Pirate radio blooms around the world for different reasons and faces different challenges, depending on where the station is located and the reasons for going on the air. In the United States, pirates tend to take to the air for political reasons: whether it be to protest the corporate takeover of the local airwaves or to challenge the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), putting a pirate station on the air is a signal of open defiance to the status quo.
Nobody has exemplified this nature of struggle more than Doug Brewer. He joined the ranks of the microradio movement early on in the game, setting up Tampa's Party Pirate 102.1 in 1994 as an outgrowth of a small station he installed to broadcast Christmas music at his home during the holidays.
Listeners in Tampa flocked to the station but the FCC wasn't pleased; an overzealous crew of enforcement agents based in Tampa made it their mission in life to take the Party Pirate off the air. They began with a visit in 1996 and issued Brewer a $1,000 fine for unlicensed broadcasting.
Brewer, not one who's easily intimidated, flipped an electronic middle finger to the Feds by refusing to pay the fine or shut down the Party Pirate. Doug also began selling microradio equipment to various broadcasters around the country and offered his technical skills at cost to all comers.
The FCC made its next move on November 19, 1997, when it conducted early-morning raids of several pirate stations in Florida. Brewer and his family were held at gunpoint most of the day while agents ransacked his home and confiscated his radio equipment - including some inventory from his two-way radio business.
In 1998, federal marshals and FCC agents conducted a mini-sting operation against Brewer. They ordered a fully-assembled 20-watt FM transmitter from him. According to FCC files, Brewer took the $560 money order and delivered the unit as promised; the FCC socked him with a $10,000 fine for selling an "unauthorized radio frequency device" one year later.
Frustrated with what he perceived as harassment from federal officials - and not one to give in easily - Brewer returned the Party Pirate to the air on November 19, 1999: the two-year anniversary of his raid.
The FCC again was tipped off to Brewer's broadcasts and began yet another investigation. This time they discovered Brewer using a remote radio link from his home, which beamed his programming to a rented warehouse where the transmitter was located.
Having used up most of its enforcement ammunition in previous encounters, the FCC tried a new strategy to take the Party Pirate off the air: in February 2001 it began proceedings to revoke Brewer's amateur (ham) radio license and threatened him with another $11,000 in fines.
This time, the pressure has apparently worked: Brewer's put most of his remaining radio gear up for sale in an online auction and appears to be out of the pirate broadcasting business for good. In a recent e-mail conversation, Doug definitely seemed defeated: "There is nothing to fight. There is no way to win," wrote Brewer. "They just do whatever they want to, and there is nothing a 'citizen' can do about it."
However, he denies having been on the air recently, claiming "anytime ANYONE puts a [pirate] station on in the Tampa Bay area, I get blamed for it."
"I did not want to have my ticket pulled, and I certainly did not want another $11,000.00 fine, but what I want does not matter," wrote Brewer. "This only proves that the FCC has little or nothing better to do than to carry out personal vendettas against their enemies."
Even though Tampa's Party Pirate may be down-and-out, don't think that you've heard the last of Doug Brewer. He says he's still doing some "underground tech work" - "but I have to be on the move a lot, because the FCC is always out there with nothing better to do than to fuck with me!"
"DIE FCC SCUM!!" I don't think I could have said it better myself.