FCC on Pirate Radio: From Paper Tiger to Puffer Fish

At the 2018 NAB Show in Las Vegas last month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai highlighted the agency’s extensive efforts to combat unlicensed broadcasting. In addition to announcing that, in 2017, the agency issued “210 Notices of Unlicensed Operation” (I can only confirm 171), Pai said the agency “fined illegal broadcasters $143,800” (it’s actually $158,800) and “proposed fines totaling $323,688” (it’s actually $204,344). He also mentioned the recent raid of pirate stations in Boston, and reported “that we recently took similar action against a pirate operator in Miami and another operator in Queens, New York.”

Considering that station-raids tend to generate a lot of publicity, both among local media in affected markets and in the radio industry trade-press, I was surprised that the Queens and Miami raids have not been reported on at all. This may be because they didn’t actually happen – or happened on dates and at times that don’t fit Chairman Pai’s narrative. In addition, further information has come to light that casts doubt on just how effective the FCC’s recent activity in Boston really was.

First, let’s break down the Queens case. This involves a guy by the name of Jose Luis Gerez and a station he used to run (and actually may still be running) called “Mambo FM.” According to an unsealed complaint dated last November, this station first appeared on the FCC’s radar in July 2013, when agents in the New York field office observed “what appeared to be an unlicensed broadcast station operating at 95.1 MHz in Queens, New York.” They tracked the signal to an apartment building on Gleane Street, less than a three-mile drive from LaGuardia Airport. After interviewing the superintendent of the apartment building, agents found an FM antenna on the roof with a coaxial cable running into the basement, where a transmitter and desktop computer providing the station’s programming was found. Agents sent a Notice of Unlicensed Operation to the property-owner, who subsequently reported that the station had been removed from the premises. Read More

FCC Enforcement: Anti-Pirate “Muscle” Now Slower than Molasses

I’ve updated the Enforcement Action Database this week, due to some news out of the FCC regarding its enforcement efforts against unlicensed broadcasting, all of which show little change to the wimpish status quo.

The agency tells Radio World that its plan to close 11 field offices will commence in January of next year. More than 40 field-agent positions will be cut, leaving just 13 offices remaining across the country, with a combined staff of three dozen. These will be backstopped by two “Tiger Teams” staged in Colorado and Maryland, to be dispatched to areas where an “interference crisis” exists within 24 hours.

However, what will those boots on the ground actually do when they get there? If the enforcement protocol itself does not change, the answer will be very little. Once need only look at the three most recent Notices of Apparent Liability issued by the Enforcement Bureau against pirate broadcasters in the last few weeks: touted mightily by the industry trades, a closer look shows a curious pattern of disengagement. Read More