Just updated the Enforcement Action Database and the signs are pretty clear: unlicensed broadcasting has slipped down the priority-list for FCC field agents. Actions against AM/FM and shortwave pirate stations last year were at their lowest level since 2005, the last time fewer than 200 were logged.
When the FCC raided TOUCH FM in Boston this spring, many lamented its demise. But its frequency didn’t stay silent for long: less than two months after the FCC’s sweep of the city, a pop-up station temporarily reoccupied 106.1 FM.
Noises Over Norwell broadcast from a two-story home in Dorchester currently under the receivership of Fannie Mae. Its former owners moved back in with the assistance of City Life/Vida Urbana, a grassroots organization dedicated to fighting economic injustice in Boston. The station was a cornucopia of information, discussion, and creativity about the state of the economy and the surrounding neighborhood; when "dormant," you simply heard the ambient sounds of a lived-in home.
The federales ended their unlicensed broadcast enforcement activity with a whimper last year, apparently taking the month of December off completely. The entirety of 2013 saw 249 FCC enforcement actions, a slight reduction from 2012 levels.
Overall, the FCC was active against pirate stations in 24 states and the District of Columbia, and more than 90% of those stations involved were on the FM band. The vast majority of enforcement activity was concentrated on the coasts, with New York and New Jersey being the hottest spots for pirates—as evidenced by the major sweep the FCC did there in July. (For what it’s worth, there’s been no material change in the number of FM frequencies occupied by interlopers on my own radio dial here in Brooklyn.)
Halfway through 2013, and the FCC’s pace of unlicensed broadcast enforcement shows no real change from 2012: 106 enforcement actions in all, targeting more than three dozen stations, with the majority of this activity wholly administrative in nature. Pirate stations who appear on the FCC’s radar can now expect a warning letter to arrive via certified mail 1-6 weeks after an initial visit. Ignore those, and the agency may start asking for money.
To date, the FCC has handed out $60,000 in Notices of Apparent Liability and $125,000 in actual forfeitures. However, not all of these penalties are new: in February, the FCC socked Whisler Fleurinor with a $25,000 fine for unlicensed operation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This is actually Fleurinor’s second go-round – he was first busted in 2010 and given a $20,000 forfeiture in 2011, which was later reduced to $500. It’s much the same story for Gary Feldman, who was first busted in 2004 for pirate broadcasting in Miami. He was caught again last year and fined $25,000 this year. Moreno’s 2004 forfeiture ($10,000) was never paid.
The city of Boston, Massachusetts is gearing up for a mayoral election later this year, and among the folks throwing their hat into the ring is Charles Clemons.
A former Boston police and corrections officer, Clemons may be better known as the founder of Touch 106 FM, a microradio outlet busted by the FCC in 2007-08. Clemons received a $17,000 forfeiture for unlicensed broadcasting and refusing to allow FCC agents to inspect the station.