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In re Applications of NATIONAL BROADCASTING CO. For Renewal of Licenses of Station KNBR and

Station KNBR-FM, San Francisco, Calif.


Files Nos. BR-42 and BRH-624




16 F.C.C.2d 698 (1969); 15 Rad. Reg. 2d (P & F) 807




February 28, 1969 Adopted






[*698]  1.  The Commission has before it for consideration the above-entitled applications.


2.  Applicant has adequately surveyed its community to determine community needs.  In addition to meetings and correspondence with community leaders, its personnel have actively participated in civic, cultural, educational, religious, and business organizations.  A review and analysis of listeners' mail and telephone conversations are made.  Five years ago the station initiated a series of "Community Leaders Luncheon" in which topics of local interests are discussed.  These luncheons will continue.


3.  As a result of these interviews, contacts, and meetings numerous examples of programs to meet the needs, as determined by licensee, have been listed.  Among these are "Faith Forum", a program on which representatives of various religious groups discuss problems of current living.  A further example is a program called "Summer Jobs" which was a result of a closed-circuit meeting with Vice President Humphrey.  The station initiated a program and involved business leaders in helping to keep underprivileged children in summer school and encouraged them to continue further schooling.  Applicant proposes to continue serving the significant interests and needs of the public with a balanced program schedule including both local and network programs of news, entertainment, public affairs, and other types of programming.


4.  The format proposed for KNBR is as follows:


Popular middle of the road music (percent)





Public affairs


Other non-entertainment


 [*699]  The format proposed for KNBR-FM is as follows:


Popular middle of the road and Classical music (percent)






Public affairs


Other nonentertainment



KNBR will be operated 165 hours per week and KNBR-TV, 126 hours per week.  Programming will be duplicated for 8 hours and 50 minutes each day, which will conform with the requirements of section 73.242 of the Commission's rules.


5.  The proposed commercial limitation for the operation of both stations is 18 minutes per hour, which may be exceeded during emergencies, political campaigns, and makeups for preempted programs.  In the event of any of these exceptions, licensee will not exceed 22 minutes of commercial matter per hour.


6.  The above applications have been carefully reviewed and we find that the applicant is legally, technically, financially and otherwise qualified, and that a grant of the applications would serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity.  We have not in this order undertaken to dispose of complaints against other NBC stations which, as previously indicated, will be disposed of in other proceedings.


7.  Accordingly, It is ordered, That the above applications of the National Broadcasting Co. for the renewal of licenses of KNBR and KNBR-FM, San Francisco, Calif., Are granted.







The NBC-owned stations in California (KNBC-TV, Los Angeles; KNBR-AM-FM, San Francisco) were due for renewal December 1, 1968.  Their renewal has been deferred for several months because of unresolved matters concerning the qualification of NBC as a licensee.  KNBC-TV had a competing application filed against it on February 4, 1969, which has not yet been resolved.  Today the majority nevertheless renews the NBC radio stations in San Francisco, KNBR-AM and KNBR-FM. 


I dissent.


My most fundamental concern is that NBC -- chastised several times by this Commission and notified that the matters would be considered at renewal -- can have licenses for multimillion dollar operations renewed without any real Commission scrutiny.  A small, family-owned AM radio station that operates with the wrong power for a few days, or comes on the air before sunup, may be levied a substantial fine by this Commission.  Time brokerage, false logging, or an abuse of advertisers -- such as double billing -- may actually result in license revocation.  See, e.g., Continental Broadcasting, Inc., 15 F.C.C. 2d 120 (1968). And yet this Commission is unwilling even to review the case against NBC, and simply acquiesces in the renewal of these two profitable licenses.  It makes no review of NBC responses to previously  [*700]  expressed Commission concern.  Although the majority has prepared a formal order there is nothing to explain why the majority, despite previous admonishments to NBC, now finds renewal to be in the public interest.  It is a well established principle that renewal time is an occasion for review of the past behavior of the licensee seeking renewal.  But recent Commission action regarding NBC is ignored.


A review of the Commission's actions will serve to demonstrate the majority's dereliction in this matter -- and the Commission's double standard when it comes to dealing with its powerful licensees in contrast to the treatment of family-owned AM radio stations guilty of minor infractions.


(1) On May 1, 1968 the Commission wrote NBC concerning "allegations that your broadcasts of the 'Hollywood Golden Globe Awards' have contained substantial misrepresentations." F.C.C. 68-491 (1968).  The Commission, after investigation, concluded:


[We] believe that your "Golden Globe Award" broadcasts prior to 1968 substantially misled the public as to the basis on which winners were chosen and the procedures followed in choosing them, and that you were seriously delinquent in this respect * * *.

