engineers from SBE Chapter 102 (West Michigan/Grand Rapids) and SBE Chapter 91 (Lansing/Mid Michigan) on the lawn of the radio station for Chapter 102’s annual picnic. The Mid Michigan group was invited by the West Michigan chapter to come and take in the event by Chapter 102’s Mark Wittkoski.

It’s been seven years since WION hosted this event and the turnout was wonderful with WION Monday Night Host  “Popeye John” handling the grill (his “real” job cooking at the Lamplight Grill in Downtown Ionia) and plenty of food and conversation to go around. Attendees came from as far as 120 miles away to gather at the station, including WION’s own engineers from Munn-Reese Engineering, Ralph Haines and many others.

WION co-owners Jim Carlyle and Jim Aaron (Manager at WGLM, Greenville/Lakeview) were both in attendance and happy with the turnout. Many “tales” were told of WION’s history and stories of other stations added to the evening’s fun as guests enjoyed the outside event, and tours of  the station’s studios and transmitter site on Haynor Road in Ionia.

WION operates AM Stereo 1430 and carries it’s actual AM stereo sound online at their website and most streaming devices. It also serves Ionia County on FM 92-7, recently adding their new signal on 100.3 FM in Lowell, serving Eastern Kent County. The new Kent County signal is a cooperative effort of Lowell School’s FM 92-3, (sharing transmitter site and broadcast antenna) and the City of Lowell, working with WION to make WION’s newest FM translator a reality.

WION hopes to host this event again and enjoyed all the great conversation, and the contributions of the Ionia Moose Lodge, Muir Village Market, and both chapters of the SBE. From the “WION Trivia” department, it is interesting to note that this gathering happened just 15 years plus a day from when owners Jim Carlyle and Jim Aaron got the keys to the (then dark) WION in 2004, and accepted the challenge and the deadline of restoring the station to the air by September 4th of that year or risk the license being deleted. WION returned to the air with the current owners on September 1st of 2004, and celebrates fifteen years of local radio this year.

LPFMs Should Check Transmitters for FCC Label

REC Networks reports that a low-power FM station in California was recently cited by the FCC for operating without a transmitter that has been certified for use in the LPFM service.

According to REC Networks, “the certification requirement dates back to the 1990s prior to the establishment of the LPFM service with the surge of pirate radio operations that took place following the passage of the Telecom Act of 1996 which opened the door for the relaxing of the national ownership rules. The certification requirement was to assure that unstable pirate equipment was not used in the licensed service. It also assured that older equipment which may be more vulnerable of going out of tolerance without the knowledge of station staff, many whom may be inexperienced broadcasters, would cause interference inside or outside of the FM band with the latter putting safety of life communications at risk.”

Every transmitter model that has been lab-tested and certified for LPFM use will have a label that reads “FCC ID” and then a code. A transmitter without that label may be subject to enforcement action which could include forfeitures. A transmitter that is advertised as Part 73 “type accepted” or “verified” does not necessarily mean the unit is certified for use with LPFM.

REC Networks has a list of models of FM transmitters for which a “FCC ID” exists and therefore would be certified for use by LPFM stations in accordance with the terms of their station license. This list can be found at https://recnet.com/certified.

Alpha Media’s Geary Morrill Featured on This Week’s TWiRT Podcast

Alpha Media Regional Director of Engineering Geary Morrill, based in Saginaw, was the featured guest this week on Kirk Harnack’s TWiRT (This Week In Radio Tech) Podcast, discussing the rise of his career beginning in the ’70s and the process today of finding, hiring and training new engineers.

Special thanks to Kirk Harnack for sharing.  You can find the TWiRT podcast library here (it is a wealth of great tech information and ideas).

Watch below:

Show description:

How did we broadcast engineers learn our craft? What experiences, resources, and people helped become broadcast engineering professionals? Geary Morrill got started with the likes of Steve Church, Vern Post, and Dave Gorman. Now Geary joins us with ideas and solid advice for finding and encouraging the next generation of audio, video, RF, and IT engineers.

Show Links:

SBE Mentor Program – Developing Tomorrow’s Broadcast Engineers

Cleveland Institute of Electronics Broadcast Engineering

SBE MemberPlus (access to all broadcast engineering webinars)

Information about the late David C. Gorman – one of Geary’s mentors

Steve Church – tribute video

ATSC 3.0 Build Out Plans Announced for Top 40 Markets

At the 2019 NAB Show, a broad coalition of broadcast television station groups – including both network owned-and-operated stations and affiliates, as well as public broadcasters — today announced plans to deploy Next-Gen TV in the 40 largest U.S. TV markets by the end of 2020.

