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In re Application of Esther Blodgett, Harvard, Ill., for renewal of license of station WMCW, Harvard, Ill. (File No. BR-3094).


14 F.C.C.2d 342 (1968)


August 7, 1968

[*342]  MISS ESTHER BLODGETT, Radio Station WMCW, 205 E. Brainard Street, Harvard, Ill.

DEAR MISS BLODGETT: This refers to your application for renewal of license of station WMCW, Harvard, Ill.

Our records disclose that on July 3, 1967, you were issued an official notice of violation which contained citations for 14 rule violations and that you failed to respond to the notice until May 7, 1968.  Section 1.89 of the rules requires a response within 10 days of the date of the official notice.

The Commission has reviewed your response to its official notice of violation, and after a careful study of your application for renewal and your record of service to your community, it has determined that a regular renewal of the license of station WMCW is warranted.  Accordingly, the license of station WMCW is renewed through December 1, 1970.

However, because of your repeated violations of section 1.89 of the rules, the Commission has decided that you have incurred a liability for forfeiture in the amount of $500.  The notice of apparent liability is being sent to you under separate cover.

Chairman Hyde absent.  Commissioner Bartley dissenting on the renewal of license and voting to designate application for hearing.  Commissioner Johnson dissenting and issuing attached statement.


WMCW License Renewal

[Letter from Ben F. Waple to Miss Esther Blodgett, Aug. 7, 1968]


Before us today is the saga of an 11-year battle of wits between this 34-year-old Federal bureaucratic institution and a wily septuagenarian woman born and raised in the heartland of the Midwest.  Judging from the conclusion reached by the majority today, the woman appears to have won.

I believe that this story is worth telling in some detail.  Its lessons are important both to an understanding of the power of an individual in an age of seemingly overpowering institutions, and to an understanding of the workings of the FCC.

The tale begins in an improbable village known as Harvard, Ill.  At last court, Harvard boasted a population of 5,019.  Located just an  [*343]  LP's toss from the Wisconsin State line, Harvard lies in the epicenter of our Nation's milk cow country.

In February 1955, radio station WMCW (which, its letterhead explains, is short for the "Milk Capital of the World") first took to the air, under the ownership and direct supervision of station manager Esther Blodgett.  Miss Blodgett is a lifetime resident of the greater Harvard area, but, as subsequent events demonstrate, decidedly worldly in the ways of Washington, D.C.

Difficulties with Miss Blodgett first began in 1956, when she filed with the Commission and application for renewal of WMCW's license.  The Commission staff noted the application was incomplete, and deferred action.  After further correspondence, Miss Blodgett completed the application and the Commission elected to renew her license for a full 3-year term.

In 1959, the Commission was forced once again to defer action on a WMCW renewal.  This time Miss Blodgett neglected to file the application until after her license had expired.  When the application did arrive it was, once again, incomplete.  The Commission again asked Miss Blodgett to complete the application form, and, later, again elected to renew the license, although for the limited period of 1 year.

In 1961, Miss Blodgett maintained her superb batting average by being deferred for a third time in the face of an impressive list of multifarious violations, such as:

Failure to file her renewal application until WMCW's license had expired;

Failure to comply with the publication requirements of section 1.359;

Failure to file a complete application;

Failure to file financial reports for the previous 2 years;

Failure to file an ownership report; and

Failure to adequately explain certain violations listed in an official notice of violation issued in November 1964.

For reasons which remain enigmatic, the 1961 deferral was permitted to drag on until 1966, when we again relented and granted WMCW a renewal for 1 year.

In each of these instances, the Commission was satisfied that a mild rebuke would be sufficient to impress Miss Blodgett with the seriousness of her cavalier attitude.  But for all of our studied leniency, Miss Blodgett continues to plod along at her own chosen pace, filing requisite forms with the Commission whenever the fancy seems to strike her.

On June 10, 1967, this protracted Parkinsonian struggle n1 between Miss Blodgett and the Federal Government reached a climax.  On that date, the Commission mailed to Miss Blodgett an official notice of violation.  By the terms of the notice, a reply was to be filed with the Commission  [*344]  within 10 days.  Not having heard from Miss Blodgett within that time, we mailed to her an appropriate warning 1 month later.  Still not having heard from her as the summer waned, we deferred action on WMCW's renewal for a fourth time on September 5, 1967.

n1 C. Northcote Parkinson's well known Law of Standard Deviation is explained as involving a known rate of ascension from the bottom to the top of the heap in bureaucratic "In" boxes.  Thus, for example, if it is known that it takes 24 days for a letter to rise from the bottom to the top of the "In" box of a particular office, a person seeking to avoid having the bureaucracy making any decision at all need only insure that a letter reaches that "In" box every 23 days.  When a letter arrives, the appropriate file (now near the top of the heap) is returned to the bottom, to begin its ascent all over again.  If carried on long enough, Dr. Parkinson assures us, the bureaucrat will never answer the first letter, since he will never see the file come to the top of the "In" box. Parkinson, Parkinson's Law (Boston: 1957), pp. 99-100.

