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FCC says Triad can only keep 4 on FM

The owner of a local group of radio stations must shed one of the cluster's five FM stations, due to a federal ruling. Go Radio, which owns or operates five FM stations and one AM station in the Fargo metro area, has until June 17 to comply with ...

The owner of a local group of radio stations must shed one of the cluster's five FM stations, due to a federal ruling.

Go Radio, which owns or operates five FM stations and one AM station in the Fargo metro area, has until June 17 to comply with federal rules limiting owners to four FM stations in markets this size, according to the ruling released Wednesday by the Federal Communications Commission.

It is not clear how Go Radio will respond. Michael Brooks, Go Radio's general manager, declined to discuss the federal order.

"I don't have anything of value to add yet," he said after a conference call with executives from Triad Broadcasting, the California-based company that owns Go Radio.

David Benjamin, Triad's chief executive officer, told a trade publication that Triad is mulling its options.

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"Obviously we are in profound disagreement, and we are conferring with FCC counsel," Radio Business Report quoted him as saying on Thursday.

James Ingstad, who owns four FM and two AM stations in Fargo, welcomed the ruling and said it will "level the playing field.

"Everybody else is playing by these rules," Ingstad said.

At issue is KEGK-FM 106.9, known as The Eagle.

The oldies station is owned by Guderian Broadcasting of Wahpeton, N.D., but Go Radio runs the station under a joint-sales agreement - which counts toward federal ownership limits.

The FCC ruling revoked a waiver it gave Triad in 2004 that allowed the company to operate five FM stations in Fargo, though federal rules limit station owners to four. It received the waiver because at the time, Clear Channel owned five FM stations in Fargo - which was legal because it owned them before the cap went into effect.

It was a relatively rare but not unheard-of move by the FCC, said a Washington, D.C., media attorney.

"Waivers like this are uncommon but not absolutely unique to Fargo," said Andrew Schwartzman, chief executive officer and president of the Media Access Project.

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But when Ingstad, who sold his Fargo stations to Clear Channel in 2000 for $46 million, bought them back in 2007 for $14 million, he was forced to sell one of the five FM stations because the ownership cap applies to new purchases.

That's the reason the FCC gave for revoking its previous waiver, which was already set to expire Aug. 4. The exception for Triad was no longer needed to achieve what the ruling referred to as "competitive balance."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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