The announcement includes Fox Television Stations, NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, Univision, SpectrumCo (whose members include Sinclair Broadcast Group and Nexstar Media Group) members of the Pearl TV business organization (including Cox Media Group, The E.W. Scripps Company, Graham Media Group, Gray Television, Hearst Television Inc., Meredith Local Media Group, Nexstar Media Group and TEGNA Inc). Additional supporting broadcasters include America’s Public Television Stations (APTS), Capitol Broadcasting, Hubbard Broadcasting, News-Press & Gazette Broadcasting, and public broadcasters participating in the Phoenix Model Market Next-Gen TV test.

The market-driven effort builds on the testing and rollouts that have already taken place not only in Phoenix but in Dallas, Baltimore, East Lansing, Raleigh and Santa Barbara. It reflects the strong commitment of commercial and non-commercial broadcasters across the country to bring advanced television services to the public.

An expanded launch of Next-Gen TV will greatly enhance over-the-air services for viewers, while bringing together broadcast and broadband functionality to give audiences more content and choice. Next-Gen TV also provides groundbreaking opportunities for TV broadcasters interested in offering new features and serving new markets. Deployment of ATSC 3.0 will provide information and entertainment to ATSC 3.0-equipped television receivers, to automobiles and to other digital and mobile consumer devices.

Next-Gen TV is powered by the new Internet Protocol-based ATSC 3.0 standard, which allows consumers to integrate the most popular and pervasive video service – broadcast television – into their digital lifestyles.

This first wave of over-the-air Next-Gen TV service will begin with several markets slated for launch this year, with dozens more planned through 2020. This timeline will make Next-Gen TV service available to tens of millions of viewers and is concurrent with the anticipated 2020 introduction of consumer devices equipped to receive the advanced signals.

Subject to final engineering and required approvals, consents and FCC license modifications, the participating broadcasters have identified the first stations that will convert to ATSC 3.0 service in this rollout. Primary broadcast programming currently broadcast on the stations planning to upgrade will be hosted by other stations in their respective markets.

Top 40 Markets where the first transitioning stations have been identified (ranked by population) include:

  • Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX
  • Houston, TX
  • San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Seattle-Tacoma, WA
  • Detroit, MI
  • Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, FL
  • Portland, OR
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Raleigh-Durham, NC
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Nashville, TN
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Kansas City, KS-MO
  • Columbus, OH
  • West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce, FL
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Austin, TX

Work is now underway to identify Next-Gen TV stations in these Top 40 markets (ranked by population), with details to follow in the coming months:

  • New York, NY
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Washington, DC
  • Boston, MA
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Tampa-St.Petersburg-Sarasota, FL
  • Minneapolis – St. Paul, MN
  • Miami – Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  • Denver, CO
  • Cleveland-Akron, OH
  • Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, CA
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • San Diego, CA
  • Hartford-New Haven, CT
  • Cincinnati, OH
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Greenville-Spartanburg, SC – Asheville, NC

Additional TV markets where stations have been identified for Next-Gen TV service (ranked by population) include:

  • Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News, VA
  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • Albuquerque – Santa Fe, NM
  • Grand Rapids – Kalamazoo, MI
  • Memphis, TN
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Providence – New Bedford, RI
  • Little Rock – Pine Bluff, AR
  • Mobile, AL – Pensacola, FL
  • Albany-Schenectady – Troy, NY
  • Flint-Saginaw – Bay City, MI
  • Omaha, NE
  • Charleston – Huntington, WV
  • Springfield, MO
  • Rochester, NY
  • Syracuse, NY
  • Chattanooga, TN
  • Charleston, SC
  • Burlington, VT – Plattsburgh, NY
  • Davenport, IA – Moline, IL
  • Santa Barbara – Santa Maria – San Luis Obispo, CA

“We know consumers are excited about all the benefits ATSC 3.0 will deliver,” said Brian Markwalter, senior vice president, research and standards, Consumer Technology Association (CTA)TM. “And we expect CES® 2020 will feature a wide variety of reception devices – integrated 4K Ultra HD TVs, gateway receivers, portable devices and more – optimized for reception of Next-Gen TV signals.”

“Broadcasters across America will utilize the advanced capabilities of Next-Gen TV to both delight our audiences with the best entertainment while performing a valuable public service,” said NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith. “One of the most compelling features of Next-Gen TV will be the life-saving alerting functions that will give our nation’s first responders the ability to use the broad reach of local television to keep viewers informed during emergencies. Our members’ news departments will come to rely on the advanced capabilities of Next-Gen TV as a resource to forge even stronger connections with the citizens we serve every day.”

Patrick Butler, President and CEO of America’s Public Television Stations:

“Public television stations see ATSC 3.0 as a boon to our public service missions of education, public safety and civic leadership. The new standard will make possible advances in distance learning, emergency communications through datacasting, connectivity service to Smart Cities,

and more. We can’t wait, and we look forward to working with our colleagues in commercial broadcasting to make all this happen as soon as we can.”

