In a May 9 letter, Pine Cove resident and Mile High Radio Club member Jeff Smith requested both the radio club and the Idyllwild Fire Protection District terminate using WNKI-578. In his complaint filed with the Federal Communications Commission rules, Smith states, “… WNKI-578 transmits reliably only tourism and disaster preparedness messaging during non-declared emergency operating times including repeated broadcast citations of numerous specific commercial point-of-sale business listings and solicitations operating in Idyllwild and the surrounding area.”
Smith says this violates the FCC rules for stations in the WNKI category. According to the FCC regulation, which Smith cites, it states, “Travelers’ Information Stations (TIS) to transmit noncommercial, travel-related information over AM band frequencies to motorists on a localized basis.”
At the May 26 IFPD meeting, Commission President Jerry Buchanan affirmed that the district’s legal counsel reviewed the agreement with MHRC thoroughly before the commission approved it last fall. “We’re operating legally and even though the transmitter is 250 [watts], we’ve limited its output to 10 [watts, the licensed transmission power]. While we still have the license, MHRC is qualified and has the expertise to operate the station.”
Bill Tell, MHRC president, interpreted the FCC rules differently than Smith and responded, “We have no plans of backing off from our goals of moving WNKI forward with the upgrades as outlined in our strategic plan.”
Smith is relying on a FCC July 2013 rulemaking, which states, “We find that allowing routine TIS broadcasts during nonemergency periods of terrorist threat levels, public health alerts, emergency preparedness messages, conservation messages and the like, is not in the public interest, as such routine broadcasts also would dilute situational awareness pertinent to the traveling motorist.
“The primary purpose of the TIS is to assist motorists in the process of traveling and to provide emergency and imminent threat information in covered areas. Therefore, we will continue to disallow messages that do not have a travel nexus, are not emergency-related, or do not relate directly to an imminent threat because such messages would dilute the convenience and efficacy of TIS.”
“Regarding the rules and regulations, we have been in communications for a third time in 2.5 years with a leading authority on this topic, one who works closely with the FCC,” Tell wrote. “Our contact states that Mr. Smith is splitting hairs like he has never seen in his 35 years working these types of stations. In fact, we have pointed out to this individual details that he says we have in black and white that we are in the right.”
Smith believes the use of the station for transmissions, which are not related to emergencies, but rather general tourist information and advertisements of Idyllwild as a visitation site, are a violation of the station’s license.
“I’ve had private conversations with members of the radio club board for awhile. Their response was to ignore me,” he said. “I’ve presented this issue to the membership already, so it’s not a sudden surprise.”
But Tell believes Smith has not been as open as he might with the club. “During the MHRC meeting of May 14, Mr. Smith had several opportunities as a MHRC board member and director to speak up on any topic that may be of his concern; however, he chose not to do so. The MHRC did not receive Mr. Smith’s letter till the 15th of May, the day after the MHRC’s general meeting.”
In this correspondence to IFPD, which is part of the commission’s package distributed for IFPD’s May 28 meeting, Smith also wanted the December agreement between IFPD and the MHRC to be terminated until the FCC has approved the station’s operating limits.
Smith also expressed concern about the power wattage of the station’s transmission, believing these may also exceed the limitation for TISs, the authority for WNKI’s license.
In his conclusion, Smith wrote, “As a long-term homeowner within Idyllwild, it my desire to have effective and widely accessible situational, hazard and emergency awareness information for residents and motorists.”
He argues that the current WNKI transmissions have limited geographic scope and are overshadowed by competing services, including the emergency alert systems and cell phone access alerts. WNKI “… serves no purpose other than to promote specific businesses and tourism for a few seconds.”