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The hosts of XL7-TV’s “The Morning Show” may have landed Mountain Home’s local TV station in hot water with the FCC after approaching political candidates about purchasing a $1,500 advertising package to appear on television during the lead-up to last month’s elections.
The political advertising package, which was allegedly created between March 14 through March 21, was brought to Dale Hoffman, former host of “Down on the Corner,” in an attempt to add a “Candidates Forum” to his show.
Hoffman, who discussed the matter after an anonymous source notified the Observer of an FCC letter given to XL7-TV over a filed complaint, alleges that he was fired from XL7-TV for booking political candidates who did not pay the $1,500 price tag to appear on his TV show.
Dan Reynolds, the owner of Reynolds Media Inc., which owns XL7-TV, confirmed to the Observer that the organization had received a letter from the FCC but denied knowing what the letter was about.
“We’ve answered that with our FCC lawyer. It’s being processed,” said Dan Reynolds when asked about the alleged $1,500 advertising package sent to candidates in Baxter County. “Those concerns, I’m not exactly sure what you’re talking about, but I don’t know anything about what you’re talking about.”
After learning about the FCC’s letter to XL7-TV, the Observer filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the documentation given to XL7-TV.
The FCC denied the request citing Exemption 7(A) of FOIA law, which states, “’ records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes [the production of which] could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.’ Withholding documents under Exemption 7(A) is warranted if (1) law enforcement proceedings are pending or prospective, and (2) release of the information could reasonably be expected to cause some articulable harm.”
The federal agency also cited Exemption 7(E) in denying the Observer’s FOIA request. That exemption states, “’ records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes [the production of which] would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk a circumvention of the law.”
It is unknown to what extent law enforcement is involved with XL7-TV. The Observer is currently in the process of appealing the FCC’s decision to deny the FOIA request.
The $1,500 Advertising Package
At some point between March 14 and March 21, Dale Hoffman alleges that Bob Recktenwald, an employee with the Jim Brown Company, and Scooter Callies, a host with XL7-TV, approached him about creating a temporary “Candidate Forum” on Hoffman’s “Down on the Corner” program.
Hoffman, who ran his program for over 12 years, transferred “Down on the Corner” from a radio show to a television show after XL7-TV approached him about changing his show’s format.
Hoffman alleges Recktenwald and Callies said they wanted to sell ads and that the candidate forum would help. He alleges they then asked to cut into his Missing Monday program with their forum.
Several candidates had been scheduled to appear around this time, including Henry Campfield, candidate for Baxter County Sheriff, who was scheduled to appear on March 27, and Kevin Litty, candidate for Baxter County Judge, who was scheduled to appear on April 4.
Campaign finance reports filed with the Baxter County Clerk’s Office reveal that Litty and several other candidates paid $1,500 to XL7-TV around this time.
On March 30, the owner of Shady Grover Store was slated to appear on Hoffman’s show the following day but decided to cancel that afternoon after getting sick.
Hoffman said, after the cancellation, he reached out to Brian Plumlee, the current front runner for Baxter County Judge, about appearing on the show in her place.
Text messages between Plumlee and Recktenwald reveal that Plumlee had been approached about purchasing the $1,500 advertising package. Plumlee did not pay the $1,500 to appear and did not appear on their air with Hoffman. His non appearance was later used against him during a KTLO candidate forum.
Hoffman then alleges that Recktenwald berated him over booking Plumlee. Hoffman alleges he was then fired by Gil Reynolds, a manager at XL7-TV, who then made the decision to turn over “Down on the Corner” to Recktenwald after promising Hoffman that his show wouldn’t be taken away from him. Neither Recktenwald, Reynolds, nor Callies would return phone calls or emails from the Observer.
Candidates who did not pay for the $1,500 advertising package were eventually allowed to appear on XL7-TV following Hoffman’s departure. However, it is unknown if the FCC’s letter played a role in allowing non-paying candidates to make appearances again.
Further discussions with this year’s candidates led to the discovery of an advertising flyer that was allegedly created by Recktenwald.
The flyer can be seen below.
FCC regulations surrounding political elections cover both “equal opportunity,” meaning that each candidate is granted equal time on television or radio, and “candidate rates,” which covers how much a candidate can be charged for advertising.
The FCC’s Equal Opportunities clause over discrimination states, “in making time available to candidates for public office, no licensee shall make any discrimination between candidates in practices, regulations, facilities, or services for or in connection with the service rendered pursuant to this part, or make or give any preference to any candidate for public office or subject any such candidate to any prejudice or disadvantage; nor shall any licensee make any contract or other agreement which shall have the effect of permitting any legally qualified candidate for any public office to broadcast to the exclusion of other legally qualified candidates for the same public office.”
For candidate rates, the FCC states that “during the 45 days preceding the date of a primary or primary runoff election and during the 60 days preceding the date of a general or special election in which such person is a candidate, the lowest unit charge of the station for the same class and amount of time for the same period.”
The FCC also states, “a candidate shall be charged no more per unit than the station charges its most favored commercial advertisers for the same classes and amounts of time for the same periods. Any station practices offered to commercial advertisers that enhance the value of advertising spots must be disclosed and made available to candidates on equal terms. Such practices include but are not limited to any discount privileges that affect the value of advertising, such as bonus spots, time-sensitive make goods, preemption priorities, or any other factors that enhance the value of the announcement.”
During his interview with the Observer, Hoffman said that $1,500 was a high price for advertising with XL7-TV.
By allegedly creating an expensive advertising package that many candidates could not afford and allegedly attempting to keep those candidates from appearing, thereby denying them equal time, XL7-TV may have violated the FCC regulations surrounding election advertising and equal opportunity.
The Observer will continue to track this story as the FCC and XL7-TV continue to respond to each other.