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Jeff Kolpack, Published July 30 2012

Radio Fargo-Moorhead avoids equal time issue with Phil Hansen's temporary departure

FARGO – When Phil Hansen decided to forgo his color commentary duties for North Dakota State football radio broadcasts this fall, he also saved Radio Fargo-Moorhead from a scheduling headache.

Hansen is running for the Minnesota District 4 state senate seat. Federal Communication Commission regulations require stations to provide equal opportunities to opposing candidates whenever a qualified candidate uses that station.

The opponent in this case, Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, would have to schedule his time with KFGO within seven days of the broadcast or forgo that right, said Jack McDonald, a Bismarck attorney who serves as legal counsel for North Dakota newspapers and broadcasters. That wouldn’t have been possible, said Joel Heitkamp, operations manager for Radio Fargo-Moorhead

“We couldn’t have, we simply couldn’t have,” he said.

Heitkamp knows the law well. He was a sitting North Dakota state senator when he was hired at KFGO, but that wouldn’t have been an option if he were still in an election.

“The precedent around here is me,” Heitkamp said.

Hansen has been with the Bison broadcast team since 2004. NDSU, which controls the radio rights and essentially buys air time from KFGO and affiliated Bison Radio Network stations, hired former Bison quarterback Steve Walker to fill Hansen’s spot temporarily until the former NDSU and NFL star returns.

Once the election is held – in this case Nov. 6 – the FCC equal time doctrine goes away. Hansen, in theory, could return to the booth for NDSU’s last two regular-season games against South Dakota State and Illinois State. He said he’s still going to closely follow the team.

“I didn’t feel I could juggle both football and a rigorous campaign schedule,” Hansen said. “I will be eager to get back in the booth when the time is right.”

It would have been the station’s obligation to provide equal time at the same rate Hansen was paid, McDonald said. He said any contractual obligations regarding payments between NDSU and KFGO would have been another matter.

“The FCC is very, very picky about these issues, so I would suggest that such contracts would have to be very carefully drawn,” McDonald said. “I’m not entirely sure they would even be allowed.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia

Kolpack is the host of the WDAY Golf Show Saturdays from 8-9 a.m. on 970-AM.