Here Comes the Hammer: Pacifica to Lease Out WBAI

Uh-oh, indeed. Pacifica’s National Board is now soliciting bids to take over the programming and operations of its station in New York City. WBAI is prime real estate, transmitting with 4,300 watts of power from atop the Empire State Building on a choice frequency smack dab in the middle of the FM dial. The station’s worth tens of millions of dollars were it ever to be sold.

This was a long time coming. WBAI, like many of Pacifica’s radio stations, is caught in the jaws of a dilemma as old as community radio itself. Essentially, people can lose sight of the actual goal of running a successful and sustainable community radio station and instead use (and abuse) the station as a battlefield on which to act out some larger sociopolitical struggle. What the station stands for becomes more important than the station itself, and nobody wins. In Pacifica’s case, they stand to lose it all. Read More

Massachusetts Mulls Anti-Pirate Law

Lawmakers in Massachusetts are hard at work trying to outlaw unlicensed broadcasting. H.1679 was introduced in the state House of Representatives in January and got a hearing in the legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary just last week. Floor votes are expected before the end of the year.

If approved, Massachusetts would become the fourth state in the country to pass an anti-pirate radio law. Read More

Pirate-Hunting: FCC Plods While Local Scenes Bubble

Halfway through 2013, and the FCC’s pace of unlicensed broadcast enforcement shows no real change from 2012: 106 enforcement actions in all, targeting more than three dozen stations, with the majority of this activity wholly administrative in nature. Pirate stations who appear on the FCC’s radar can now expect a warning letter to arrive via certified mail 1-6 weeks after an initial visit. Ignore those, and the agency may start asking for money.

To date, the FCC has handed out $60,000 in Notices of Apparent Liability and $125,000 in actual forfeitures. However, not all of these penalties are new: in February, the FCC socked Whisler Fleurinor with a $25,000 fine for unlicensed operation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This is actually Fleurinor’s second go-round – he was first busted in 2010 and given a $20,000 forfeiture in 2011, which was later reduced to $500. It’s much the same story for Gary Feldman, who was first busted in 2004 for pirate broadcasting in Miami. He was caught again last year and fined $25,000 this year. Moreno’s 2004 forfeiture ($10,000) was never paid. Read More

FCC Enforcement: Questionably Redundant and Retributive

Two-thirds of 2012 is in the can, and the FCC seems to be adhering to its “new normal” when it comes to pirate radio enforcement. Field agents have conducted 183 enforcement actions as of the end of August – this is up from the 132 actions logged by this time a year ago, but well off the year-over-year record-breaking enforcement pace set between 2006 and 2010.

The FCC’s been involved in anti-pirate enforcement activity in 15 states and Puerto Rico so far this year, as opposed to more than two dozen states by this point in 2011. The hottest spots continue to be the New York metropolitan area as well as the state of Florida more generally. Read More

New York Sanctions Pirate-Hunting

On June 20, the New York state legislature passed a bill criminalizing unlicensed broadcasting. The measure apparently passed the state Assembly by acclimation and cleared the Senate on a unanimous vote. Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill with little fanfare. This is the fourth time an anti-pirate bill has been considered by New York’s lawmakers.

The new law makes it a class A misdemeanor to broadcast without an FCC license in the AM and FM bands, with penalties ranging from heavy fines to (very unlikely) up to a year in jail. Subsequent run-ins with the FCC or state may be prosecuted as a class D felony, which is punishable by a fine ranging between $500-$7,500 and imprisonment of up to five years. Read More