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News Archive: April 2004

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4/29/04 - Two Weeks Post-Sweep: They're Back [link to this story]

DJ Johnny Nitro, "a pissed off micro broadcaster with no frequency left to broadcast on," reports that the Haitian and Jamaican pirate stations raided in the Ft. Lauderdale, FL area earlier this month are back on the air.

Nitro's not happy with these folks because they run massive power (easily several hundred watts, even up into the four-digit range) and massive commercials: "they play more commercials then some of the clear channel station[s] and are in it for the cash."

4/26/04 - Criminalization of Pirate Radio in Florida Nearly Complete [link to this story]

Somewhat whimsical articles in various Florida outlets celebrate the state Senate's 30-8 passage Thursday of a bill making unlicensed broadcasting a felonious crime. Amendments to lower the penalty to something more reasonable failed. This is likely to be law by the end of the week or weekend; the bill is already engrossed in the state House.

Interestingly enough, this legislation initially began as an effort to set up a state prosecutorial agency for organized crime, to which the anti-pirate radio police role was tacked on. The final version of the bill only criminalizes pirate radio - everything else disappeared.

The constructed dialogue of the latest reportage gives the effort a partisan tone: Republicans led the crusade against unlicensed broadcasting while Democrats wrung their hands - not about the crusade itself, but its conditions.

Reading the legislation loosely enough would allow the state to go after anyone involved in a station, directly or indirectly, with equal zeal: I expect we'll find out before the year is through, depending on the designs of Florida's broadcast industry and law enforcement to exercise its new-found muscle.

As Florida is a location of exceptional activity the FCC, via its complicit silence on this matter, is probably grateful for the state's assist. One must wonder, however, if we might not be witnessing the testing grounds for a new industry offensive against unlicensed broadcasting. With state budgets generally stretched as thin as they are, one hopes not.

4/22/04 - Florida State Senate Begins Debate on Anti-Pirate Bill [link to this story]

Interesting developments on the drive to criminalize pirate radio in Florida. Amendments have been filed to the legislation pending in the state Senate that would reduce the severity of the "crime" of unlicensed broadcasting from a third-degree felony to a first-degree misdemeanor. One version failed on second reading yesterday. Another (pending) amendment would punish first-time pirates with misdemeanors and treat repeat offenders as felons.

Still no news from those whose job it is to report it, save a little blurb in the Tampa Tribune. It should be noted that this bill is not solely about pirate radio stations: it actually creates something called the "Office of Statewide Prosecution," whose primary job will be to go after organized crime in general. The mandate to hunt pirate radio stations is tacked on - as all good special-interest favors usually are.

4/21/04 - WNFC Update: Ferndale Police Waffle [link to this story]

In his ongoing crusade to recruit community support for a limited-run unlicensed "demonstration" LPFM station in Ferndale, Michigan, Tom Ness has been lining up support from community leaders like gangbusters. Folks including Ferndale's mayor, the local Catholic bishop, and possibly even some Congresscritters from Michigan will grace the mic of this experiment in civil disobedience, among many others.

However, Ferndale Police chief Michael Kitchen will not take part. His response to Ness' offer of air time at WNFC:

You can't "not encourage lawlessness" and then intentionally break a law. If you wish to "cooperate fully" with me, simply don't break the law(s) which I am sworn to uphold.

Note to Chief Kitchen: nice weasel maneuver, but someone's beat you to this excuse. The point of WNFC is to demonstrate some bad law exists. You may be "sworn to uphold" the law, but this doesn't excuse you from having a moral conscience, does it? Perhaps it needs some exercise...

4/19/04 - FCC Sweeps Florida; State Senate Set to Pass Anti-Pirate Bill [link to this story]

Last week was a busy one in the Sunshine State. An FM pirate was busted in a high-profile raid in Lake Worth; this one was apparently tracked down by the chopper pilot of a local TV station. Mainstream media coverage of this case is particularly sketchy; interference with an aviation frequency is involved, but the hype of what this actually means is blown way out of proportion.

Then there are the ancillary "facts": the most comprehensive coverage (courtesy of the Palm Beach Post) says pirate radio transmitters cost "as little as $5,000" (off by a good factor of ten - on the high side) and cites the FCC as claiming to have shut down "more than 400" radio pirates in Florida since 1997.

This raid was apparently part of a sweep involving four Florida stations last week; two others also received $10,000 forfeiture notices. The forfeitures are interesting because they involve two stations that operated out of the same location and broadcast on second-adjacent channels to each other (one on 91.3, the other on 91.7, although it's unclear if they were on the air simultaneously).

