The FCC today upheld its proposed $20,000 forfeiture against Zwerling Broadcasting System, Ltd’s Conservative Talk 1080 KSCO Santa Cruz CA for operating against its licensed parameters.
The FCC received complaints in 2016 and 2020 alleging the station had been operating at night with 1kW non-directional for over thirty years as opposed to its licensed directional 5kW. Zwerling had last applied for an STA to operate under those parameters in 1996. In response to the FCC, Zwirling told the FCC that “in the directional mode the Station loses coverage to a significant amount of its primary service area.”. The station did apply for the STA again in early September with the FCC rejecting it as the was no proper justification for the need to operate with an alternate antenna system and reduced power during nighttime hours and no engineering studies supplied to show that they facility would protect other co-channel and first adjacent stations.
In upholding the penalty the FCC states, “We will not, as Zwerling requests, reduce or cancel the proposed forfeiture. Zwerling has not demonstrated that any of the downward adjustment factors are applicable here. Instead, Zwerling cites the fact that the Station’s non-conforming operations allowed it to “serve those in our broadcast area who would not otherwise have had access to the news and information they needed.” While this may be true, it does not excuse or mitigate Zwerling’s violations of the Act and the Rules. Nor does the fact that, according to Zwerling, “no radio station complained of interference” during the Station’s decades of non-conforming operations. Further, while inability to pay could justify reduction or cancellation of the proposed forfeiture, Zwerling has offered no evidence of an inability to pay other than a statement that it has served its community “with very little financial return.” Finally, we reject Zwerling’s assertion that, prior to the filing of the Station’s most recent renewal application, the Commission never ordered or even suggested to Zwerling that the Station should cease its non-conforming operations. As we noted in the NAL, on at least two occasions, Commission staff informed Zwerling that STA was required to operate the Station at variance from its licensed nighttime parameters, and that it needed to file an application to modify the Station’s authorization if it wished to continue to operate the Station non- directionally with reduced power.
The fine comes as owner Michael Zwerling has placed the station up for sale on Craigslist. Zwerling is seeking $1.5 million for KSCO, its three translators 104.1 K281CA Santa Cruz, 95.7 K239CN Watsonville, and 107.9 K300DD Watsonville, and 1340 KOMY La Selva Beach/Santa Cruz. He is seeking an additional $6 million for the 6.8 acres of property hosting the station’s offices and three towers, otherwise the buyers would pay $15,000 per month in rent.
Zwerling told Lookout Santa Cruz that if a buyer cannot be found by the end of the year, KSCO will eliminate all of its local programming, “Yeah, it looks like our local programming is going away. I have the radio station for sale, and the real estate separately. I think the ideal buyer would buy them both. But I guess that’s just not in the cards.” In explaining why he is selling, “Now, I have a different life, and I want to enjoy it. For so many years, KSCO was 90% joy and 10% misery and sadness. In the last two years, that’s reversed. It’s like 90% misery and no fun at all. It breaks my heart to have to send out these letters to people who have essentially been my family. But I’m just tired of spending all this money. So many stations in the country now just don’t do live and local because it doesn’t pay, and it hasn’t paid for years.”