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NorthEast Radio Watch Special Report: The Brian Dodge Complaint

by Scott Fybush
(c)1997 Boston Radio Archives

Brian Dodge has been one of New England's best-known religious
broadcasters for well over a decade now.  He's put more than a
half-dozen full-power stations and dozens of translators on the air,
and in the process, his critics have accused him of breaking more than
a few FCC rules.

Yet, whether through persistence, faith, or simple dumb luck, Dodge
has survived every attempt thus far to put the brakes on his
broadcasting empire.

In this NorthEast Radio Watch special report, we'll take a close look
at the latest effort to get the FCC to examine Dodge's broadcast
empire.  Carter Broadcasting, licensee of stations in Boston,
Providence, Portland, Chicopee/Springfield, and Rumford ME, filed the
document with the commission on Wednesday, and now NERW brings you the
first full look at what its 100+ pages contain:

The complaint is nominally aimed at just four translators, W232AJ
Greenville NH, W240AM West Keene NH, W288AM West Brattleboro VT, and
W288AZ Bernardston MA.  The translators are licensed to Harvest
Broadcasting Association, a partnership supposedly including just four
people -- William Wittik, Marian Akley, Susan Chamberlin, and Etta
Dodge, Brian Dodge's mother.  Carter's complaint alleges that HBA is
in fact nothing more than a business front for Brian Dodge, bolstered
by numerous letters and filings from HBA signed by Brian Dodge.

After eighteen pages of evidence to that effect, Carter turns its
attention to another Dodge business venture, "LOVE Radio," which
provides the programming for the four translators named in the
complaint, along with 99.7 Wilmington VT (a translator CP issued to
Rothschild Broadcasting when it owned WVAY Wilmington) and 92.1
Westfield MA.

The Westfield translator, W221AP, is licensed to one Gary Kenny, but
in fact was another LOVE Radio relayer until it was shut down last
month.  Dodge prepared the engineering portion of the translator
application, and when Carter engineer Bob Shotwell visited the
translator, the emergency number posted on the front of the
transmitter was that of Dodge's LOVE Radio.

Shotwell found the translator somewhere other than where the FCC
thinks it is.  The FCC license specifies a 2-watt translator off Union
Street just east of downtown Westfield.  Shotwell found W221AP high
atop Mount Tom, the highest site in the Springfield area, putting out
some 40 watts ERP.  The FCC's Boston field office shut down W221AP
last month after being made aware of the situation.

The programming Dodge runs on the LOVE translators is another issue
raised in the complaint.  Last fall, as we reported here in NERW, the
LOVE translators switched primary stations from WGLV (104.3 Hartford
VT) to WHAZ (1330 Troy NY) and its sister FMs WMYY (97.3 Schoharie NY)
and WBAR-FM (94.7 Lake Luzerne NY).  Since those stations are licensed
as commercial operations, and the areas LOVE covers are outside their
1 mV/m contours, that's not legal.  And as Carter contends, the
switch was made so that LOVE could benefit from money raised by WHAZ,
something explicitly forbidden by FCC rules.

The complaint provides transcripts of several of Dodge's fund-raising
appeals over WHAZ/WBAR/WMYY and the LOVE translators, explicitly
stating that LOVE will get money raised by WHAZ.  (It's important to
note here that Carter's complaint is not against WHAZ, which may well
have been unaware of any wrongdoing.)

And that brings us to the next portion of the complaint, the incident
that likely prompted the whole thing to be filed.  As we've mentioned
several times here on NERW, Carter is one of the applicants for 106.5
in Farmington NH.  So, it claims, is Brian Dodge.  And Brian Dodge.
And also Brian Dodge.  Three of the applications filed, under the
names "Green Mountain Educational Fellowship," "Pioneer Valley
Educational Fellowship," and "Northeastern Educational Radio
Fellowship," specify the same tower site, the same type of legal
entity as licensee, and the same programming.  

