Pirates On Parade In Brooklyn


Did you know there was a website with a map of pirate radio stations in Brooklyn where listeners can tune into their favorite illegal radio station? Brooklyn is a hotbed for pirates and the FCC has been trying to close as many of them down as possible. Their efforts are either falling short or those behind the illegal operations simply don’t care about the consequences. David Goren hosts the website with the map of the pirates. On Wednesday, we spoke to Goren about his website and the swarm of pirates that continue to operate in that part of New York.

Radio Ink: What made you decide to produce a map like this?
David Goren: I’m a longtime radio documentary producer for BBC, NPR, and other platforms. You can hear my work on my website and read my bio here. Some of my work covers the way media programming — particularly radio — supports diverse, underserved communities. (One example may be found HERE.)

As a resident of Flatbush, Brooklyn, I’ve heard pirates on FM going back to the mid-80s, (though they go back further than that.) For the Sound Map project, I was particularly interested in finding out why pirate activity started to change in the 1990s, who the stations serve, and why they take the risk. I also wanted to create an archival presentation of the unusually diverse programming that I’ve been recording for the past four years.

Previously, pirate stations stuck to one or two frequencies (91.5 and 91.9), and broadcast late at night and on weekends. Programming was largely in homage to the rock radio of the day. Starting in the early-mid 90s, new pirate stations came on the air with programming specifically for many of Brooklyn’s immigrant communities. These new stations also began broadcasting earlier, on weekdays and on frequencies throughout the dial. This situation continues today.

With this project, I was interested in using the sound map format because these stations are tied to particular neighborhoods; it lends itself to an archival approach. The Sound Map is connected to a website, pirateradiomap.com, which explores the history and consequences of Brooklyn’s pirate radio activity. The Brooklyn Pirate Radio Sound Map was funded by the Brooklyn Arts Council in 2017.

I am currently making a conventional radio documentary on the NYC pirates for the BBC World Service.

Radio Ink: How many pirates would you say are in and around the Brooklyn area?
David Goren: I typically hear 36 stations, give or take a few, on an average weeknight or weekend. This is the prime time when most of these stations operate.

Radio Ink: How do you find them?
David Goren: They are very easy to hear on any type of FM radio where I live in Flatbush. A lot of my research involves intensive listening and recording. If you’re asking about finding and talking to the actual operators of these stations, I’ve used information available on their websites and social media profiles. Most are not interested in press attention. Some have been willing to talk off the record and a few on the record.

Radio Ink: Do you know if any of the pirates you have on your map are interfering with any regular radio stations?
David Goren: Yes, the New York City dial is crowded to begin with, so it’s hard for them to avoid interfering with a licensed station or each other. There are pirate operators that try to use frequencies that don’t interfere with the most local licensed stations (i.e. using a frequency occupied by a broadcaster from the Jersey Shore, the Hudson Valley, or Long Island). Some of these have been using such frequencies for decades. Others cram in where they can.

Radio Ink: Do you think these folks know what they are doing is illegal and they can get in a lot of trouble with the FCC?
David Goren: I’ve gotten a range of responses to this question from the pirate broadcasters. Some say they know it’s illegal, and do what they can to minimize their risk (which in some ways is tempered by the large number of stations on air). Others have said that they are only streaming and they don’t know who is putting their signal on the air. (I have come across this type of response in press coverage over the years.) One operator told me he heard through the grapevine that if he stayed under a certain amount of power he would be  operating legally. I think a lot of them are hoping that somehow they’re legal under Part 15 rules.

All of the pirate broadcasters that I’ve spoken with have expressed a strong desire to operate legally, and ask many questions about how they can do so and then express frustration when they find out how limited the options are, and how expensive the process is. Since most of these operators also stream online, I’ve asked them why they take the risk to be on the radio. For many, radio is an important platform embedded in their home cultures, and they want to replicate that here. Others say that if they were to leave radio and only stream, they would abandon their most vulnerable listeners, the elderly and economically disadvantaged who are less likely to use digital platforms. One pastor I spoke with said he wouldn’t be able to reach his listeners who are homeless, shut in, hospitalized, in shelters, or living in a similar marginalized situation.


  1. The real pirates are the large corporations which have ruined local radio. Congress deserves much of the blame for their deregulation, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 being the most egregious example.

    • Radio wasn’t the main casualty of the 96 act. Phone service was. In 1996 there were dozens of phone companies. Now there are three. Ironically the phone business is killing the radio business.

  2. The FCC is so corrupt and it’s obvious from reading all the comments from other news that Pai and O’Reilly are more concerned about money and their corporate friends to give a rats ass about anything that serves the public. The arguments over the great translator invasion,-“AM re-vitalization” or whatever it’s called. Around my location these translators that are supposed to be re vitalizing these AM’s are simply re broadcasting networks like CBS Sports Radio and often ESPN Sports and other satellite talk platforms. One of the stations still holds a license for another channel that is clear and not being used now over 2 years while they switched to another frequency. Does the FCC ever clear the now un used ones from being “held hostage” by a corporate? Their CP for that new channel has long been constructed and in use for more then 2 years. I do agree with the cheap transmitters with spurious emissions, etc. But the FCC cluttering the FM spectrum with AM translators is worse then a million pirates and does nothing for a dying media. AM is AM and I do think it can serve a good purpose, just not on the FM band!

  3. David Goren should be prosecuted for supporting illegal activity. Illegal broadcasting to under-served communities is a classic case of two wrongs not making a right. Pirates interfere with legitimate broadcasters and they skirt the law in every market they are in. Lack of engineering due diligence poses a serious public health risk, they often do not pay taxes, and often staffs are exploited for financial gain. The answer is LPFM, not tolerance of illegal activity.

    • Dr. Jack Casey: “The answer is LPFM, not tolerance of illegal activity.” No, the answer is reform of our current regulations, starting with repeal of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, an end to the auction system of granting construction permits for new stations, a freeze on new translator applications (which are clogging the FM band), and the forced breakup of the mega-groups, both commercial and noncommercial, with strict limits being imposed on the number of stations that a single licensee may own, both nationwide and in a specific market. LPFM is great…but in urban areas, there is no place to shoehorn these stations in. The explosion of pirate broadcasting in cities with large ethnic minorities is a symptom of the problem of small businessmen and minorities being squeezed out of licensed broadcasting. Not only do many of these pirate stations interfere with licensed broadcasters (many of the ones in Brooklyn, for example, are on FIRST adjacent channels to local licensed stations), but the cheap transmitters used by many of them are often rich in spurious emissions, some of which can interfere with aeronautical communications and navigation radios used in aircraft approaching New York’s airports. Harmonics of the FM band can interfere with high-band VHF television and with military aviation frequencies above 225 MHz.
      Tax evasion is not the only legal issue regarding pirate stations, other than, of course, their lack of a license to broadcast. Do any of them pay music licensing fees to ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC? Even an Internet-only virtual “radio” station must pay those fees.
      The FCC is charged by Congress to serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity. Anyone listening out there in Washington?

      • “The FCC is charged by Congress to serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity. Anyone listening out there in Washington?”

        That hasn’t been the motivation of the FCC for 40 years. It’s now the for-profit part of the government, charged with making money by selling spectrum to telecom companies. The last thing the FCC cares about is regulating radio.

        BTW if the pirates stream (and this article says they do) then they pay music royalties not only to songwriters but to labels and artists through SoundExchange. In fact, the feds could learn a lot about the pirates by talking to their ISPs.


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