KSLC DJs fired for illegal on-air fundraiser

Seniors Taylor Avritt (left) and Kevin Coleman (right) interview senior Cole Bixenman (center). Bixenman became last week’s auction-high draw when two women pledged $125 to a charitable organization to win a date with him. Photo courtesy of Alison Bouchard

Two disk jockeys working for KSLC 90.3 FM, Linfield’s student radio station, were suspended Nov. 2 for violating Federal Communications Commission regulations on their radio show.
Seniors Taylor Avritt and Kevin Coleman lost their weekly radio slot after junior Eric Tompkins, student general manager of KSLC, discovered they raised money for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer awareness foundation by auctioning off dates with Linfield men. Avritt and Coleman raised $252 for the foundation.
According to FCC regulations, it is illegal for stations with a non-commercial education license, such as KSLC, to raise money for organizations other than themselves if the fundraiser alters or suspends regular programming.
“This is a violation of federal law,” Michael Huntsberger, assistant professor of mass communication and a faculty adviser to the station, said. “I need to look up the specific penalties there are. I just don’t know.”
Huntsberger said he found out about the violation from a story in The Linfield Review (“Will date for charity,” TLR, Oct. 29). He said no inquiries have come from the FCC.
“This is pretty straightforward,” he said. “It’s a rule, and a rule is one of the things we’re supposed to learn here. For me, this is a teachable moment.”
Tompkins suspended Avritt and Coleman via e-mail less than an hour before their show, which normally begins at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays, Coleman said.
“As far as I am concerned, they’re suspended indefinitelyfrom having a show at the radio station,” Tompkins said.
He said that he discussed the issue with Huntsberger and Professor Emeritus Art Cuscaden, another KSLC station adviser, before issuing the suspension.
Tompkins said
Huntsberger had also consulted with Brad Thompson, assistant professor and department chair of mass communication.
“We’re concerned about losing our license,” Tompkins said. “That’s why we can’t let them have a show anymore.”
Avritt and Coleman said they disagree with Tompkins’ interpretation of the law. Specifically, they argue that they did not “alter or suspend” regular programming to hold the fundraiser.
“Eric [Tompkins’s] e-mail said we substantially alter the programming,” Coleman said. “We’ve never had guidelines for our program. Neither Eric nor anyone else has told us what to do for our hour.”
Tompkins said he elected not to determine the content of student’s programs.
“What the DJ chooses to do during [his or her] show — it’s a sticky business if you start getting into the whole content argument,” Tompkins said. “I try to keep clear of that unless it’s really pushing the limits as far as legal content goes. I didn’t think their show was pushing things too far until the money became a legal issue.”
Coleman said he disagreed with how KSLC is being run.
“I’ve never met Eric [Tompkins],” he said. “I’ve never met anyone who works for the station. We do everything over e-mail.”
Tompkins said they have met, although the suspension and the discussion surrounding it was made entirely by e-mail.
Coleman also said he thought there wasn’t enough oversight to catch problems early.
“That was our second [fundraising] show,” he said. “They didn’t listen to it. They didn’t hear about anything we’d done. They read [The Linfield Review] article, and that’s how they found out about it.”
Coleman said he thought the two of them could have spent all semester raising money and the management would not have noticed.
Avritt said that they had planned on continuing the show without an auction on Nov. 2, but Tompkins vetoed the idea.
Avritt said that he never intended to cause legal problems for the station.
“It’s kind of upsetting,” he said. “I understand getting in trouble last semester, but we tried to turn it around this semester.”
Avritt was cited for recklessly handling station property in the booth, Tomkins said, as well as using risqué content during his show in the spring of 2010.
“This was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Tompkins said. “They were warned about pushing the envelope, and they kept pushing.”
Avritt said he believed that he had not clearly violated FCC regulations for third-party fundraising.
“It’s upsetting to know we were kicked off for an interpretation of a law,” he said.
Avritt said he met with Huntsberger after his suspension to discuss what happened.
He acknowledged that he should have spoken to Huntsberger before running the auction and that he would not have conducted the auction if he knew it would get KSLC in legal trouble.
“We are now aware we could have got the station in trouble, and that was never our intention,” Avritt said.

Joshua Ensler/News editor
Joshua Ensler can be reached at linfieldreviewnews@gmail.com

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