IN CASE YOU MISSED IT – Tougher Pirate Legislation On The Way

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is not a fan of pirate radio stations. Under his leadership at the FCC, there has been an increased effort to shut down pirates all across the country. However, Pai has also voiced his frustration that stopping these illegal operations is akin to the game of Whack-A-Mole — you shut one down, another pops up. That could be changing soon.

Broadcasters acknowledge that Pai, with a big assist from Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, are doing a much better job going after the pirates than previous FCCs, chaired by Thomas Wheeler or Julius Genachowski, perhaps even better than any previous FCC administration.

And Radio Ink has just learned that there is a very real possibility Congress may soon become involved. Two broadcasters have confirmed to Radio Ink that the NAB has been educating Congressional offices on the interference issues related to pirate radio. State associations are also pitching in by giving details about where these pirates are and the havoc they are wreaking. It appears that those efforts are paying off.

Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) may soon sponsor legislation that would raise the fines for pirate radio operators “considerably,” maybe even up to $1 million. That fine is now $75,000. The legislation would also allow the FCC and/or federal law enforcement officers to go after landlords who knowingly allow radio pirates to operate on their property. One of Chairman Pai’s previously announced frustrations has been the people, such as landlords, that enable pirates to operate. Pai has said the FCC could use additional enforcement measures that might help deter these pirates from popping up, and others from helping them operate.

It’s also expected that the issue of pirate radio is going to be raised at an upcoming Congressional hearing that will be chaired by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Blackburn chairs the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on communications and technology.

We caught up with David Donovan, President of The New York State Broadcasters Association last night. Here’s what he had to say about the pirates.”Illegal pirate radio stations been a tremendous problem in New York. They interfere with the Emergency Alert System, emit harmful unregulated RF radiation into neighborhoods, interfere with FAA and airport communications, ignore all consumer protection and FCC rules. Under the leadership of Commissioner Mike O’Rielly and Chairman Ajit Pai, we have seen a renewed willingness to enforce against these illegal operators. As many at the FCC have noted, Congress needs to provide the FCC with additional tools to help eradicate these harmful, illegal operations. We look forward to working with the FCC and members of Congress in a bi-partisan effort to finally resolved this vexing problem.”

It’s important you stay in touch with the NAB and your state association if you know of any pirate operators in your markets.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 became law, the nature of pirate broadcasting has changed radically. Before 1996, most pirates were hobbyists who operated in or near the AM band or just above the 40 meter amateur band. Programming was quite eclectic and many of these hobbyists were high school or college kids who could not land a job at a licensed station…or who did not like the programming on their local stations. Those stations sounded a lot like college stations. Most of today’s pirates operate on the FM band, operate commercially, and target racial and ethnic minorities. New York and Miami are hotbeds of such activity. Several years ago, the New York State Broadcasters’ Association conducted a study of pirate activity in the New York metropolitan area. Most pirates there broadcast in Spanish (even though there are several licensed Spanish-language stations in a variety of formats), Haitian Creole, or Caribbean-accented English. These stations are mostly located in Brooklyn, Queens, and the New Jersey cities of Newark, Paterson, and East Orange. Some are on first-adjacent channels to local licensed stations, causing considerable interference.
    By establishing an auction system for commercial construction permits, the FCC, under mandate of the 1996 Telecomm Act, has closed a lot of small businesses and minorities out of broadcasting. Although the last available frequencies in New York and Miami were taken decades ago, someone could do the engineering paperwork for an AM frequency or an FM drop-in in a small community, only to have someone else with deep pockets grab the construction permit in the required auction. Community service does not count anymore…only the ability to enrich the federal treasury.
    There was one noteworthy pirate station in the Dorchester section of Boston: The Touch 106.1 (no connection with the urban AC format currently syndicated through Cumulus). This station was operated by a retired policeman and served Boston’s African-American community with positive programming. Even the city’s mayor and the governor of Massachusetts appeared on The Touch! But The Touch 106.1 was unlicensed and was eventually shut down by the FCC. Of the licensed stations with urban formats, WJMN plays rap and hip-hop, if I remember correctly. WILD, an AM daytimer which once provided full-service programming to that community for decades, is now owned by a major group owner. The African-American programming was discontinued and WILD is now leased to the broadcasting arm of the Chinese government…it now blasts Chinese Communist propaganda over Boston from sunrise to sunset.
    Reform of the Telecommunications Act and of the FCC’s licensing procedures is in order, although nothing may clean up the pirate problem in NYC and Miami. New stations cannot be shoehorned into those cities without interfering with existing operations, unless some stations share time on a frequency. Expansion of the FM band is less feasible now than it was when the conversion of television stations to digital broadcasting was mandated, as the spectrum repacking following the Incentive Auction has moved a lot of TV stations back into channels 5 and 6 (76-82 and 82-88 MHz). The FM band cannot be expanded upward, as the frequencies above 108 MHz are used for aeronautical navigation (108-117 MHz) and communications (117-136 MHz).