A Carter engineer drove up to Farmington to check on the applications, and
found all three had been sent by Dodge under the same cover to the
town clerk for filing.  And as for the tower site specified?  Carter
talked to Mike Bartlett of 2Way Communication Services -- and found
that the only call he'd had regarding the tower was from Brian
Dodge, who also prepared the engineering exhibits for the three

A few other accusations against Dodge are mentioned briefly in the
complaint as well, including a 1987 FCC case in which the FCC declined
to address an allegation that Brian Dodge was using the name of
another family member, Timothy Dodge, to file for an FM frequency in
New Hampshire (now WNHI 93.3 Belmont).  Also mentioned is the
unauthorized transfer of control case involving Dodge's brief
operation of WKBR (1250) Manchester NH in the early 1990s, and another
ongoing FCC investigation of Dodge.  Not even mentioned here are
Dodge's operation of WRUT (107.5 West Rutland VT) two years ago after
the construction permit had expired and while the FCC was taking new
applications for the channel, or the currently-unlicensed status of
Dodge flagship WWNH (1340 Madbury NH).  And mentioned only in passing
is Dodge's status as a convicted felon, stemming from a car crash a
decade ago in Vermont in which a person was killed.

Carter closes by asking the FCC to hold Dodge to the same standards of
candor that other licensees follow, and calling for a hearing into all
of Dodge's licenses.  "If a licensee cannot be trusted," Carter
writes, "it should not hold a license."

In a telephone interview with NERW Friday afternoon, Dodge said he had
not yet received his copy of the complaint, and was not aware it had
been filed.  Dodge has promised to talk with NERW once he's reviewed
the complaint, and we will bring you his reaction in a later issue.

*NERW's editorial comments: There are no real winners in this case, no
matter what the outcome proves to be.  We have always taken a strong
stand in this column against any violation of the Commission's rules,
and the evidence is unquestionable that Brian Dodge has violated many
of them, repeatedly.

Yet the motives behind this complaint are also less than pure.  Carter
makes no secret of the fact that W221AP competed directly with its
WACE (730) Chicopee/Springfield, and that the Dodge applications
competed with its own filing for Farmington NH.  And as much as Carter
claims it doesn't "shrink from competition (that's not) in blatant
violation of the FCC rules," there's no question Carter would just as
soon not have that competition, period.  Of course, it's also true
that the competitive nature of Dodge's operations gives Carter the
standing to bring a complaint that the FCC will listen to.

The true shame of this case is that there's really no evidence that
Dodge's motives are impure.  Those who know him say his religious
beliefs are deeply-held and sincere, and (even though the New
Hampshire Attorney General's Office of Charities is investigating him
for alleged wrongdoing) it's clear that Dodge is not getting rich off
his stations.  WWNH operates from a run-down prefab house in Madbury,
and the translators are apparently run from the apartment Dodge shares
with his mother in Brattleboro VT.

To read the many Dodge filings reproduced as appendices to the Carter
complaint suggests that Brian Dodge started out sincerely committed to
bringing Christian radio to the rural areas of Vermont, New Hampshire,
and western Massachusetts that then lacked it -- and became bogged
down in mountains of regulations that in the end, he may simply not
have understood at all.  (All of Dodge's filings are filled with
misspellings and grammatical errors, and the handwritten ones are in
an almost childlike scrawl.)

Will this filing bring an end to the Dodge broadcasting story?
There's certainly enough detail here to force the FCC to sit up and
pay attention.  And while Dodge has somehow managed to find a way out
of earlier FCC scrapes, this may be more than even he can handle.

Some have likened this case to the fight being waged over New Jersey's
"Jukebox Radio," another instance where the control of a translator
and its primary is being questioned.  Yet not only are the stakes
greater in that case (New York City, versus a host of tiny hill towns
in New England), it seems much clearer there that the intent from the
beginning was to deceive the FCC.  Did Brian Dodge ever intend to
deceive the FCC?  Or was this simply what happened as he tried to pay
the bills for more stations than he could really handle?  There are no
easy answers here.

In the next few issues of NERW, we'll be examining the case from a
variety of angles, including Dodge's response and comments from other
area broadcasters.  And we'll track this case as it makes its way
through the FCC, and perhaps into the radio history books alongside
WJAZ, KFKB, WLBT, WHDH-TV, and all the other landmark cases.

Your comments are welcome as well; send them to nerw@radio.lcs.mit.edu
and we'll summarize them in a future NERW.  We also hope to have the
full text of the complaint available in the near future on the Boston
Radio Archives web site,


We'll be back on Thursday with a full report on the rest of the news
on the Northeast broadcasting scene.

- -=Scott Fybush - fybush@world.std.com=-