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ABIP: Being prepared for an FCC Inspection

| March 19, 2013

By Thomas R. Ray, III CPBE, AMD, DRB
Tom Ray Consulting
Technical Editor

NEW YORK — One of the things I am doing these days is administering the Alternative Broadcast Inspection Program for the New York State Broadcaster’s Association.  Huh?  You don’t know what ABIP is?  Allow me to explain.

Just about every State Broadcaster’s Association runs an ABIP program.  For a nominal fee, the Association will send an inspector in to run your station through an FCC type inspection.   The good news is, we’re not the FCC.  If we find something amiss, you have the opportunity to fix it.  If you can fix it while we’re there, great.  If not, you will normally have to pay a re-inspection charge so that the inspector can sign off on the fix.

Once you have passed your inspection, the Association issues you a certificate stating that you have passed the ABIP.  This is more than just something pretty to hang on the wall.  When the certificate is issued, the local FCC office is informed that your station(s) have passed the ABIP inspection.   The FCC will then stay away from your facility for three years when they are going around doing routine inspections.  The inspection immunity does not count if they show up on a complaint, or if they are going around checking a specific item, like EAS compliance or tower lights.

Does ABIP work?  I know it does.  Several days after the last Certificate WOR in New York received, I received a call from an FCC inspector looking to get into the WOR Transmitter facility.  I informed him that I literally had just received my ABIP Certificate from NYSBA.  His was response was, “Hey!  Great!  Can you email me a scan of it so I have it for my records to prove we don’t need to inspect you?”

So why don’t more stations do this?  I don’t know.

To prepare, you should download the FCC’s Self-Inspection checklist for your facility – most ABIP programs will go by this guideline.  They can be found at www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/broadcast-self-inspection-checklists.

Go through your facility with checklist in hand.  You will easily find what may be incorrect.  Correct those issues and arrange your ABIP.

What are the “hot ticket” items the FCC is looking for?

  • Tower Lights.  Your tower lights need to be working correctly and must be according to your “instrument of authorization”, also known as your license.  Make sure what is on your tower matches the description on your license.  I know of a station that was cited for too many tower lights (!).  The standards had changed when they ordered their tower, and the tower showed up with two beacon (flashing light) levels.  The license described only one beacon level.  So they were cited for too many tower lights.  While it’s a good idea to keep a station log with a nightly entry on tower light status, the rules require that any tower light problem be logged.  And most tower light problems require notification to the FAA, who will then issue a NOTAM (Notice To Air Men).  You should log the NOTAM number.  You will have 15 days to clear the problem, and the NOTAM can be renewed if necessary.  You will need the Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) number of the tower handy to give to the person on the other end of the phone.  They will issue you a NOTAM number to log and refer to.  Once the light problem is cleared, you need to cancel the NOTAM with the FAA.  Their number is 877-487-6867.  You should also know the nearest airport, but if you don’t, they’ll be able to tell you.
  • EAS Compliance.  FCC rules require that proper EAS equipment (CAP equipped!) be installed and properly operating.
    • You must be monitoring the stations described in your State EAS Plan.
    • You must show reception of a test from each of these two monitoring assignments (sometimes there are 3 if your State plan requires you to monitor National Weather Service Radio) each week in your station log.  Some people simply download and print the information in their EAS box.  During one of those weeks, you should receive a Required Monthly Test from each source (except NWS).  Otherwise, you should receive a Required Weekly Test.
    • If you have not received a test from one of the sources during a week, you need to find out why and log the reason you did not receive the test.   And what you did to correct the problem.
    • You must show transmission of one Required Weekly Test per week, unless that is the week of a Required Monthly Test.  In that case, you need to show transmission of the RMT.  Remember, the RWT is to be sent at random times and days of the week.  Not every Saturday morning at 3AM.  Monthly test dates are normally listed by either the State Broadcaster’s Association, or your Local Emergency Communications Committee.  RMT’s must be done during daylight hours in odd months, and after dark during nighttime hours in even months.
    • If you did not transmit a test for a given week, you need to log the reason why and what you did to correct the issue.
    • The Public File.  If you’ve just read the previous line and said “what’s that?” you really need to find out.  Of course, when it comes to the Public File, you should check with your station attorneys to make sure you are good, but here are things I have found recently:
      • If there is more than one station, the data for each station are all mixed together.  The Commission requires a separate Public File for each station in your cluster, as, even though they are co-owned and may be simulcast, they are distinct entities.
      • The Station license in the Public File is out of date.  Make sure the current license is in the file, and that old licenses for the station are placed in a drawer for Engineering reference – they do not belong in the Public File.  If you need a current copy of your license, you can call your station attorney, or go to the FCC’s website at www.fcc.gov/data/search-gallery and do the appropriate search for your station.  Once the search returns information on your station, go to the Application Info link, and then click on View Authorization.  If your license isn’t there, don’t panic.  You will need to get it from your attorney.  The FCC is constantly updating their website and sometimes, well, things aren’t there.  It doesn’t mean there is a problem with your license.
      • Every application the station has made to the Commission is in the Public File.  Commission rules require any PENDING applications to be in the Public File.  If you filed for a license modification, and the license has been issued, the application is no longer pending.  Take the application out and put it in your Engineering reference file.
      • The file, in general, is simply messy.  Don’t give the Commission (or a member of the public who actually wants to see the file) a reason to dig around.  Organize your file, preferably in the order the sections are listed in the Self-Inspection Checklist.  It’s also nice to see a table of contents.  This shows organization but, more importantly, gives you a quick reference to see if a folder is missing.  Neaten it up, remove items that do not need to be there.  If the Commission finds something, it will then be minor – and they will compliment you on the neatness of the file.

Of course, it should go without saying that your technical facility should be operating correctly according to your Station License.

And in regards to removing things that do not belong in the Public File, I usually say to people, if a cop pulls you over and says “do you know why I pulled you over?”, would you respond, “because I was doing 85?”.  No.  You’d say, “I don’t know, officer”.  Provide the information that is being requested, but don’t offer anything that wasn’t asked.  In other words, don’t give the Commission something to find and dig further.  Show them what was requested and move on.

Now, you really should check into the ABIP program in your State.  It’s really a good deal, you’ll know that you’re legal and if you’re in New York, you may get me to come in and give you a difficult time.

tbugkThomas R. Ray, III CPBE, AMD, DRB is president of Tom Ray Consulting and Technical Editor of TALKERS. He can be phoned at 845-418-5065 or emailed at tomray@tomrayconsulting.com.  His website is www.tomrayconsulting.com.  Meet Tom Ray at TALKERS New York 2013 on Thursday June 6.


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Category: Technical