  2. They are all such idiots… why not a billion. The FCC agents need Federal Marshall power to crash in, seize the property, destroy the equipment … arrest all involved and detain and deport if necessary

  3. Raising fines won’t do any good. Like I stated on another comment sometime ago no one “has” to pay these ridiculous fines. There are no arrest for not. If there was then that would be extortion which is illegal. How about looking at this I noticed as a broadcast engineer. I, along with one of my colleagues decided to go out and track down a licensed translator. So we downloaded all the FCC specs for this station. The coordinates, etc. And out we went. Here is the funny part. The FCC database coordinates centered on a house out in the country. No tower or antennas. So we went tracking checking towers around the vicinity, what other 2 we found. While the translator was coming in well we didn’t find it. The signal was coming from farther south. A trip 25 miles farther south located the signal stronger but the exact location was not pin pointed. We did discover a set of 5 bays with radomes on a near vicinity tv tower but they are over 200 feet high with the license of this translator specifying 89 feet. I think it’s ironic the FCC griping about shutting down pirates/experimental stations when it cannot even begin to keep track of it’s own licensed radio stations. They have no clue where this translator is operating–legally licensed. And this isn’t the first I have seen of this kind of thing. I know of a licensed 50 Kw station that has been off the air and not at full power for over 10 years.

  4. The Low power FM radio stations along with all these FM translator stations for the AM radio cry babies are fouling up the band more than any pirate ever could. Its a complete cluster …. of madness here in California. The FCC NEEDS TO COMPLETELY REALLOCATE THE ENTIRE FM BAND COAST TO COAST AND QUIT THE PRACTICE OF FAVORING THE BIG BROADCAST COMPANIES EVERY DESIRE FOR MORE AND MORE FM CHANNELS FILLED WITH THE SAME FORMATS COAST TO COAST. ITS ALSO TIME TO EXPAND THE FM BAND ANOTHER TWO TV CHANNELS WIDE. ITS TIME FOR EVERY AMERICAN SICK OF THESE SPECTRUM HOGS TO PUT THEIR HOUSE AND SENATE REPRESENTATIVES ON NOTICE THAT ALL THESE HOGS NEED TO BE BROKEN UP SO THERE IS OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL THAT SEEK TO BE A RADIO STATION OWNER. NO WONDER THEY ARE ALL BANKRUPT OR NEARLY SO. IHEART MEDIA, CUMULUS MEDIA ITS TIME TO BREAK THEM UP!

  5. If a pirate can’t or won’t pay a $75,000 fine, is there any benefit from having that fine 10x greater? All additional penalties and efforts are welcome, of course! But I believe what will get a pirate’s attention the fastest, and solve the problem the quickest is confiscation of all equipment and other items associated with the illegal enterprise – be it studio equipment, transmission equipment or vehicles associated with the pirate operation.

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