FCC Sues Unlicensed Station to Collect Fine

This is unusual: the Federal Communications Commission has instigated a civil lawsuit in the Western District Court of Texas against Walter Olenick and M. Rae Nadler-Olenick, the proprietors of “Texas Liberty Radio,” which until late last year occupied 90.1 FM in Austin, Texas.

The facts are fairly clear: sometime in 2013, the FCC received a complaint about Texas Liberty Radio’s existence. That August, field agents from Houston traveled to Austin and found the station, measured its power, and confirmed it did not have a license. The recently-filed court documents contain some hand-written notes from field agents about the station, including the possible apartment it was broadcasting from, license plate numbers of cars in the parking lot, and notes on the station’s programming, which field agents noted included stuff from “Alex Jones” and “infowars.” Read More

FCC Jurisdiction: Interstate Alone?

It should come as no surprise that broadcasters have thoroughly hashed the question of the FCC’s jurisdiction in the courts. The argument, in the context of unlicensed broadcasting, revolves around a single premise: the federal government is empowered to police all interstate activity while business within a state falls within the jurisdiction of the state. Broadcasters – especially microbroadcasters – have argued that if their radio signals do not cross state lines, they are not engaged in “interstate commerce” – and therefore don’t need a license from the FCC.

This particular challenge to FCC authority started all the way back in 1928, when the license for a radio station in Homewood, Illinois owned and operated by the American Bond and Mortgage Company was set to expire. The company went to court seeking to affirm its right to continue broadcasting, arguing that since its signal did not travel outside Illinois the Federal Radio Commission had no power to license it anyway. District court judge James H. Wilkerson disagreed: Read More