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Notes on the "Unbuilt CP Purges"

These footnotes apply to the "Channels" pages which may be accessed via the left-hand menu.

This, the fourth page in the section, concerns the FCC's attempts between 1957 and 1970 to determine which outstanding construction permits were not likely to ever be built and "purge" them by deletion or by encouraging the CP holder to surrender same.

McFarland Letters: It actually began when President Harry S Truman signed Public Law 554, 82d Congress, Second Session -- commonly known as the "McFarland Act" -- in July 1952, just as the FCC was beginning to issue post-freeze television construction permits. The key provision of the Act required the Commission, when it was "unable to grant an application upon the basis of the information before it," to notify the applicant "of the reasons for such inability" and give same "the opportunity to make such further showing as will render a hearing unnecessary." (It also required final decisions on applications within three months unless a hearing was required, and a decision within six months after any such hearing was concluded.)

Sen. Ernest W. McFarland
(Photo courtesy Office of the
Arizona Secretary of State.)

While the McFarland process applied to any type of FCC application, it proved most useful in dealing with outstanding television construction permits, taking just under a year to be applied to that process; in June 1953 the FCC identified eight CP holders who had applied for extensions for time to complete without providing information justifying the extensions. On the 17th of that month, letters went out telling each permittee their request "cannot be granted on the basis of present information." Two CP holders (KTVW/22 Wichita Falls TX and WKMI/36 Kalamazoo MI) surrendered their permits upon receiving the letter; another five provided additional information and were granted extensions. That left KIRV/20 Denver CO as the lone holdout.

A subsequent letter went out on September 23 to KIRV's permittee from the FCC saying that it was unable to determine "that you have been diligent in proceeding with the construction authorized in your outstanding permit or that you have been prevented from commencing such construction by causes not under your control" and set October 29 as the date for a hearing on the matter.

KIRV's CP holder failed to appear at the hearing.

The hearing officer, with very little in the way of evidence or testimony, had little choice but to rule that KIRV had not begun construction (in fact, it was determined by FCC staff that they hadn't even ordered any studio or transmitter equipment). The CP was formally deleted January 27, 1954, by which time 35 UHF CPs had been surrendered, including two (WROV-TV/27 Roanoke VA and WBES-TV/59 Buffalo NY) that had started operation and subsequently gone dark. An additional CP (KTVR/41 Galveston TX) was deleted at the same time as KIRV's when its permittee candidly admitted upon receiving its McFarland letter near the end of 1953 that it had indeed not begun construction.

Ironically, this first real test of the Act came as its author, Sen. Ernest W. McFarland (D-AZ), was leaving office, having been defeated by rising political star Barry Goldwater in his November, 1952 re-election bid. McFarland opened a communications law practice in Washington DC after leaving office, and was one of the founding partners of KTVK/3 Phoenix, later acquiring majority ownership of the station. He also served as Governor of Arizona for four years (1955-59) and on that state's Supreme Court from 1965 to 1971. He died in 1984 at age 89.

1957 Purge: At the beginning of October 1955, a little over three years after the FCC began reissuing construction permits for television, there were 453 television stations operating in the U.S., but only about one-quarter of those (108) were UHFs. In those three post-freeze years, 56 stations had gone dark, only eight being VHFs, and 107 UHF CPs had been surrendered or deleted (compared to only 23 for VHF). Many of those surrenders came as the result of McFarland letters; permittees who did not submit information about how far along they were in construction with their requests for extension of time were thus summoned to a hearing ... if they didn't simply surrender the CP upon receiving the letter. Post-hearing, most CPs were extended and a few deleted.

It didn't help that in June 1955, the FCC declared that economic reasons would no longer be a valid reason for requesting a construction permit extension and that evidence would have to be given of "definite plans for actual construction and operation" of the proposed station in future requests. At the same time, they issued an extension of 16 outstanding UHF CPs to January 16, 1956 and a blanket extension of the remaining UHF CPs to October 16 of that year while they considered several allocation proposals. One month after the second extension expired, the FCC sent a McFarland letter to 83 non-operating UHF permittees (including several that had gone on the air and subsequently went dark), giving them until February 15, 1957 to justify extensions of their CPs.

KCOA, KGTV, WKNY-TV, WFTV and WOTV were deleted during this process (WFTV was proposed for deletion but wasn't; its CP was surrended in July 1958); KEDD, WAAB-TV and WJLN-TV surrendered their CPs before the deadline, WQIK-TV and WQTV surrendered theirs a few months later. WWLA surrendered its permit the day after its extension expired.

The full list of stations who received the letter, including the reason for their inclusion, is included in this Broadcasting article.

It should be noted that in 1957 itself, only 40 new television stations began operations, compared to 45 the previous year and 59 in 1955. Of those 40, only seven were UHFs (and three of those had previously gone dark and then resumed operation that year). All 13 "fatalities" in 1957 were Us. The full list was reported by Television Digest in their first issue of 1958.