Joe Di Scipio, SVP, Legal and FCC Compliance, Legal for FOX Corporation:

“ATSC 3.0 is integral to the success and longevity of our business. We are thrilled to be on the forefront of this movement with our partners in expanding the access and footprint of Next-Gen TV broadcast. This is yet another example of our commitment to innovation and our viewers.”

Emily L. Barr, President and Chief Executive Officer of Graham Media Group:

“Graham Media Group is proud of its innovative approach to serving and covering our local communities and is looking forward to working with fellow broadcasters as we adopt Next-Gen technology across our markets.”

Pat LaPlatney, President and Co-Chief Executive Officer of Gray Television, Inc.:

“With Gray’s focus on operating leading televisions stations with continued growth in mind, we are proud to be a part of Pearl TV and the efforts to move to the ATSC 3.0 standard. We know the advanced technology will allow us to better serve our communities with Ultra High Definition content, delivery to mobile devices, enhanced audio experiences, and emergency communications. Additionally, these efforts will lead to more sustainability for local broadcasters in the future as they continue to compete with international online and digital services. We look forward to working in our 90+ markets with other broadcasters to bring the ATSC 3.0 technology and its benefits to the viewers in our communities.”

Patrick McCreery, President of Meredith Corporation’s Local Media Group:

“We’ve seen amazing things from our involvement in the Phoenix Model Market, and we are excited to continue forward progress on ATSC 3.0 with Pearl and its partners in other large markets across the United States.”

Eric Bradley, VP of Business Development, News-Press & Gazette Company:

“News-Press & Gazette Company is encouraged to see other broadcasters join us as we ride the road to ATSC 3.0. The potential of ATSC 3.0 as lifesaving technology is a great benefit to our viewers in Santa Barbara and other NPG markets as we look to the future of television broadcasting. We are proud to serve our communities as the local source for news and information daily and at the times when it matters most!”

Perry A. Sook, Founder, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Nexstar Media Group, Inc.:

“With a culture rooted in entrepreneurship and an overarching commitment to localism, Nexstar has long understood the importance of innovation in driving the growth and success of our business as well as the entire broadcasting industry at large. Next-Gen TV services will enable us to deliver new value and capabilities to viewers and advertisers, while creating new business opportunities to support the continued growth of our industry well into the future. That is why Nexstar is proud to join together with many other television broadcasters in an effort of unprecedented industry collaboration to facilitate the successful roll-out of ATSC 3.0 across the United States.”

Anne Schelle, Managing Director of the Pearl TV broadcast business group:

“Our Consumer Lab Research clearly shows excitement for Next-Gen TV, driving interest in broadcast TV and enhanced audio and video and interactivity. Today’s announcement helps to solve the ‘chicken or egg’ question about the introduction of new, higher-quality television services. Now consumer technology companies have a clear roadmap for Next-Gen TV, allowing them to innovate and introduce the first receivers for U.S. consumers in 2020.”

Chris Ripley, President and CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group:

“Sinclair is proud to join other leading broadcasters and television stations across the country to launch Next-Gen TV – the most important upgrade ever of the nation’s broadcasting infrastructure. Sinclair was instrumental in pioneering ATSC 3.0 and is committed to bringing its many benefits to consumers across the country with an aggressive rollout schedule. ATSC 3.0 allows broadcasters to combine the infinite flexibility of Internet Protocol with the unparalleled efficiency and quality of broadcast distribution. The combination will allow Sinclair and all other broadcasters to provide vastly improved television service to our communities while creating entirely new services to diversify revenue and better serve the public.”

John Hane, President of SpectrumCo:

“SpectrumCo is proud to have helped organize Next-Gen TV rollouts in many of the first wave markets announced today. Broadcasters large and small, commercial and public, from coast to coast have invested countless hours of analysis, planning and coordination to develop the rollout plans announced today. The industry is enthusiastic about the game-changing opportunities to improve the broadcast experience for consumers, better serve advertisers and subscribers, and diversify into new businesses and new sources of revenue. SpectrumCo will continue to support the industry as stations execute on these plans in 2019 and 2020.”

Dave Lougee, President and Chief Executive Officer, TEGNA Inc., representing PearlTV:

“PearlTV’s 300 local broadcasters, along with our network partners, are aligned in our support of Next-Gen TV, which opens up new opportunities and business models while ensuring that local broadcasters remain a vital and forward-looking resource in our communities. We are honored to join other broadcasters in leading the rollout of Next-Gen TV to additional markets across the country.”

John Buergler, SVP of Growth Initiatives, Univision:

”Univision is excited to continue supporting the NAB and the broadcast industry as we transition to Next Gen TV in several markets in 2020. Our partnership with the broadcasters of Pearl Group in Phoenix and the SpectrumCo group in Dallas has helped create an easily replicated template for other broadcasters to follow in many more markets in 2019 and 2020.”