* * *

We believe that you have fallen far below the degree of responsibility which is expected of a licensee with respect to the matters set forth herein, and we request that you submit a statement as to future procedures to be followed with respect to this program and other programs raising comparable problems.  This matter will be considered further in connection with the next application for renewal of license of your Los Angeles television station, KNBC.


(2) On October 9, 1968, the Commission wrote NBC concerning procedures on two of its quiz-game shows -- "PDQ" and "Hollywood Squares." The Commission concluded:

[The] public has from time to time been misled as to the procedures preceding the questioning of guest celebrities on "Hollywood Squares," and that your own procedures for prevention of improper practices on these programs has been lax.

* * *

The matters set forth above will be considered further in connection with the pending application for renewal of license of station KNBC.


F.C.C. 68-1025 (1968).


The plain language of these letters would seem to indicate further Commission study would be warranted when the KNBC renewal was considered.  NBC apparently thought the matters serious since its president wrote Chairman Hyde a seven-page letter concerning "our exercise of supervision over game and award shows." But there is not one word regarding these matters in the majority opinion renewing the stations' licenses.


(3) The Commission has received numerous complaints regarding NBC's coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  Those matters have not yet been finally disposed of by the Commission.


(4) One of the charges against NBC in connection with its coverage of the Democratic Convention was the allegation that NBC employees had placed a hidden microphone in a room that was subsequently used for closed platform committee hearings.


 [*701]  Is there no possibility that a resolution of these charges might reflect adversely on NBC as a licensee seeking renewal?


(5) On September 11, 1968, the Commission wrote NBC concerning possible conflicts of interest involving one of its commentators, Chet Huntley -- and his comments about regulation involving meat inspection.  The Commission noted:


[We] find that NBC did not exercise reasonable diligence in light of information publicly available and information brought to its attention * * *.

* * *

The above record over the period stretching from 1964 to the present shows a failure to exercise reasonable diligence or to fulfill public interest requirements in this important area.

* * *

Thus, you appear to have fallen short of your responsibilities with respect to the matters set forth with regard to the fairness doctrine.


F.C.C. 68-931 (1968).


There is no mention of this matter in any Commission consideration of these renewals despite the fact that NBC submitted an eight-page response on October 21, 1968.  Needless to say, no Commission evaluation of that response has been made nor followup undertaken.


(6) On September 17, 1968, the Commission wrote NBC concerning a "Lucky Bucks" contest presented over NBC station WKYC in Cleveland, Ohio.  The Commission concluded:


In the Eastern Broadcasting Corp. letter the Commission noted that advertising deception may result from the use of statements which are not technically false or which may even be literally true, since the only relevant consideration is the impact of the statements on the general public, including the ignorant, the unthinking, and the credulous.  Applying this proposition to the instant case, the Commission is of the view that the advertisements pertaining to the WKYC "Million Dollar" contest tended to mislead the public in that they contained extravagant claims concerning the amount of money to be given away.

* * *

In view of all the circumstances of this matter, the Commission is of the opinion that the advertising pertaining to the WKYC "Million Dollar" contest fell short of the required degree of licensee responsibility.  This matter will be considered further in connection with the next applications for renewal of license of stations WKYC-AM-FM.


F.C.C. 68-957 (1968).  (The majority referred to the Eastern Broadcasting Corp. case, F.C.C. 68-768 (1968).  In that case Eastern Broadcasting's license renewal was limited to a 1-year period for station WCVS, Springfield Ill., because of a "Lucky Bucks" contest.  The Commission learned of the NBC-WKYC contest only because part of Eastern's defense was that it simply duplicated a contest being run by the Cleveland, Ohio, NBC radio stations.) If today's action is any indication, the promise to consider the misleading "Lucky Bucks" contest with the WKYC renewals is not worth the paper it is printed on.


(7) In March 1968 the Commission considered reports in a Los Angeles newspaper that a KNBC-TV crew had brought "dove" and "hawk" picket signs for use in filming a student debate at Claremont  [*702]  College (in the Los Angeles area).  n1 NBC responded that the signs had been prepared "to depict 'sloganeering' as opposed to the type of mature debate shown on the program, or merely as colorful additions to the set." The Commission disposed of this matter without further action in a Minute entry for March 20, 1968, with Commissioner Cox issuing a concurring statement joined in by Commissioners Wadsworth and Johnson. 


n1 The slogans were "Victory in Viet Nam," "No Retreat," "Stop Communism," "End the Bombing," "Down with the Draft," and "Bring Them Home." The Los Angeles Times reported that the students complained that the signs would misrepresent student feeling on the issue and began to picket the NBC cameramen with their own signs that read "Hearst is alive and working at NBC." It also reported that the start of the debate was delayed while students heckled the NBC crew and that both speakers in the debate criticized the TV men for bringing the signs.


