More than 100 enforcement actions have been logged through early December, besting the previous record (2003) by a fair margin. It’s important to recognize that these are just numbers, though: FCC contact with most stations generates at least two data points in the Database (a visit followed by a warning letter). Thus, when broken down by actual stations busted, the number drops to far below 100.
It was an unhappy Thanksgiving for Panagiotis Frangiskakis. He runs a used car business in Lake Worth, on land that used to belong to a cab company, which included a small tower. Frangiskakis rented out office and tower space to people who ran two Haitian FM pirate stations from the premises.
Investigations into those stations began in February. In June, the stations were raided and Frangiskakis was charged with unlawful transmission – a state felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Note Frangiskakis did not actually broadcast himself: he was just the landlord. The authorities never figured out who actually ran the stations.
It’s been nine months since the American Radio Relay League formally requested the FCC void a statute implemented in Florida last year that criminalized unlicensed broadcasting. The agency’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is supposed to do the deliberation. So far, no word.
The FCC’s in a sticky situation. Pirate radio activity in Florida is off the charts compared to the rest of the country – way, way more than the FCC field offices in Tampa and Miami can handle. So they would prefer to look the other way while state officials clean up the AM and FM dials: the chief of the Tampa office has already said as much.
I recently got an e-mail from Rayon Payne (aka NSX), who made U.S. pirate radio history in 2003 by becoming the first person to serve time behind bars on a federal criminal conviction for unlicensed broadcasting. He just got out of jail in July. We ended up talking for nearly two hours:
The trend in Enforcement Bureau statistics over the last year suggests the agency is doing a better job of following up on pirate radio complaints, but still lacks the ability to actively shut stations down.
This year field agents have become much more consistent about following through with the first few steps of the enforcement protocol. Whereas it used to be months (if not years) between, say, a station visit and a warning letter (or two), field agents are pretty uniformly following up on initial visits with a warning letter within a month or two of first contact.