Sage Releases ENDEC Firmware Upgrade

RadioWorld reports that EAS equipment maker Sage Alerting Systems has announced a firmware upgrade for its ENDEC Model 3644.  The upgrade, #89-32, adds Blue Alert functionality. Blue Alerts are warnings about police that may be in trouble or are issuing a related emergency message. They are currently voluntary.

The company adds, “The release notes also address a check that you will need to perform if you have used the old “new event” option in the settings file.”

Sage has provided release notes here.

The Importance of Assessing the Safety and Security of Broadcast Stations and Their Personnel

David Oxenford - Color

David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP,

A topic not much discussed among broadcasters, but one that should be paramount in the future planning of all broadcast companies, is insuring the security of their stations and the safety of their employees. This is an issue on which all broadcasters should be focusing. Last month, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association for the second time featured a panel at one of its conventions dealing with this topic. While many might think that security issues won’t arise at their stations, in fact it can be an issue at any station in any market. Listening to the stories told by the participants on these panels, and in later discussions with audience members at the two WBA conferences where the panel has now been featured, and judging from news reports, the topic is clearly one that all broadcasters should be considering. Video of the panel held last month is available here.

While the panel was premised on protecting journalists who often are the highest profile “faces” of a TV station, from the discussion it was clear that the need for security planning is one that applies not just to TV stations with news operations, but even to radio stations and other media outlets that can, for one reason or another, be targeted by someone with a grudge against the outlet or one of its personalities. We have seen high profile incidents like the shooting of the Roanoke TV journalists or the employees of an Annapolis newspaper, and we have seen just in the last few weeks pipe bombs sent to news organizations and threats against cable TV hosts. But, as discussed at the WBA panel, there have been many less publicized incidents. Two of the panelists discussed their experiences, one a shooting at a small community-run radio station and the second an intruder making threats and smashing station property in broad daylight at a small market TV station. These incidents, beyond simply raising questions of employee safety, raise both practical and legal issues for all broadcasters.

As discussed in last month’s panel, the practical issues can be as simple as the question of how to conduct operations when your station has become a crime scene. The manager of the Wisconsin community radio station where a night-time intruder shot the on-air DJ discussed not only the security review that the incident prompted, but also the operational issues that resulted from the incident. While police investigated the incident, station employees could not get into their building to operate the station. This highlighted the need for disaster and emergency planning for all stations, not just because of incidents like this, but for any eventuality (e.g. flood or chemical spill) that could make a studio inaccessible. How does a station deal with the lack of access to their main studio? Can they keep operating if that happens? Have they made plans for such an event?

On these panels, law enforcement officials emphasized the need for planning and staff training sessions so that employees know what to do if a threat arises. Many businesses already undertake this kind of training, and local law enforcement authorities are often willing to help conduct the sessions. In the small market TV incident discussed on the panel, a stranger started banging on the front door of a TV station and then retreated to the front lawn of the station using a crucifix he had stolen from a local church to start attacking the sign identifying the station. In the video show during the discussion, a station employee can be seen running out to confront the attacker. Questions were raised as to whether the better and safer approach might have been to shelter in the studio building until law enforcement authorities trained in dealing with such situations arrived on the scene, especially without knowing what other weapons the individual might have had. Would your employees have known what to do in such a situation?

The discussion looked at other instances where stations should be assessing the safety of their employees. While technology has made it possible for station employees, by themselves, to broadcast from all sorts of remote locations, should they do so? Should the station be thinking about security before sending an employee to do a broadcast from a news scene or any other remote location – especially if the employee is going on their own?

Planning for these situations is important, and as I said in my remarks, there are already lawyers thinking about potential liability for stations that don’t do enough to keep their employees safe. Stations should be thinking about how to ensure a safe workplace, and taking active measures to reduce risks. Some companies have already started to review social media accounts of their stations and their on-air employees to try to identify threats early – as some online remarks may be indicative of real potential threats to station personnel. The FCC has eliminated the requirement that stations have a manned main studio accessible by the public during all business hours. While some stations feel that they need to maintain an accessible main studio to show their connection to their communities, others have decided that security is more important. Stations should make educated decisions about such matters, assessing the security implications of their choices.

These are not easy decisions, and there are no clear answers as to what stations need to do to keep their employees safe on the job, while still interacting with the community to provide the localism on which broadcasting thrives. In today’s world, journalists and broadcast companies are often vilified by public figures and even by private individuals who do not, for one reason or another, like what is being broadcast. Because of the attention they get, stations need to be thinking about these issues, and planning for the security issues that may come their way. We will be writing more about these questions in future articles, but start thinking about these issues now.

David Oxenford is MAB’s Washington Legal Counsel and provides members with answers to their legal questions with the MAB Legal Hotline. Access information here. (Members only access).

There are no additional costs for the call; the advice is free as part of your MAB membership.