Massive Cuts Planned to FCC Field Enforcement

A very interesting memorandum was leaked last week to two trade publications detailing a plan to severely reduce the FCC’s enforcement presence in the field. Presently, the agency’s Enforcement Bureau has two dozen field offices scattered throughout 17 states and Puerto Rico. However, not every field office is created equal: there are Regional Offices (many employees), District Offices (a handful of employees) and Resident Agent Offices (one or two people).

According to the American Radio Relay League, two-thirds of all FCC Enforcement Bureau offices would be closed, leaving just half the staff (33 people total) in the field. And their management is positively evicerated: reduced from 21 positions to just five. Read More

FCC Steps Down Anti-Pirate Enforcement

Just updated the Enforcement Action Database and the signs are pretty clear: unlicensed broadcasting has slipped down the priority-list for FCC field agents. Actions against AM/FM and shortwave pirate stations last year were at their lowest level since 2005, the last time fewer than 200 were logged.

FCC Anti-Pirate Enforcement Actions, 1997-2015
Tactically, even the agency’s penchant for paperwork seems to have slackened. Read More

NYC Pirates Need a Needle Exchange

Having lived here for a couple of years now, it’s true that New York City is a melting pot of culture like few other places. Sure, there’s Manhattan, from where the most nationally-recognizable symbols of the city’s culture emanate, but each borough’s got its own flavor, with distinctive neighborhoods and narratives.

This is very true for the radio dial. And of the five boroughs, nobody’s airwaves are more active than Brooklyn. Last year, I conducted a bandscan of receivable FM stations from my location on the Midwood/Flatbush border and picked up some 30 pirates; now it’s a new year and the FM dial remains alive with them. Somebody’s even established a Twitter feed that tracks (and samples) what’s on the air here. By and large, every frequency from 87.7 to 107.9 has something on it, and where I live there’s a one-in-three chance that it’s unlicensed. You can find everything from Afro-Carribean talk and music to Orthodox Jewish teachings and Hebrew music. There’s also stations devoted to the more mundane, like dance music, gospel, and death metal. Many are commercial, in mom-and-pop fashion. The languages are multivariate, but it’s all live and local, and despite its rough edges this FM dial is vibrant like nowhere else (save London, perhaps). Read More

FCC Enforcement: On the Wane?

Just got the Enforcement Action Database caught up for the year, and the numbers show that FCC field activity is running at the lowest level it’s been since 2005. Just 173 enforcement actions to date, as opposed to ~260 at this time last year.

There was a similar dip in the years afer the FCC first proposed the creation of LPFM, and with LPFM’s second wave in the works it’s enticing to see a correlation, but this time around I’m more inclined to believe it has to do with changing political priorities regarding enforcement policy (pirates take a back seat to cell-phone jammers, for example) coupled with the effects of austerity on federal government services more broadly. Read More

Industry Mulls Second FM-HD Power Increase

When HD Radio was under development and policy-discussions on the technology were in their infancy, proponents of the system bragged about all of the game-changing features it would have. This included audio quality that sounded better than CD and the ability to broadcast a plethora of digital data beyond audio itself.

They also told us that digital radio signals would be more robust and easier to receive than their analog counterparts. This was a critical assertion, because HD Radio works by shoehorning digital signals onto the existing AM and FM bands, right next to analog ones, and thus to avoid interference the HD signal can only be broadcast at just a fraction of a station’s analog power output. But proponents said that was okay: HD Radio only needed a fraction of the power to kick ass and blow minds. Read More