(8) Finally, the corporate structure of RCA has changed substantially since the last NBC renewals.  RCA has acquired St. Regis Paper Co., a $700-million transaction, "its largest acquisition to date." "TV Digest," October 14, 1968, p. 8. St. Regis Paper, with its wood products, packaging, paper, forestry, and timberland (7.5-million acres), food processing, and manufacture of ice skating and curling rinks is to be added to RCA-NBC's other acquisitions in electronics, publications (e.g., Random House) and consumer services (e.g., Hertz).  The concern about conglomerate acquisitions expressed by experts versed in study of the functioning of the American economy is well known.  Normally the FCC dodges the question unless license transfers are before it.  Now even this Commission has expressed the need to examine the conglomerate influence in broadcasting.  (See, Inquiry into the Ownership of Broadcast Stations by Persons or Entities with Other Business Interests, docket No. 18449, F.C.C. 69-117 (1969).) But does not a license renewal imply that nothing has occurred to warrant further evaluation and study? How can this Commission renew NBC licenses without even giving cursory examination to the most recent, and largest acquisition in RCA's history?  And yet, this it declines to do.  n2


n2 Since the preparation of this opinion there have been news reports that St. Regis Paper Co. has terminated the merger agreement.  The question of St. Regis' relationship to the RCA-NBC knowledge industry conglomerate thus may be moot -- but this does not detract from the fact that the majority was apparently willing to go on granting RCA-NBC applications without even examining the impact of RCA's largest acquisition.


Based on preliminary analysis of newspaper reports there would be several issues that could have been explored by this Commission: (1) What will be the financial impact of this merger on RCA-NBC, especially in terms of profit and cash flow positions?  Will there be increased pressure on NBC to meet deficit cash flow problems in the first years after the St. Regis acquisition?  (2) What is the future relationship of St. Regis to the other knowledge components of the RCA-NBC conglomerate, e.g., Random House?  (3) What is the relationship (present and future) of St. Regis as a supplier, to RCA-NBC competitors (newspapers, magazines, book publishers) and, RCA-NBC affiliates (newspapers, magazines, book publishers owning broadcast stations affiliated with NBC) and, to owners of broadcast station affiliates in competition with NBC affiliates?


At the time of writing the exact status of this merger -- and certainly the answers to these questions -- remains in doubt.

All these incidents, whether drawn from radio or television, raise the issue of the suitability of RCA-NBC, a powerful corporate conglomerate and communications entity with numerous radio and television outlets, to be a broadcast licensee.  The FCC must find that the public interest will be served by renewal of these NBC licenses.  And it is only at the time of renewal of individual licenses that the past behavior of RCA-NBC can be evaluated.  The majority concedes that it has "not in this order undertaken to dispose of complaints against  [*703]  other NBC stations," and declares its intention to dispose of them in "other proceedings." It is very difficult to conjure up just what kind of "other proceedings" the majority may have in mind if they are not to be license renewal proceedings on NBC-owned stations.  The complaints are not directed against "stations," but against the licensee: RCA/NBC.  And it is precisely in the renewal proceeding now before us that NBC's qualifications as a licensee are in issue and that we must find this renewal will serve the public interest.  If the issues are not to be dealt with now, when will they ever be considered?


It was expected that the evaluation of the alleged violations enumerated above -- some of which involved KNBC-TV -- could be made in the context of the first NBC renewal, that of KNBC-TV.  That action has been deferred.  The licenses now before us are for radio stations in San Francisco, and these are the first NBC renewal applications to be approved since the alleged incidents occurred.  For the majority to find that the public interest will be served by renewal of these NBC stations while conceding the need for additional proceedings regarding this licensee's performance is simply incredible.  And the individual stations involved are really irrelevant.  What is relevant is that the only opportunity to review the licensee responsibility and performance of a corporate conglomerate network with owned and operated stations is at the renewal of its broadcast properties -- the first renewals after the behavior in question.  This the majority refuses to do here -- refusing even to mention all the incidents I have detailed in its order granting renewal.


The recitation of these matters has been lengthy.  Perhaps it is mere coincidence that over a 5-month period NBC was involved in seven separate instances in which the licensee apparently fell short of meeting its responsibilities in supervision of program production, employee behavior, or advertising practices.  But perhaps it indicates more, a general laxness on NBC's part.


This Commission weekly imposes monetary fines on licensees, and even issues short-term renewals, for behavior not less serious than these seven incidents regarding NBC.  For the majority not even formally to review the NBC record in an order or letter suggests an unconscionable double standard.  The three California Pacifica stations have been deferred for as long as the NBC California stations.  The reason for deferring the Pacifica stations -- including the one-time, early-morning-hours broadcast of an allegedly obscene record, brought to our attention by no one save Broadcasting magazine -- is a matter the Broadcast Bureau now concedes was unwise.  One is forced to the conclusion that politically weak, financially precarious Commission licensees feel the full force of Commission wrath while the rich and powerful remain immune. 


I dissent.


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