NY Broadcasters Try Quantifying Pirates

Tell us something we don’t know: they are pervasive and may outnumber licensed broadcasters in the number one radio market in America.

Meintel, Sgrignoli, & Wallace's magic pirate listening vanThat’s the most notable takeaway from a 103-page report (also embedded at the end of this post) prepared for the New York State Broadcasters’ Association by Maryland-based consulting engineers Meintel, Sgrignoli, & Wallace, who camped out at four locales in the NYC metropolitan area — two in NYC proper and two in New Jersey — earlier this year with a cleverly-camouflaged monitoring van (at right) and basically did FM bandscans.

They picked up 76 pirates on the dial…though they estimate that “there may be more than 100 unauthorized stations” on the air in total. According to the report, this is not the first pirate-survey MS&W has been commissioned for — similar bandscans were conducted in 2012, 2014 and 2015. Compared to last year’s findings, the number of unlicensed broadcasters in Brooklyn alone has increased some 58%, though there’s no way to compare figures since the earlier reports have not been made publicly available. Read More

Paper Tiger Warns: Don’t Do Business With Pirates

With unlicensed broadcast operations taking place with impunity in several of the nation’s largest media markets, and facing near-emasculation in the field, the Federal Communications Commission is taking a new tack to try and ameliorate the “pirate problem.”

A letter co-signed by all five Commissioners was mailed out last week to several local government and industry trade groups, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Association of Chiefs of Police, Association of National Advertisers, and National Association of Realtors, among several others.

This letter seeks to inform the recipients about who pirate stations are and asks that they avoid doing business with them. The letter claims that unlicensed broadcasters “can cause harmful interference to licensed radio broadcasters serving their communities, thereby starving stations of their ability to reach their listening audiences and obtain necessary advertising revenues.” It also claims that pirate stations have the potential to interfere with public-safety radio systems.

The tone is slightly admonishing: the recipients are informed that they “may be unknowingly or unintentionally providing aid to pirate stations. . .including buying advertising on such stations to housing the physical stations themselves.” The Commissioners hint that this may expose them to “potential FCC enforcement or other legal actions,” and cautions that being in business with a pirate station may also “sully the reputations of those businesses with the licensed broadcast community and other professional organizations” – sort of a “Scarlet P” approach. Read More

DAB: A Hacking Vector?

U.S. news media went bonkers a couple of weeks ago when information security researchers, in conjunction with a journalist from Wired, demonstrated how they could remotely access a Jeep Cherokee and take control of various functions, including its engine, steering, and braking. The hack exploits the fact that many cars and trucks today interface with the Internet in some fashion, either directly or via other devices that connect to them (like a smartphone).

That hack targets vehicles on a one-to-one basis, and it is not the first of its kind. But what if you could broadcast an exploit to multiple vehicles at once? Turns out this is possible, too. Researchers in the U.K. say they can transmit code within a DAB digital radio signal that provides control of critical vehicle systems. Read More

FCC Radically Revises Enforcement Drawdown

Three months ago, the FCC announced it was preparing to decimate its Enforcement Bureau by removing half its existing staff from the field and closing two-thirds of its field offices. The proposal, based on a $700,000 study prepared by outside consultants, did not sit well with anybody, and was popularly seen as the FCC effectively abdicating its role as police on the public airwaves.

That is, until last Tuesday, when the FCC announced it was abandoning that plan. There will still be enforcement cuts, but nearly not as draconian. Nine field offices are slated to close (instead of 16) and the agency has pledged to concentrate its field staff in markets where maintaining spectrum integrity is of primary importance. To make up for the offices that will be closed, the FCC will have not one, but two “Tiger Teams” ready for deployment on a short fuse. Even though it was brief, Chairman Tom Wheeler’s statement on the revised plan sounds contrite: “This updated plan represents the best of both worlds: rigorous management analysis combined with extensive stakeholder and Congressional input.”

In simple terms, the broadcast industry lit a fire under Congress about the importance of having something akin to recognizable (if not robust) enforcement activity by the FCC. This is the fruit of a carefully-coordinated lobbying campaign by the National Association of Broadcasters, New York State Broadcasters Association, and New Jersey Broadcasters Association, and the hook they used to make their counterattack on the FCC’s downsizing plan was pirate radio. The subject was mentioned repeatedly in Congressional hearings during which the reduction-in-force came up. And on the day that the FCC announced it was stepping back from eviscerating enforcement, a letter co-signed by more than 30 members of Congress to the FCC was released highlighting “Unauthorized FM Radio Operations in New York City.” Read More