On July 17, it seemed John Stokes, his radio station, and his once-controversial show The Edge had won a reprieve.
That’s the day Flathead District Court Judge Stewart Stadler was considering a request to nullify the easement on which KGEZ’s radio towers sit, because Stokes had not complied with a court order to bury conduit connecting the antennae to his station.
Losing the easement would mean losing the towers, and therefore, according to Stokes and his supporters, KGEZ’s ability to continue broadcasting.
But Stokes produced a contract he’d secured to have the conduit buried, and Stadler granted him 60 days to get the job done. In response, the packed courtroom of Stokes supporters broke into cheers.
Since then, Stokes has reportedly solicited monetary and physical support from his audience, on the air, to get the conduit buried.
But now, with his 60 days nearly up, the conduit remains unburied, and according to his broker, Beth Griffin, Stokes has had his radio station up for sale for about a month.
The asking price, according to a Griffin Media Brokers ad, is $4 million. For that chunk of change, the purchaser gets “6 acres of prime high density developable road frontage” on which the station currently sits. The “FCC licensed station comes with it at no charge,” according to the ad.
That last sentence is interesting, considering that Stokes’ Federal Communications Commission license is being jointly contested by Kalispell resident Kate Hunt and the Montana Human Rights Network.
When a radio station renews its license with the FCC, which records show Stokes did in 2004, citizens can offer petitions for denial of the license. Kate Hunt did just that.
At that time, the FCC renewed Stokes’ license despite the objections. But in March 2007, Gloria Tristani, a Washington, D.C. attorney who served as an FCC commissioner from 1997 to 2001, petitioned the FCC to reconsider the case against Stokes. Tristani and her firm, Spiegel & McDiarmid, are handling the case pro bono.
Under the Federal Communications Act of 1934, radio stations are required to serve the public interest. In order for stations to prove they fulfill this obligation, the FCC requires them to maintain quarterly “issues/programs” lists, which document how the station has served the public interest by covering community issues. Stations are required to make the lists available to the public.
In May of 2007, Tristani enlisted Hunt to acquire KGEZ’s issues/programs list.
Hunt says Tristani’s co-counsel, attorney David Honig, told her, “Now be prepared…they can charge you 24 cents a copy, and these can be big, big, big files.”
“So I go in and I have $100 on me,” Hunt recalls. She expected a large volume of paperwork.
“I even had my scanner in the car, in case I had to scan these things instead,” she adds. “I go in there, and there are four sheets of paper.”
According to Tristani and Honig, Stokes doesn’t have much evidence KGEZ has been serving the public interest.
“And to the contrary,” Tristani says, “it may be disserving the public.”
To support that assertion, Tristani points to accusations made in the 2004 case against renewing his FCC license that after Stokes read the names and addresses of Flathead residents on the air—usually local environmentalists—they received threats or were the victims of vandalism.
Stokes is also known for having burned a green swastika in front of his station on Earth Day in protest of environmentalists, which he calls “Green Nazis.”
“We think it’s a particular disfavor to the public interest when a station is being used to promote hate and even violence,” Tristani says.
Tristani and Honig say they took the case on because the FCC, by allowing Stokes to retain his license, would be setting an incredibly low bar for what constitutes public service programming.
“This really calls directly into question, in a way that you seldom get before the commission, whether its standards for community service mean anything,” says Honig.
According to Tristani, Stokes cannot sell his FCC license until the case is resolved, though if he does find an interested buyer, the FCC may speed up the hearings process, which Tristani says can sometimes take years.
Should the FCC find Stokes out of compliance, Tristani says it has the authority to issue a warning, levy a fine, or revoke the license.
In the meantime, a lawyer for the Montana Department of Transportation says this fall the state will submit a brief contesting the amount Stokes was awarded when the agency condemned a piece of his property in 2001 for highway expansion. Also, the city of Kalispell is studying how it might maintain Stokes’ signal if the city condemns his radio towers, which happen to be planted in the flight path of a proposed expansion to the Kalispell City Airport.
The Independent attempted to contact Stokes to learn why he has chosen to put his radio station on the market, if he intends to remain on the air in the Flathead if his station sells, and his opinion on the FCC case.
An e-mail reply received Aug. 29 from stokes@Z600.com and signed “John,” stated, in part, “How much you want to bet I’ll be your fornt (sic) page story tomorrow? You guys are such homosexual pussy men pukes. You never interviewed me at all fo (sic) this story.” We had e-mailed seeking an interview for this story.
The e-mail, unfortunately, did not go on to answer any questions about the station’s future. But with the FCC decision looming, the conduit court order unfulfilled, and the possibility of a sale on the horizon, it’s hard not to conclude that the broadcasting days of the Flathead’s most infamous shock jock are numbered.