Homer radio operator battles against FCC

Posted: Monday, July 07, 2003

HOMER (AP) Homer radio operator Dave Becker has spent two decades building a private radio empire to span the empty spaces of Southcentral Alaska.

Along the way, he's waged a long battle againt the Federal Communications Commission to keep his radio business alive.

Last month, Becker suffered another setback. An administrative law judge for the Federal Communications Commission ordered that licenses for two of his four commercial stations be revoked.

But Kenai Peninsula listeners aren't likely to hear FM stations KPEN and KWVV blink off anytime soon. Becker said he will appeal.

That's not surprising. Becker has been appealing decisions by federal regulators since 1996, when competing stations first complained he was taking unfair advantage of the law.

Richard L. Sippel, the FCC judge, whose exasperation shows through his 30-page decision, called Becker's ''extended joust'' with FCC staff members ''a particularly cynical abuse of the fairness shown by the Commission and the Commission staff in giving (his stations) the benefit of several doubts.''

Becker even managed to operate seven illegal translator towers for more than a year after a direct termination order from the FCC, continuing to send commercial signals for Peninsula Communications Inc. into Kenai, Homer, Seward and Kodiak.

Sippel wrote, ''Through a carefully crafted 'network,' PCI captured revenues that otherwise would have gone to competing full-service licensees operating properly within their assigned service areas.''

That show of defiance finally ended last summer after he lost in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The translators shut down, and his radio empire shrank.

That defiance could also cost Becker $140,000 in fines and, as a further punishment, the licenses for the two stations that were being beamed over those translators.

Becker appealed the fines, as he has appealed everything else in the long campaign. He predicts the struggle over his licenses could go on another five years.

''These people are just bullies,'' he says, and have ignored their own long-established exemption for operation of FM translators in Alaska, written to provide signals to remote, underserved communities. To knock him out, he says, they keep changing the rules.

''I'm exercising my right to appeal. What's wrong with that?'' Becker says. ''They're ticked because most people roll over and go away. They're wondering why hasn't this guy died yet.''

In 1979, Becker started the FM predecessor for KWVV, establishing Homer's first commercial radio station. At the time, KSRM was relaying its signal via translator towers to Homer. Becker objected that the Kenai station was taking away potential advertisers. He was told such translators were legal.

''I said OK, if that's the way it is, I'll put translators in Kenai-Soldotna,'' Becker recalls.

By creating a network reaching to Seward and Kodiak, Becker was able to sell areawide advertising without adding staffers. But the FCC changed its rules in 1990, allowing stations to translate only to ''white areas'' that had no commercial signal.

The degree to which an Alaska exception allowed Becker to continue remains central to his dispute with the FCC. Sippel contended that the exception expired in 1994. Overlooking past confusions, the FCC said in 1996 that the new rules would apply henceforth to Becker.

For several years, Becker tried to sell the translator system, but a deal collapsed. His efforts to appeal were then rebuffed by the FCC and a federal judge in the District of Columbia. The commission ordered his translators off the air by May 19, 2001, though Becker kept them on 15 more months while he made further appeals.

Becker said his next move will be to appeal the judge's decision to the full five-member commission.

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