Four KVNF volunteer DJs were recently put on hiatus through the end of the municipal election cycle due to a Federal Communications Rule law.
The regulation, titled "Facilities for candidates for public office," states, in part, that if a licensee permits a legally qualified candidate for public office an appearance on the station, equal opportunities shall be afforded to all other candidates for that office, provided "that such licensee shall have no power of censorship over the material broadcast..." Appearances include bona fide newscasts, news interviews, news documentaries, and on-the-spot coverage of news events.
The rule applies for 45 days preceding a primary or in this case, the 60 days preceding the date of a general or special election.
KVNF general manager Jon Howard brought the rule to the station's attention following the announcement by DJs Chelsea Bookout, Jill Spears and Eric Goold to run for Paonia trustee in the April 5 election. The station also put Patrick Webb, a candidate for Hotchkiss council, on hiatus.
Goold, who hosts "Emotional Rescue" every other Friday night and is also a sports writer for the DCI, said he considers Howard's decision "no big deal." He also congratulated Howard on following the rule of law. Goold said he was taken by surprise and his initial response was anger, but understands the rule and he's moving on.
"I don't think it's anything any of us was aware of," said Spears, a longtime DJ and host of "As the Worm Turns." She said she has no problem abiding by the rule. In business, said Spears, "These days, everything is about compliance."
FCC makes an exception for guest appearances, said Howard. He knows of no other laws related to broadcasting that could affect the candidates or the station.
"There is a lot of precedent" for the rule, said Howard. Past examples include political pundit and CNN "Crossfire" host, Pat Buchanan, who was taken off the air when he ran for president in 2000; and Ronald Reagan, a former governor of California and the 40th president. Broadcasters were forced to pull his movies during his campaign or face a requirement to give equal time to his opponents. The ruling also applied to Arnold Schwarzenegger's run for governor of California.
A more recent example, said Howard, is Donald Trump's November appearance on Saturday Night Live. The show may be forced to provide equal time to all candidates, said Howard.
It's really a fine line, said Howard. With DJs, their show is not scripted or moderated. "That's when it becomes an issue."
"I applaud Jon for sticking to the rules," said Bookout, a host of Saturday morning's Pot 'o Gold children's show. She sees the decision as avoiding a complicated situation for KVNF, which would have to track DJ on-air time. And while her time would be spent on entertainment, she noted that her opponents could actually talk about their candidacy.
The hiatus means KVNF needs DJs to host shows. Program director Ali Lightfoot said the station has 80 active volunteers, but with programs like As the Worm Turns, a gardening talk show, finding the right person isn't easy. When no volunteers are available, she or operations manager Jeff Reynolds fill in.
"I can't wait to have them back," said Lightfoot. "Then again, I'm really happy that they're also trying to be more involved with the town."