CASPER, Wyo. -- Nearly a year ago, a Federal Communications Commission inspector tuned in to several radio frequencies in Casper and heard music where it didn't belong.
The music, from four Casper radio stations belonging to Mt. Rushmore Broadcasting Inc., sang from the company's studios in downtown Casper to its transmission facilities for rebroadcast on regular FM radio frequencies.
The radio relays, known as studio transmitter links, are not uncommon when studios aren't located next to transmitter sites. But in Casper on Aug. 17, there was one problem: Mt. Rushmore Broadcasting didn't have the right to broadcast using the radio links.
In the case of two of the radio stations, the company had been using the unlicensed radio links for 16 years.
The FCC on Thursday said on its website it's fining the company $68,000 for "willfully and repeatedly" violating the law, and it gave the stations' owner 30 days to get the licenses its needs for stations KMLD-Melody 94.5, KASS-Kick! 107, KQLT-Kolt Country 103.7 and KHOC-Heart 102.5.
Mt. Rushmore Broadcasting President Jan Gray said Friday the FCC's fines and requirements are a "preliminary finding" and the start of a lengthy legal battle over the commission's enforcement of its rules for such licenses. Gray said the commission has poorly tracked its rules and just now decided to enforce them.
"I guarantee you they're going to back down or reach a compromise or whatever, or I'm going to sue them on behalf of every radio owner in America that has been wronged by them," he said. "It's a lot of baloney."
The FCC didn't reply Friday to a request for comment.
In December the FCC asked the company for more details about the licensing and operation of the stations. After multiple extensions, Mt. Rushmore Broadcasting replied to the FCC in April.
It said one of the radio links -- for KQLT -- was licensed, but the FCC found the license call sign "is issued to another licensee in the Atlanta-Athens, Georgia, area."
The company moved its studio for KMLD from a North Nichols Street address a third of a mile away to its current home at 218 N. Wolcott in "late 2001 or early 2002" and said the radio link address should have been changed. It wasn't, the FCC found.
The unlicensed radio links for KHOC had been in operation since 2000, and since 1995 for KASS, the FCC found.
In May, Mt. Rushmore Broadcasting applied for the licenses its lacks for the short-range radio links, according to the FCC.
Gray's Casper FM stations were taken offline the day of the FCC's inspection because of a "technical or mechanical problem," Gray said in an interview with the Star-Tribune a few days after the stations went off the air, but were later turned back on.
On Friday, Gray downplayed the effect of the FCC's decision on his Casper stations.
"This whole thing is not a big deal," he said. "It doesn't affect the operation of the stations one bit."
The FCC fine is the latest trouble for the company, which also owns KVOC-AM 1230 in Casper and stations in Rawlins and in Custer and Hot Springs in South Dakota.
In May the FCC levied a $21,500 fine against the company after a June 2011 inspection found Mt. Rushmore Broadcasting was using an unauthorized antenna for KZMW-FM and not staffing either the FM station or KZMW-AM, both in Hot Springs.
In a situation that mirrored what happened last year to the company's Casper stations, Mt. Rushmore Broadcasting shut down the stations shortly after it was made aware of the FCC inspector's visit, although the company later told the FCC the shutdowns were because of equipment malfunctions and a lightning strike.
The FCC fined the company $20,000 in 2008 because its Rawlins stations hadn't maintained their Emergency Alert System, among other rule violations. The commission also hit the company with thousands of dollars in fines at its various stations in 2002 and 1998.
In those cases, the Wyoming U.S. attorney had to sue Mt. Rushmore Broadcasting in federal court to recover the fines, according to U.S. District Court records.