Broadcasters Cheer Pirate Radio Bill


U.S. Representative Leonard Lance of New Jersey introduced a bill to Congress on Tuesday to fight illegal pirate radio operators. The PIRATE Act, ‘‘Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act’’ calls for an increased penalty of up to $2,000,000 for anyone convicted of operating a pirate station across the nation. The legislation also mandates the FCC to perform “Pirate Sweeps” no less than twice a year in the country’s top five radio markets to uncover pirate radio operations.

New Jersey Broadcasters Association President & CEO Paul Rotella said, “This is a significant national enhancement of penalty and enforcement for those who would violate our airwaves and should give such offenders pause. The NJBA has been advancing this initiative for many years now and Congressman Lance has championed this legislation in an effort to protect communities from the harmful and potentially life-threatening consequences of the many illegal pirates operating in or near New Jersey.”

New York State Broadcasters Association President David Donovan added, “For too long the citizens of New York have endured the harm caused by illegal pirate radio stations. These stations: 1) interfere with the Emergency Alert System (EAS); 2) interfere with FAA and airport communications; 3) emit levels of RF radiation into local neighborhoods that are above government standards; 3) ignore all consumer protection laws; and 4) blatantly transgress all FCC rules and regulations. We strongly support the PIRATE Act. The PIRATE Act will give the FCC the tools to protect consumers and take illegal pirate operators off the air. We look forward to working with the bill’s 14 initial co-sponsors as well as other members of the House and Senate to move forward with this important legislation.”

NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton said, “NAB thanks Reps. Leonard Lance, Paul Tonko, Chris Collins and their fellow cosponsors for the bipartisan introduction of the PIRATE Act, which provides the FCC with enhanced penalties and additional tools to take action against illegal pirate radio operations. Pirate radio is a real threat to public health and safety, causes interference to legal radio broadcasts and flouts the rule of law.”

Rotella said most people do not understand the danger pirate radio operators put the public in through their illegal transmissions. “These pirate radio stations cause interference to the Emergency Alert System, and FAA frequencies that could interfere with airline communications and also create excessive, unmeasured RF radiation to residents and businesses in the buildings they operate in, which may present significant health concerns.

Wharton also gave a shout out to the FCC. “Broadcasters also thank FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly for his longstanding leadership on this issue, and Chairman Ajit Pai and his Enforcement Bureau staff’s commitment to pirate radio enforcement. NAB strongly supports this legislation to provide greater enforcement tools to the Commission and will work with members of Congress in the House and Senate on its swift passage.”

Rotella concluded, “The NJBA applauds Congressman Lance’s insight in recognizing the harm caused by pirate radio stations and for his determined and thoughtful approach to rectifying this hazardous and unacceptable condition with his proposed legislation.”

You can read the bill HERE.


  1. One or maybe I should say 2 of the biggest problems here is Ajit Pai and Micheal O’Reilly. Both are for corporate radio, power and money. People for 2 decades have cried out for the 1996 Telecom Act to be repealed and they won’t listen. It is getting to the point where talk is cheap and action is needed. What is going on here is anything but just regulation. It’s another method of Tyranny. The Police State is growing. The one thing that is lacking in radio vs the 2cond amendment is that normal everyday walking on the street people don’t know and understand, care to get involved and the FCC knows that. These fines won’t be paid and this will not stop those whom wish for the right to broadcast and be heard. And somehow I see the 2cond amendment and the desire of freedom of speech, access to the airwaves suddenly becoming one if this bill does go through and I am betting a whole new can of worms opens.

  2. “Want to stop pirate broadcasting? Repeal the 1996 Telecom Act”

    Nothing in the 96 Act that promotes pirate radio. The public can’t repeal it. Only Congress can do that, and they can’t agree on a budget, so they won’t be voting to repeal a 20 year old bill and reinstitute outdated and obsolete ownership rules at a time when anyone can start an online radio station without applying for a license and paying lawyers.

    Nobody besides current owners and EMF want to buy radio stations. Eliminate them, and you basically shut down broadcast radio. Scripps is trying to sell some great stations, and so far, no one has bought any of them. There are lots of other stations available for sale with no potential buyers. It’s not the 70s any more.

  3. The PIRATE Act is a little like chopping the top off a dandelion without digging out the root. It fails to address the root cause of the explosive growth of illegal, unlicensed broadcasting: The gobbling up of multiple local radio stations by mega-corporations and the failure of such stations to adequately serve their communities of licensing. Prior to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, there were far fewer pirate stations. These were mostly operated as a hobby, usually by high school or college kids who were interested in broadcasting, were probably dissatisfied with the programming on their local stations, and could not find a job at a licensed station. Such stations were in or just above the AM band or near the 40 meter amateur band. They usually sounded like college stations and often carried some very unusual programming. Today’s pirates are in or adjacent to the FM band, usually operate commercially, and most of them serve racial or ethnic minorities that are unserved or underserved by the big corporate stations. There are also many religious pirates that are operated by local pastors of neighborhood churches…while EMF continues to gobble up local commercial and noncommercial stations, turning them into glorified translators for their canned programming from California, much as the late Harold Camping’s Family Stations once did.
    Want to stop pirate broadcasting? Repeal the 1996 Telecom Act, reinstate strict ownership caps, extend them to noncommercial as well as to commercial entities, break up the station clusters, and make the frequencies available to members of the local communities. Get rid of the auctions and go back to the merit system of issuing construction permits, allowing these permits to go to those who will best serve their community, rather than to those who have the deepest pockets.


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