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0 FCC Could Pull Plug On Jukebox Radio

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FCC Could Pull Plug On Jukebox Radio; Signal May Be Illegal
By John Cichowski,
Staff Writer. The Record. Bergen County, N.J.: Apr 22, 1997.

Abstract (Document Summary)
The FCC said it has evidence supporting an AM competitor's 1995 complaint that [Gerard Turro] and MMBI owner Wesley Weis broke commission rules by using low-power FM transmitters and a microwave antenna to route Jukebox programs from a studio in Dumont to MMBI's WJUX-FM in Liberty, N.Y., and back to Bergen.

Many objections appeared to be overcome largely because Turro pays MMBI for playing Jukebox's local news and music of the 1940s and 1950s. FCC rules bar station owners from paying translator owners. Turro profits by selling commercials to Bergen advertisers for far less than New York rates.

In a footnote to its order, the commission acknowledged a 1991 letter from its staff authorizing Turro's proposal to forge a relationship with a full-service FM station outside the New York metropolis. But the recent FCC order said the Turro-Weis relationship went beyond the scope of that authorization.

Full Text (812 words)
Copyright Bergen Evening Record Corporation Apr 22, 1997
When radio engineer Gerard Turro launched Jukebox Radio in 1993, his clever use of low-power transmitters seemed to overcome rules that had long barred Bergen County from having its own full-time FM radio station.

But now, the Federal Communications Commission is threatening to levy $1 million fines on Turro and Monticello Mountaintop Broadcasting Inc. (MMBI) of Monticello, N.Y., and strip them of their broadcast licenses.

The FCC said it has evidence supporting an AM competitor's 1995 complaint that Turro and MMBI owner Wesley Weis broke commission rules by using low-power FM transmitters and a microwave antenna to route Jukebox programs from a studio in Dumont to MMBI's WJUX-FM in Liberty, N.Y., and back to Bergen.

"Turro's and MMBI's misstatements and their clear motive . . . to avoid detection of their violations . . . {and} to continue their prohibited relationships strongly suggest that they have engaged in misrepresentations and/or lack of candor to the commission," said the FCC order filed Friday.

The commission called for a hearing in Washington to determine whether to impose fines and revoke licenses.

Turro and Weis denied the allegations. But their system of using low-power transmitters, or translators, to shoehorn a profitable FM signal into the already crowded New York market has drawn criticism from broadcasters throughout the country. Translators generally relay signals of major stations to areas with limited FM service, but their owners may not broadcast their own programs. The National Broadcasters Association such arrangements unfairly compete with marginally profitable AM stations.

The Turro-Weis system uses telephone lines to avoid broadcasting directly over the air from Turro's Jukebox studio in Dumont to the rest of Bergen. Programs are sent by telephone line to Weis's station in Liberty. From there, WJUX's FM signal is picked up by Turro's Pomona, N.Y., translator. The Pomona signal is picked up by the Fort Lee translator, which broadcasts it in Bergen.

Many objections appeared to be overcome largely because Turro pays MMBI for playing Jukebox's local news and music of the 1940s and 1950s. FCC rules bar station owners from paying translator owners. Turro profits by selling commercials to Bergen advertisers for far less than New York rates.

"We got FCC approval to bring FM service to Bergen and Sullivan counties, and we are proud of what we've done," said Turro, who once estimated annual gross revenues at $1 million. "This is a case of an out-of-town broadcaster with resources going after a middle-class broadcaster with limited resources."

Turro was referring to WVNJ-AM of Oakland, owned by Howard Warshaw of Long Island, who sold several stations in the 1980s for more than $30 million. Citing unfair competition, WVNJ filed a formal complaint against Jukebox in February 1995. When the FCC staff did not take action to lift its rivals' licenses, WVNJ won a federal court order on April 3 demanding that the commission take action.

"WVNJ . . . welcomes the opportunity to assist the FCC in bringing this illegal operation to a close and finding Turro and Weis unfit to be an FCC licensee," Warshaw said in a statement.

Bergen County political leaders expressed outrage at the ruling. "Jukebox got government approval, then the FCC turns around and says, `Whoops, we made a mistake'; that's wrong," said Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk, R-Montvale. "Before Jukebox Radio, Bergen County was the only big county in the country without a 24-hour FM station. We shouldn't have to fight for just one; we should have more."

Although the AM signals of WVNJ and WWDJ are designated for Bergen, more than 70 percent of Americans listen to FM stations, and most of the region's AM and FM signals are geared for New York listeners. Recent Arbitron ratings showed that Jukebox ranked fourth in Bergen among listeners older than 34.

In a footnote to its order, the commission acknowledged a 1991 letter from its staff authorizing Turro's proposal to forge a relationship with a full-service FM station outside the New York metropolis. But the recent FCC order said the Turro-Weis relationship went beyond the scope of that authorization.

"We find Turro's contention . . . however, is not unreasonable," the order said. "Accordingly, we will not pursue in this proceeding any violation . . . that may have resulted from Turro's reliance on the 1991 letter."

But the order said a staff investigation, based on field observations and interviews with former Jukebox Radio staff members, found that: {BUL} Turro used a microwave signal to broadcast directly from Turro's Jukebox studio in Dumont to his Fort Lee translator on at least one occasion.

{BUL} Weis abdicated responsibility to Turro in the running of WJUX in Liberty and did not control its programming or signal.

{BUL} Both misrepresented the operation in interviews and in license applications.

Last May, commission staff ordered Turro to divest control of either his translators or his studio in Dumont. In August, he announced his intention to sell the translators for $1.5 million to Press Broadcasting of Trenton.

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