1960 Purge: Three years later, with almost half of the UHF CPs having been surrendered and 90 of 165 UHF stations that had been built having gone dark -- and with the McFarland process turning out to be too slow -- the FCC ratcheted up the pressure. The key move was in the form of a Rules amendment delegating to the chief of the Broadcast Bureau authority to declare forfeited any expired CPs for which the Commission had not given extensions and on February 19, 1960 the Broadcast Bureau issued a "build or quit" letter to 54 permittees who had applications for permit extensions, giving them notice to either begin construction or surrender their CPs. (The language in the letter included the point-blank language "delay in construction has been due not to any difficulty in the procurement of equipment or to an inability to complete construction because of reasons beyond your control, but rather to your voluntary decision to postpone construction because of your belief that the proposed station could not succeed financially under present economic conditions" and that the Commission "is unable to find that you have been diligent in proceeding with the construction of the facility authorized in your permit.")

Despite appearing at a special mass hearing September 23 of that year to plead their cases -- an additional 16 were deleted April 30 for non-response -- the permittees for KMPT-TV, KMYR, WAMT, WAZL-TV, WCBF-TV, WCIN-TV, WBID-TV, WEHS, WERE-TV, WFOX-TV, WHLS-TV, WHCU-TV, WJDW, WLAN-TV, WNLC-TV, WOCN, WPHD, WQCY, WRAK-TV, WSES, WTLC, WTMV, WTOH-TV, WTVX and WXEL -- 25 in total --all had their CPs deleted in a mass purge on November 22 (KMYR, WCBF-TV, WOCN, WPHD and WXEL filed petitions for reconsideration; all the petitions were denied on March 15 of the following year). The CPs for KFMX-TV and KTRB-TV had already expired by the time of the hearing, so those were simply denied reinstatement; WTLE withdrew its application for extension of time and surrendered its CP three weeks before the Commission action. The permittees of KSPG, WEOL-TV, WIND-TV, WKNE-TV and WPTR-TV surrendered their CPs before the hearing, extensions were granted to KBAY-TV and WTVI pre-hearing and to WELI-TV post-hearing, and action was deferred for WMCN and WBMG due to pending rulemaking on VHF in their markets. WNYC-TV was removed from the process when the FCC decided to use it as a test station for UHF reception in large cities.

The full list of stations who received the letter is included in this Broadcasting article.

1965 Purge: The Commission sent another letter of inquiry to long-held CP permittees in 1964. KHTV, WALN-TV, WBLN (which had been dark since 1958) and WFMZ-TV did not respond to the letter and as a result their CPs were deleted. The permittees for the remaining 24 UHF stations that were either unbuilt or had gone dark were summoned to another special mass hearing on May 25, 1965 to justify retaining their CPs.

The permits were subsequently deleted for KCEB, WACH-TV, WBPZ-TV, WELI-TV, WFPG-TV, WICC-TV, WKNA-TV, WPFA-TV (which had been dark since 1955) and WTVU; WKYT-TV Owensboro KY, which had merged with WKXP-TV Lexington in 1958 but never surrendered its CP, was also deleted.

The FCC was also at this time working on a revision to the Table of Assignments of television channels (commonly called the "allocations table" at the time), and three CPs which were on allocations proposed for removal from the Table -- KCOK-TV, WJSK, and WMCN -- were deleted. Others, which had begun construction, were modified to channels that replaced their original allocations.

WBTM-TV, WRTV and WVNA-TV were given CP extensions which subsequently expired, unbuilt (WRTV's remained active until 1969) and WNET was given an extension and included in the next round of inquiries; WLEV-TV surrendered its CP. KCEB's CP was subsequently reinstated in 1966 to allow it to be sold; it was surrendered in 1974. WICC-TV's CP was also reinstated in 1966 but they did not surrender their CP until 1971.

See the article on WELI-TV for details of its CP reinstatement and subsequent history.

1968-1969 Purges: As the FCC continued to request valid reasons from permittees to grant extensions to their CPs, KPVC-TV, KHER-TV, KWIG-TV, WCCT, WDNB-TV, WFNT, WPNG, WRIV-TV and WTML had their CPs cancelled in 1968; WNET, WPCT and WPDT followed in 1969, and KDWN-TV, KUII-TV, KWIS-TV, WDKS-TV, WKHM-TV, WNEC and WRTU-TV in early 1970 (after a November 20, 1969 hearing).

WMLK and WROA-TV received extensions to their CPs but they subsequently expired unbuilt; KWID-TV surrendered its CP.

WKHM-TV appealed and its CP was reinstated in 1970; after changing call letters to WWLD-TV and two failed sales attempts, it was deleted in 1978. WTML also appealed its cancellation and the CP was reinstated in 1971 but then expired unbuilt; KWIG-TV similarly appealed, was also reinstated in 1971, then surrendered the CP one month later. KTOV-TV's CP was granted multiple extensions, expired in 1973, was reinstated the following year, and deleted two months after its reinstatement.

See the article on WNET for the post-1969 history of its CP.

1970 and Beyond:

After a handful of additional CP deletions under the McFarland procedure (the last being a "mass hearing" on September 9, 1970 and deletion on December 3 of that year, for KCTR-TV, KGSL-TV*, KIHP-TV, WBBU-TV and WGTC-TV), the FCC changed the eight-month CP period to an 18- to 24-month period, saying it was "no longer reasonable to expect a grantee to begin construction within two months and be finished six months after that."

[*-KGSL-TV appealed and was not deleted until March 2, 1971. It had already received four extensions.]

By that time, CP surrenders were no longer considered worth mentioning by either Broadcasting or Television Digest. In fact, most deletions outside of the purge hearings past the mid-1960s were denials of CP extension applications and were not reported unless they went to a hearing. In the 1970s even those were few and far between.

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