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Dave Olson, Published July 09 2008

Former owner of KFGO fined $12,000 for violating federal broadcasting rules

FARGO - The Federal Communications Commission has fined the former owner of KFGO AM $12,000 for “willful and repeated” violations of FCC rules about broadcasting phone conversations without giving warning they may end up on the air.

The action stems from a complaint filed in January 2007 by Sandy Blunt, former executive director Workforce Safety and Insurance, the agency that handles worker compensation issues in North Dakota.

Blunt said he left a voicemail on the private cell phone of Joel Heitkamp, host of the KFGO program “News and Views,” and that the recording was aired several times without his permission.

In a document issued this week, the FCC said its rules require a radio station to notify someone that a telephone conversation will be put on the air.

The document said that when KFGO’s former owner, Capstar, and its parent company, Clear Channel, were informed of Blunt’s complaint, the companies responded by stating none of its employees or managers had any knowledge of the allegations made in the complaint.

Based on that response and the record available to it, the FCC said it found that Capstar had violated FCC rules when it held the broadcasting license for KFGO.

The FCC said the normal fine for a violation is $4,000, but it was imposing $12,000 because Clear Channel has a history of such violations and to “ensure that the forfeiture is not simply an affordable cost of doing business.”

Heitkamp said he believed he did nothing wrong in airing comments from a public official who called his work number to rant about his complaints of Heitkamp's criticism of his performance.

Instead of fighting, Clear Channel made a calculated decision to pay the fine and move on, Heitkamp said. “I personally would have fought,” Heitkamp said. “That's their call because it's their checkbook.”

Heitkamp, operations manager at KFGO, said he spoke to several lawyers, whom he said told him he had legal justification for airing comments from a public official who left a recorded message with a radio talk show host. “They said you're well within your rights,” he said.