Naturally, we were delighted to hear from Miss Blodgett eventually, even though nearly a year after our original notice of violation.  In a letter received in May 1968, Miss Blodgett informed us that the violations initially complained of had been fully corrected.

Thus has ended, at least for the moment, the tale of Miss Esther Blodgett and her struggle against the formalities of the FCC.  As the majority must recognize, this saga presents an extraordinary problem of constancy of the sort which would baffle even John Donne. n2 The Commission, in determining to assess Miss Blodgett a $500 forfeiture, manifests its hope that she will henceforth mend her unusual ways and display more respect for Commission regulations and diligence in replying to Commission inquiries.  But it renews her 3-year license.

n2 Cf., "Woman's Constancy," a love poem by John Donne:

"Now thou hast lov'd me one whole day.
To morrow when thou leav'st, what will thou say?
Wilt thou then Antedate some new made vow?
Or say that now"
"We are not just those persons, which we were?
Or, that oathes made in reverential feare
Of Love, and his wrath, any may forsweare?
Or, as true deaths, true marryages untie
So lovers contracts, images of those,
Binde but till sleep, deaths image, then unloose?
Or, your owne end to Jutifie,
"For having purpos'd change, and falsehood; you
Can have no way but falsehood to be true?
Vanie lunatique, against these scapes I could
Dispute, and conquer, if I would,
Which I abstaine to doe,
For by tomorrow, I may thinke so too." (pp. 4-5.)

For those not schooled in the rigors of 16th centure poetry, Done has elsewhere supplied an abbreviated view of this problem in prose:

"That women are Inconstant, I with any man confess, but that Inconstancy is a bad quality, I against any man will maintain . . ." --Paradozes, Chi, I "A Defense of Woman’s Inconstancy" (p. 277). The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne (introduction by Robert S. Hillyer), Random House (1941)."

I am not convinced, however, that Miss Blodgett's demonstrated indifference to this Commission will be altered by this action.  It seems clear, in the first place, that the majority's decision only confirms what must have been suspected by Miss Blodgett all along -- that however long she waited to reply to a notice of violation, the worst that could happen would be an increase in postal rates.  In repeatedly confirming this notion, the Commission cannot express surprise that its licensees now respond, like the pigeons of B. F. Skinner, to the behavior it rewards.  By winking at such behavior the Commission also lends credence to a gathering crescendo of complaints which broadly charge that this Commission applies a dual standard: a jaundiced eye and letter-of-the-law punctiliousness to far as activities of members of the public seeking to participate in Commission proceedings are concerned, while springing to the defense of broadcasters who openly transgress the plain mandates of the rules. (See, e.g., Lamar Life Insurance Co., Inc., 13 P. & F. Radio Reg. 2d 769, 778 (1968).)

In the second place, I am disturbed by the Commission's reluctance to hold a hearing into the reasons for this history of phlegmatic correspondence.  We know too little about the circumstances which may have compelled Miss Blodgett's procrastination.  If, as the evidence suggests, Miss Blodgett is at once station manager, announcer, advertising agent, secretary, and owner of an unprofitable WMCW, then this Commission may want to make allowances for the frail position of such meagerly financed station.  In this light, the standard forfeiture imposed would appear to be too drastic an action.

On the other hand, it may be, as the evidence is equally suggestive, that Miss Blodgett is simply lackadaisical by nature, or even downright obstinate.  In that event, a mere forfeiture, hand-in-hand with a full-term renewal, does not go far enough.

In either event, it is my view that interested members of the public should be given the opportunity to inform the Commission's judgment.   [*345]  We have been informally apprised by the FCC staff that WMCW's programing reflects conscientious attention to local needs and interests.  We understand, too, that the community has repeatedly expressed its deep appreciation to Miss Blodgett for her efforts at WMCW -- an appreciation luncheon having once coincidentally occurred on the very day an official FCC communication was received.  Such admirable policies and community support should be encouraged by the Commission.  A hearing in the Harvard community could uncover such evidence.

Perhaps the Commission's rules should be changed in some respects that affect licensees like Miss Blodgett.  In the meantime we simply must insist that all licensees obey the Commission's rules.  It has been charged, with some justification, that the Commission is all too ready to enforce its rules against small broadcasters, and equally too willing to overlook infractions by corporate-owned stations.  In my judgment, the best way to eliminate such practices and dispel suspicions is to make it our practice to insist on hearings in all renewal cases where issues like this arise.

Accordingly, I dissent.

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