Coincidentally, on the same day the FCC and various cops made their rounds the Florida State Senate's Criminal Justice Committee unanimously endorsed a bill making pirate radio a felony. It's expected to come up for a vote in the full Senate sometime this week. No new movement on companion legislation in the Florida House.

Closer inspection of the bills notes they also criminalize the act of interfering with any commercial or public broadcast outlet, intentionally or not.

4/12/04 - Making Contact With Your Congresscritter [link to this story]

The Amherst Alliance is circulating this friendly reminder that with Representatives and Senators ostensibly home for a week-long break it might not be a bad idea to refresh their memories about pending efforts to expand community radio (both FM and AM).

Four years ago it was election-year shenanigans which allowed the National Association of Broadcasters and National Public Radio to curtail LPFM by legislative fiat. With media issues generally enjoying a higher profile on Capitol Hill there may be an opportunity here - but LPFM/LPAM is now competing with other media interests and issues (like indecency) which have more political flair at the moment.

4/9/04 - Florida Moves to Criminalize Pirate Radio; Jammers Hit Clear Channel? [link to this story]

SB 2714 has been introduced in the Florida State Senate. This legislation would allow state authorities loose on the hunt for pirate stations; the act itself would be treated as a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine. Presently it is a crime in Florida to intentionally interfere with radio signals - a misdemeanor.

SB 2714 cleared the Senate's Committee on Communication and Public Utilities last month on a 7-1 vote and awaits similar endorsement by the Criminal Justice Committee. A companion bill in the state House has already been endorsed by its Committees on Business Regulation (28-8) and Appropriations (37-5).

The Senate bill's language implies it will take effect on July 1, so these bills will be on the move this session for sure. The House bill already has a half-dozen co-sponsors. Not a peep from the corporate media, who hinted this was coming, nor from the FCC.

You can thank State Senator J. Alex Villalobos and Representative David Rivera for doing the honors of hatchet men.

Then there is this coincidental bit from the rumor mill: I received a report of a 50-watt mobile FM station that recently broadcast in the Fort Lauderdale area. Mobile operations are relatively rare in the U.S. - but this one, if true, belongs in a class of its own.

It existed solely to mess with Big 106, a Clear Channel-owned classic rock station that at the end of February dropped the Howard Stern show as part of the ongoing flap between Clear Channel and the FCC over indecency.

During weekends in March this mobile pirate reportedly "cruised up and the beach in Fort Lauderdale" and played clips from Howard Stern's shows, the movie Private Parts, and "anti-Clear Channel propaganda" directly on WBGG-FM's frequency. On its last outing the station "drove to the studios of Clear Channel and did a drive-by in the parking lot."

Further requests for details from the source of the initial report produced this clip (2:01, 1.9 MB) (note: not an aircheck). There have been no cross-confirmations of this activity.

I am of a split mind over this stunt: I admire the spunk but wonder how much good 50 watts does to override a 100,000-watt classic rock blowtorch. The sentiments behind it are understandable but the tactic itself has the potential to bring more harm than it's worth: this incident, if confirmed, could be used as ammo in the criminalization effort.

4/3/04 - Radio World Asks Radio Industry to Acquiesce on LPFM [link to this story]

Check this editorial from the closest thing the industry has to a regular general news rag. Radio World was a cautiously supportive voice for LPFM when it was first introduced - but now the publication is firmly on board.

My favorite chunk(s):

Radio...has become the poster child of what's wrong with media consolidation...

We could do a lot worse than associate ourselves anew with small stations that broadcast for a few miles, offer unexpected and diverse on-air talent, and feature content of interest to their immediate neighborhoods. LPFMs are a lot closer to the ideals of radio as first conceived than most broadcasters probably care to admit.

The Communications Act of 1934 established radio's philosophy of serving "the public interest, convenience and necessity." Small, localized services are not a threat to that philosophy, rather they are a part of it.

Radio World's latest LPFM update (in the same online issue) carries the standard industry line about interference from 100 watt stations kicking the ass of kilowatt-power commercial stations. If it worked once...

On a personal note: the master's thesis is finished. A Can of Worms (Public Intransigence on the Public Airwaves) is now in the review stage, and hopefully will be certified as worthy pointy-headedness by the end of the month or early May.

Because a it feels woefully incomplete I'm not planning on making it publicly available right away (there's a book in here, somewhere), but if you really have a hankering to read a bunch of legal/historical analysis about U.S. pirate radio drop a line and when it is blessed a .pdf can come yer way, probably by sometime in May.