FCC and Pirates: Going Through the Motions Faster

Signifying what the industry trades call a “crackdown” and added “pressure” on unlicensed broadcasters, the FCC’s Enforcment Bureau has stepped up its issuance of warning-letters, primarily to pirate stations in New York and New Jersey. Of the 94 enforcement actions against unlicensed broadcasters this year, 52 of them have taken place in these two states. Enforcement activity also includes two Notices of Apparent Liability and seven Forfeiture Orders, for cases that originated in 2015-16. Overall, however, the pace of enforcement actions is running behind the totals of a year ago.

This is not necessarily an expansion of enforcement duties. NYC-based field agents especially are now doing what they call “follow-up investigations” – in a nutshell, agents now re-visit unlicensed stations they’ve already contacted. If they are still on the air, they issue yet another warning letter to the operator (or, in the case of one New Jersey-based pirate, to the owner of the property where the station is housed, who was not in on the first-round contact). “Follow-up investigations” typically occur within 1-3 months of initial contact with the offending station. But if stations aren’t fazed by the first FCC nastygram they get, what are the odds the second one will change their ways? Read More

FCC Anti-Pirate Enforcement in 2016: Symbolic Inflationism Ahoy


A surprising uptick in the Enforcement Action Database for 2016: 201 total actions were logged last year, which is up from the prior two years. Furthermore, the frequency of threats of fines and actual fines against unlicensed broadcasters also rose: 9 NALs issued for a total of $155,000, and 5 forfeitures handed out for a total of $65,000. We haven’t seen numbers this large since 2014.

It gives some statistical credence to recently-former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s assertion that, despite the agency’s admittance that its license-enforcement protocol is effectively broken, it hasn’t ceded the field entirely. Unfortunately, statistics can be fudged, and the FCC’s done that well in the last year. Read More

Fiscal “Threat” Posed By NY Pirates Belied By Broadcasters’ Own Data

As a part of the campaign now underway to bring the (nonexistent) hammer down on unlicensed broadcasting in the New York metropolitan area, licensed broadcasters are alleging a variety of “harms” caused by pirate stations. Many of them are vastly overblown, such as the threat of interference they pose to a variety of communications networks, dangers from uncontrolled radiation — and, in the newest charge, economic hardships they cause to licensed stations.

The contention that pirate radio stations infringe on the radio industry’s right to make mad profits was first floated in an April 2015 blog post by Republican FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly; he claimed unlicensed broadcasting “causes unacceptable economic harm to legitimate and licensed American broadcasters by stealing listeners.” Read More

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

O’Rielly Goes Pirate-Hunting, is Flabbergasted by Tower

Michael O'RrrrrrrriellyFCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, the pinch-headed ideologue who’s tried to make a name for himself by attempting to launch a war on unlicensed broadcasting in America, actually went out into the mean streets of New York City earlier this summer along with field agents to hunt pirate stations.

Speaking to a very receptive audience at the annual conference of the New Jersey Broadcasters’ Association last month, O’Rielly called unlicensed broadcasting “a key area needing significant attention. . .as it represents a very real problem that is growing.”

Claiming that pirate stations “have no legal or moral right to operate,” O’Rielly asserted (again, without evidence) that pirate radio stations are “stealing listeners” from licensed broadcasters, “weakening [their] financial situation and undermining the health of licensed radio stations” supposedly devoted to serving their communities of license. The threat of interference from unlicensed stations also got a shout-out, but that’s apparently become a secondary issue to O’Rielly’s perferred agency mandate to maximize the profits of the radio industry. Read More